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back of the net

October 9, 2013

A letter in the Times from Anthony Moore of Oxford made a simple point that had never occurred to me before. When people talk about the ball hitting the back of the net in football – as Alan Hansen has done several times every Saturday night on Match of the Day for decades – they really mean the front of the net. Don’t they? 

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  1. No. Of course they do not mean that. I hope i miss the point here. The ‘net’ is the space guarded by the goalie/net-minder and it comprises the netting at the back and sides of the net, the uprights or posts or (if you really are a fisherman) the semi-rigid rim that gives the net it’s shape, and so on. A goal or fish must traverse the mouth – the front of the net (space) — to count, and if it crosses with speed, it will hit the back of the net ( space). Surely, no one cares about the front side of the netting.

  2. OK, good answer. I think I’d call what you describe the goal, rather than the net; but if net is understood as you define it – as a synecdoche for ‘goal’ – then yes, ‘back of the net’ makes sense.

  3. Sure. Though the ‘goal’ in north America is usually the act of putting something successfully across the goal line at the front of the net. The surrounding netting merely serves to ‘catch’ it, for reasons of safety and convenience. (The safety requirement is a bit more obvious in hockey.) The goal-line and front-of-the-net are largely synonymous expressions… and the latter is used very similarly in our traditional fishery, which I assume is the origin here. I’m sensing from your blogs more differences between British and North America usage than I had expected. Subtle, some of it.

  4. what about ‘the net’ rather than front or back

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