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Red and Yellow Cards in Football

Referees have used the two different types of warning cards in football since 1970. Check out what differentiates red and yellow penalty cards and what they signify to a player.

FIFA CAUTION CARDS: Why is a red or yellow card used by a referee?

During a game, the referee is in charge of all players, substitutes, and any substituted players. The official uses a caution card to confirm any ruling sanctions imposed for infringements, fouls, and misconduct.

Disciplinary actions governed by football warning cards apply to all players. That rule applies whether they are actually on the pitch or not.

Note: Red or yellow cards cannot be issued to any of the team officials.

Having issued a dreaded red or a cautionary yellow card, the referee cannot reverse a misconduct ruling once play resumes.

One of the roles and responsibilities of a referee in football is submitting a match report at the end of the game. Their duties include reporting all football red and yellow cards administered to players during the match.

Yellow Cards in Football: Caution

The match referee can issue yellow cards to indicate a caution – a booking. Yellow card warnings would count in normal play and during any time for stoppages. A player can get officially cautioned for any of these offences.

  • A player who is guilty of unsporting behaviour or reckless actions.
  • Displaying dissent by word or by action (e.g. verbal or nonverbal).
  • Using unsportsmanlike behavior which delays the restart of play.
  • Failing to retreat the minimum required distance following a free-kick, corner, or a throw-in.
  • Persistent fouling or breaches FIFA Laws of the Game ‘repeatedly’.
  • Entering or re-entering the field of play without obtaining permission from the match referee.
  • Deliberately exiting the pitch (field of play) without first getting permission to leave from the referee.

Note: As a rule, a player who gets cautioned can continue playing in the game. But, if they get a second yellow caution during the same match, they would get sent off. Thus, two yellow cards result in a red card dismissal.

Football Red Card Rule: Dismissal

The match referee can issue a red card to indicate an expulsion from the game (player dismissal). A player might receive a red card if they commit any of these serious offences.

  • Types of Warning Cards in Football: Red Card Rule vs. YellowSevere or dangerous foul play (e.g. using dangerous or with excessive force).
  • Displaying or using violent conduct.
  • Spitting at another player or at any other person.
  • Denying an opponent’s goal scoring opportunity by an offence which is usually punishable by a free-kick or a penalty kick.
  • Using offensive gestures or insulting language (abusive).
  • Receiving a second yellow cautionary card during the same game.
  • Committing a deliberate hand ball offence and denies an obvious goal scoring opportunity. This rule excludes a goalkeeper while they are handling the ball inside their own penalty area.

Note: If a player gets sent off they must leave the vicinity of the pitch – without delay. The rules do not allow them to stay in the team technical area either. In most cases, the player would return to the locker room.

FIFA Laws embody the unacceptability of unsafe play in their disciplinary phrases.

For example: ‘reckless challenge’ (caution = yellow card/YC) and ‘endangering the safety of an opponent’ or ‘using excessive force’ (sending-off = red card/RC).

Consequences of having a Player Sent Off

The upshot of red and yellow cards in football creates extra challenges for a team and the manager. Having left the field of play, the player must take no further part in the game. The manager cannot replace a sent off player with a substitute. It forces the team to play with at least one player less on the pitch.

In case you were wondering:

The officials in football can only issue a red card to players, substitutes, and to substituted players. So what would happen if the team goalkeeper gets red carded?

As a rule, another player will assume the role and fulfill the goalkeeping duties for the team. In most cases, the manager will substitute another keeper for an outfield player (if available).

Top Questions about Warning Cards in Football

  1. How many red cards before a match gets abandoned? FIFA rules allow a team to continue playing with seven (7) players. So, a team can get four (4) red cards before the referee would need to abandon the match.
  2. How many games do you miss when you get red carded? A direct red card would result in a ban of three (3) games. Receiving two yellow cards in the same game would mean a one (1) next game suspension for the player.
  3. Has Lionel Messi ever received a red card in his professional career? Despite playing many ‘fair games’ we understand that Lionel Messi got one (1) red card during his career. It happened on his international debut for Argentina, and only two minutes after joining the game as a substitute.
  4. Which player has most red cards in footballing history? At the time of writing, the honour goes to Gerardo Alberto Bedoya Múnera. He currently holds the record for most red cards received by any player in the history of the game at forty six (46). Yes… 46 red cards!

Free Kicks and Penalty Kicks

Free Kicks

There are two categories of free kick – called ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’. A player can take a direct free kick and aim it ‘directly’ into the opponent’s goal. The ball is not required to make contact with another player beforehand.

Indirect free kicks can only go into the goal if the ball touches another player before it enters the goal.

Note: The referee would have a hand raised to signify an indirect free kick. The ball must be stationary before executing both types of kicks.

The Penalty Kick

A penalty kick may get awarded when a defencive player fouls an attacking player (or commits a handball) inside their own team penalty area. The match official will clarify several key points on penalty kick rules before a player takes the spot kick

Types of Warning Cards in Football: Red Card Rule vs. Yellow