What does “park the bus” mean in soccer?

One of the most used phrases in soccer is “park the bus” and some of us will have no idea what exactly this tactic is referring to, so we’ve created a handy guide for you to understand it easier.

We’re going to learn what it means, where the phrase came from and how you can play against the tactic.

What Does Park The Bus Mean?

In soccer, it refers to a team that plays defensively and tries to avoid giving their opponents any chances by playing very close to them.

What Does “Park The Bus” Mean In Soccer (2)

This tactic is often used by teams who don’t have a lot of talent or skill but just need to win the match. Typically, the team will score at least one goal and then bolster their defense.

They’ll bring as many players back as possible and avoid attacking in numbers. This saves them against counter-attacking play.

If you watch a good team like Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United then you’ll see that they do not rely on one player to score goals.

They use different players to create opportunities for others to score. This is because they know that every single player has strengths and weaknesses, and they try to exploit these as much as possible.

In order to park the bus, a team needs a strong defense and a goalkeeper who can stop shots at goal. They also need a few midfielders who can pass the ball around well and create space for other players.

The team should also have a striker who can finish off chances if and when they come along.

Where Did The Phrase Come From?

The term was made popular by Jose Mourinho while he was the manager of Chelsea, in 2004. He used the phrase to describe how Tottenham played against them:

As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal.

I would have been frustrated if I had been a supporter who paid £50 to watch this game because Spurs came to defend.

Jose Mourinho, BBC News

Although he expressed disdain for Tottenham using this tactic, he later became known for using it himself. He did not, however, invent the strategy himself.

It is typically credited as originating from the 1960s Italian style of play known as catenaccio, (which means door-bolt).

How To Play Against Teams That Play Defensively

What Does “Park The Bus” Mean In Soccer

If your team is facing opposition that parks the bus, you need to make sure you attack quickly. If the opponent does park the bus, you need a fast-forward line up.

Your forwards need to move into open spaces quickly and start shooting. You may even consider moving your wingers inside and pushing them towards the middle.

You need to find ways to break through the lines and shoot. It’s important to remember that there are always gaps in the defense, and you need to be aware of those.

You may also want to look at using crosses from wide areas. These can be effective if done right.

If you’re looking for a quick way to beat a team that parks the bus, here’s some advice:

  • Keep your team organized and disciplined.
  • Use your speed.
  • Look for gaps in the defense.
  • Shoot early and often.
  • Don’t give up easy goals.
  • Be patient.

When Should I Park The Bus?

There are times when you should park the bus. For example, if you’re playing away from home and the opposition is very strong.

Or, if you’re playing away, and you think your opponent is going to dominate possession.

Alternatively, if you’re playing at home, and you think the opposition is going to run riot. However, the best time to park the bus is after scoring one goal, and you’re playing these kinds of opponents.

It’s not the best decision to start a match using park the bus tactics, unless you are defending a lead from a previous match on aggregate.

However, this tactic isn’t suitable for all situations. For instance, it’s not a great idea to park the bus if you’re playing against a weaker side.

You should also avoid parking the bus if you need to increase your goal difference, which might be critical at the end of the season.

Remember, there’s been titles in the past that have been decided on goal difference on the last day.

Attacking Whilst Parking The Bus

Although the primary goal for parking the bus is to employ a strong defense and avoid going forward, there are ways you can attack and not leave yourself open at the back.

The best attacking method whilst parking the bus is known as “hoof ball”.

This is when a player will clear the ball from the back as far forward as possible, over the top of the opposition’s defensive line, and your striker will chase down the ball.

For this method to work, your striker will need to be incredibly fast and have a good touch. If you choose a striker that is not quick enough or runs out of steam easily, your team will struggle to get any goals.

Advantages To Parking The Bus

What Does “Park The Bus” Mean In Soccer

There are a few advantages to parking the bus.

These include:

Frustrating The Opposition

Some opponents love open, fast play and will get incredibly frustrated by another team playing super-defensively.

As a result, the manager will either try new and sometimes confusing tactics – or the opposition will make many errors.

Defends Your Lead

Perhaps the most obvious advantage is that you are likely to defend your lead and this will result in victory.

Tires Out The Opposition

If the opposition has to fight harder to break your defense, it’s likely that they will tire out much quicker.

Opens Their Defense

If the opposition are attacking in numbers to fight against your strong defensive line, they will often leave themselves exposed at the back for a counter-attack, which you may be able to exploit.

Disadvantages To Parking The Bus

Of course though, this tactic does not always work. This is because of the following reasons:

You May Still Concede Goals

It’s never a guarantee that you will win the match anyway. Depending on the quality of the opposition, you may still concede a goal or goals.

Maybe this is down to a free kick or penalty, maybe a long shot or possibly a mistake.

The Fans Hate It

Managers have been criticized in the past for employing overly defensive soccer. This is because the fans can get bored if they do not see their team attacking and getting goals.

Oftentimes, fans will prefer to see their team lose, as long as their team has put up a good fight with attractive, attacking football.

It Can Tire Out The Team

Parking the bus is not easy. It requires dedication, hard work and focus. This can get tiring , and eventually it may lead to mistakes.

Famous Examples Of Parking The Bus

There have been many examples of parking the bus tactics being used. Here are some famous ones:

Manchester United (1961)

In 1961, Manchester United employed a very defensive style of play under Matt Busby. They would park the bus and wait until the opposition had tired themselves out before then launching an attack.

This was due to the fact that Busby knew his side were better than the opposition, and he wanted to wear them down.

Busby also believed that if his team could keep possession for 90 minutes, they would score more goals.

Busby’s philosophy worked and United won the league title that year.

Liverpool (1977)

During the 1977 FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, Liverpool played defensively for the entire game.

They parked the bus and waited for Forest to tire themselves out. When they did, Liverpool launched a devastating counter-attacking attack.

Forest tried to pressurize Liverpool, but they were unable to stop them from scoring three goals.

Managers Known For Parking The Bus

There have been a few managers who have been known for their strongly defensively focused tactics.

Some examples are:

  • José Mourinho
  • Sam Allardyce
  • Tony Pulis
  • Roy Hodgson


Parking the bus is a well known defensive tactic that can work very well, if it is performed correctly and at the right time.

Always assess your situation and do your homework on the opposition to know if parking the bus is the right tactic to employ.