What Does A Red Card Mean In Soccer?

Soccer is a game of rules and laws. As such, it requires punishment for certain actions. Perhaps you’ve caught a few minutes of the World Cup and questioned why the referee is holding up a colored card and the player has left the field.

Perhaps you’re wondering why something is considered a red card but didn’t seem too bad? Whatever the case, your burning questions will be answered!

What Exactly Is A Red Card? 

A red card is issued by the referee for a multitude of reasons. Typically for 1 of 7 main serious offenses. One that can be confusing is that a player can be sent off for receiving 2 yellow cards. A yellow card offense is when a player has committed a cautionable foul that is less serious. 2 cautionable fouls becomes 1 red card and the player must leave the pitch. 

What Does A Red Card Mean In Soccer?

That doesn’t end there. Some leagues and tournaments will require further punishment for the player (and even the club!) This can include fines or match bans. In the English Premier League, a player who receives a red card will be banned for a further 1 match.

In the World Cup, this is also the case. However, it is an ever-changing game if required, the disciplinary procedure can differ from league to league and year to year. 

So, What Are The 7 Main Red Card Offenses? 

We’ve covered the one! 2 yellow cards. The other 6 are considered the worst of the worst in the game: 

  1. Using offensive language (swearing) or being verbally aggressive.
  2. Denying a clear goal scoring opportunity by a typical offense you would normally receive a free kick for (e.g. bad tackle)
  3. Handling the ball to prevent a goal. (This does not apply to goalkeepers.)
  4. Spitting (at players, the referee, officials, fans etc.) 
  5. Violent conduct (fighting) 
  6. Serious foul play (usually a very bad tackle that could cause, or does cause injury, or a dangerous high kick)

Why Did Red Cards Start?

Soccer itself didn’t have a standardised set of rules until 1877 and referees were not properly introduced until 1881.

In order for referees to communicate their decisions properly, someone had to come up with an idea that would benefit everybody. That person was Ken Aston. 

Ken, a former teacher, refereed the 1962 FIFA World Cup and had difficulty communicating the message of “leave the field” to an Italian player Giorgio Ferrini. However, whilst driving, the color of cards came to him. Yellow indicates calm down/slow down and red indicates stop/leave. 

In fact, he was incredibly influential to the sport. He held a variety of referee courses in the United States and was awarded an MBE for his huge contribution to the game in the US. 

Red cards were finally adopted initially into the English League in 1976 but it was unclear exactly what a red card offense was. David Wagstaffe was the first player to be shown a red after arguing with a referee. 

As red cards became more used by referees, so too did violence in the crowds. The Football Association became wary that red cards would fuel the violence and as a result, red cards were temporarily revoked in England.

This was until the International Football Association Board or the IFAB (the rule makers) enforced the same rules for every league in the world.

Is It Only Players That Can Be Shown A Red Card?

Actually, no. The IFAB wanted touchline behavior to change too as managers showed some elements of disrespect from the side. In 2018, cards were allowed to be issued to managers on pitchside. 

However, this does not mean that managers weren’t “sent off” before this. Notably, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp are among famous examples of managers being removed from their technical area due to poor behavior. 

What Was The Fastest Ever Red Card?

This depends! Technically this would be awarded to Keith Gillespie for being sent off before actually playing. That would mean 0 seconds!

Let us clarify. During an English Premier League match, Gillespie was about to come on the field but was given orders to leave after elbowing an opposing player during a throw. 

But if you don’t count that, then the title goes to Lee Todd. An impressive 2 seconds it took for a red card – a reward for yelling at the referee. 

What Was The Weirdest Reason For A Red Card?

How about farting on the pitch? Adam Lindin Ljungkvist was sent off in 2016 after the referee claimed his flatulence was unsportsmanlike conduct. 

What Is The Record For Red Cards In A Match?

Many debate this, but an Argentinean match in 2011 saw 36 red cards given by the referee. But, how? 

After the match descended into a violent brawl, the two first-half red cards would see a sharp increase. The referee dismissed everyone. Every player, every substitute, all the coaching staff – everyone. 

Any Other Notable Red Cards?

Certainly! Possibly the most memorable are: 

  1. Zidane 2006 – Sent off in the World Cup final vs Italy for headbutting Materazzi in the chest. Italy would go on to win that final… what a way to finish your last international match. 
  2. Suarez 2010 – World Cup quarter-final. Unlikely contenders Ghana had a clear goal scoring opportunity prevented when Suarez used his arm to stop Adiyiah’s shot going in. The resulting penalty was saved. Worth the red it seemed. 
  3. Gibbs 2014 – Known for a case of mistaken identity. Referee Andre Marriner gave a red card to Gibbs, despite the fact that the red card offense was committed by Chamberlain. Marriner would later apologise…but we’re not sure if that can soothe a 6-0 defeat. 

What To Remember 

So, essentially a red card is just a way for the referee to remove a player from the field for soccer sins. It is always best to avoid red cards (and yellows for that matter!) as not only will you be making your team work harder with a man down, but you and the club can face further disciplinary action (such as a fine.)

Having said that… it was worth it for Luis Suarez!