What Is a ‘Clean Sheet’ in Soccer? Meaning and Origin


Soccer ball covered in dew and grass.

You have probably played in or watched a soccer game where both teams scored at will. I have certainly played in my fair share of games like this, especially as a goalie. It is also safe to say I have not earned many clean sheets throughout my life.

So, what is a clean sheet in soccer?

A clean sheet in soccer refers to a team giving up zero goals in a game. Also known as ‘shut-outs’, clean sheets are hard to obtain and become increasingly difficult to obtain as the level of play increases. This is due to forwards becoming more skilled and players playing better together as a team.

While soccer may seem like a low-scoring game, it is still very difficult to keep the other team completely off the scoreboard. If you would like to learn more about clean sheets, such as where the name originated and how common they are, we encourage you to keep reading.

Why Is It Called a Clean Sheet?

Soccer players wait for a corner kick into the box.

While the early origins are a bit murky, many believe the origin of the term “clean sheet” was established during the 1930s, when scores were manually maintained on sheets of paper. 

When a team did not score any goals, their side of the sheet remained empty or “clean” as the term implies, creating the scoreless reference.

One theory that supports this thought references early sports reports and how they would use different pieces of paper to record game day stats, including the number of goals.

Goals, saves, assists, and fouls were captured on different pieces of paper.  If a team didn’t score any goals, then a clean sheet would be the result

The sheets of paper that game scores were captured on were typically rectangular and white, resembling a fresh-washed or clean sheet. This visual connection of a clean or freshly laundered bed sheet also supports the early reference to a blank canvas.

Games can also end with both teams recording zero goals and the game ultimately ending in a 0-0 tie. Clean sheets or shutouts can be one-sided or two-sided, depending on the outcome of the game. The term simply refers to a team not giving up a single goal.  

Over the last few decades, the term “shutout” has become increasingly used within American English as the equivalent of a clean sheet. A shutout is defined as keeping your opponent from scoring in a game and is always highly sought after, especially by goalies.

How Common Are Clean Sheets in Soccer?

Women's soccer player in white shoots on net.

Clean sheets aren’t earned every game, but they are attainable. They require a tenacious defense and a savvy goalkeeper. The number of clean sheets recorded differs based on the league, division, and level of play.  

In the youngest soccer leagues, clean sheets are not that common. Typically, teams with young players in youth leagues score a high number of goals on both teams, as kids kick the ball back and forth in lively foot races with no established goalie position. 

As children grow older, clean sheets start to make appearances as players receive improved coaching, their skillsets improve, and players begin to specialize in the goalkeeper position

As the competition increases and improves, soccer games tend to shift to more low-scoring games.  

Even as the level of play increases, clean sheets are still hard to earn. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be achieved. Goalkeepers, along with their defensive teammates, work together to create effective strategies and styles of play to keep their opponents off the scoreboard.

Defensive players and goalies are measured by how many clean sheets they contribute to or earn in a season and throughout their playing careers. 

While goalkeepers play a pivotal role in achieving clean sheets, they cannot do it alone. It takes a concentrated team effort to keep the other team off the scoreboard.

A goalkeeper’s performance is often evaluated by the number of clean sheets or shutouts they earn. When it comes to professional statistics, Lev Yashin is arguably one of the most renowned goalkeepers in the sport. 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a compilation of the best goalkeepers that doesn’t include Yashin.

He played for the Dynamo Moscow and saved 150 penalties during his career and earned himself four clean sheets in the 12 World Cup games he played in. He is known for his athleticism, reflexes, and breathtaking saves. 

According to the World Football Historic Center, Englishman, Ray Clemence is known as the goalkeeper with the most recorded clean sheets throughout his career. 

Clemence tallied 460 clean sheets throughout his time with the following teams: Scunthorpe United, Liverpool, Tottenham, and the English National Team.

Within Major League Soccer (MLS), Nick Rimando holds the record for the most shutouts with 154. In addition to the most shutouts, Rimando also holds the record for the most saves with 1,705. 

He is also in the record books for most career wins (223) and overall appearances (514). 

As you shift into collegiate play, Enrique Facusse, from the University of Kentucky, holds the record for the most shutouts in Men’s Division 1 Soccer, with 29 shutouts and 167 saves throughout his career. 

He is closely followed by Will Pulisic from Duke University with 20 career shutouts and 187 saves. From beginner to professional play, clean sheets are a statistic that represents both hard work and skill. 

If a team ever keeps the opposition from scoring, it’s safe to say that the entire team played an important role, not just the keeper.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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