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  • Not sure about other countries, but in Britain there’s a tradition of using the word “sport” to refer to hunting, shooting, and fishing. The idea is that the hunted animal has a “sporting” chance of escape (the stag can run away, the grouse can fly out of range of the guns, the fish can refuse to take the bait) hence the idea of sport – it’s the hunter pitting his or her wits against the wily prey. Poachers, however, are not sportsmen. They use traps and other unfair means, so poaching is not just stealing, it’s being unsportsmanlike.
    I don’t think goal-poachers are thought of as unsportsmanlike, but as Andrew mentions, their craft is seen as being slightly sneaky. The offside rule was introduced to curb excessive goal-poaching by forcing putative poachers to keep their distance (depending on how well organized the opposition defence is). But in those free-for-all games with no referees and no offside rule, where kids swarm round the pitch all following the ball wherever it goes, the ones who stay firmly placed near their opponents’ goal are called goalhangers, and that’s a much more pejorative term.

  • Those interesting observations on the word ‘sport’ from Stephen remind me that ‘game’ has a similar duality in its use: the phrase ‘big game’, for example, can refer both to large wild animals hunted as sport and to an important match. I seem to be bumping into examples of this hunting imagery all the time now. Last night I heard a commentator on the radio say that, given the player’s lack of goals at this and previous tournaments, ‘the World Cup has not really been a happy hunting ground for Ronaldo.’