The football expression ‘to park the bus’, meaning for one team to play in a negative, boring, defensive way, focused on making it so difficult for the other team to score that it was as if there was a bus parked in front of the goal, is popularly attributed to the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, who complained to the media about Spurs playing in this way in a game in 2004. Our research into the history of the expression using tools of corpus linguistics supports this popular understanding.
In our article, we explore how the expression has developed in English since that time, spreading around the world through English and helped by the popularity of the Premier League, sometimes being used as a cliché but also being adapted in fresh, imaginative ways. Jose Mourinho appears to have had a significant impact on the English language through his translation of the expression from the original Portuguese and continuing creative use of it in English. The term has even crossed over into another sport (American Football) and has been used to describe the defensive behaviour of the Bank of England. It has also contributed to the development of related expressions, e.g. ‘to pull a Jose Mourinho’ (though this has been used with various different meanings that reflect disparate controversial incidents in Mourinho’s career) and the ‘parked bus defence’ (which may have emerged around 2008).
We consider why the ‘park the bus’ metaphor is so enduring, and compare it to another of Mourinho’s coinages ‘19th century football’, which he has also used as a form of disparagement for negative tactics used against his Chelsea team. Finally, we consider how corpus-based methodology, such as that we have employed here, can be used to explore other interesting expressions in the language that seem to have emerged almost out of nowhere and spread quickly.