Red card in soccer: A Complete Guide to What It Means


Red Card in Soccer what it means - header image

When a player is shown a red card it is one of the most serious moments in any soccer game. It has consequences not just for that game but potentially for the following games as well.

If you’re looking to find out more and gain a better understand the meaning of the red card in soccer then this article should explain all you need to know.

The Meaning of a Red Card in Soccer

The first thing we need to understand is what a red card means.

When the referee shows a red card to a player in soccer, it means that the player has committed an offense serious enough that they must immediately leave the soccer field and cannot return for the rest of the game.

When the referee holds up a red card to a player it is to show everyone who is watching what decision has been made and what the consequences are for the player who committed an offense.

There is no more serious punishment a referee can give during a game than showing a player a red card and even after a player has left the soccer field the outcome of what has happened can dramatically affect the immediate future of the player.

How A Player Gets a Red Card in Soccer

There are two ways to get or be shown a red card during a soccer game.

The first way is for a player to commit an offense that the referee of the game determines is serious enough that the player deserves to be shown a red card.

When the offense occurs the referee will blow their whistle to stop the game. They will then approach the player, or call them over, and show them the red card to visually communicate what their decision is in relation to the offense.

The second way to get a red card is for a player to be shown two yellow cards in a single game.

Once a player is shown a second yellow card the referee will immediately show them a red card as a consequence of getting two yellow cards in a game.

The 7 Offenses that lead to Red Card

7 Red Card Offenses in soccer

The only way to avoid receiving a red card during a game of soccer is to know what the rules are around being shown a red card and then doing your best not to do anything that deserves a red card.

Below is the list of offenses that if committed by a player will lead them to be shown a red card and end their participation in the game.

This list is taken from the official Laws of the Game.

Offenses a player can get a red card for:

  • denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offense (except a goalkeeper within their penalty area)
  • denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender’s goal by an offense punishable by a free-kick
  • serious foul play
  • biting or spitting at someone
  • violent conduct
  • using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
  • receiving a second caution(yellow card) in the same game

As you read through this list you will see that with most of these offenses it is fairly obvious what they mean.

But it is worth taking a moment to look at what is meant by “serious foul play” as this can mean different things to different people.

Serious Foul Play

The Laws of the Game define serious foul play as:

A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality

IFAB Laws of the Game

When it comes to making rules for soccer a player’s safety is of utmost importance. That is why any player that risks seriously injuring another player will get a red card and be sent off the field of play.

The Laws of the Game also say that any player who lunges at another player from the front, side, or behind using “excessive force” or risks the safety of their opponent is guilty of serious foul play and must receive a red card.

What Happens If a Player Gets a Red Card?

So now we know how a player gets a red card in soccer the next question: is what happens if a player gets a red card?

If a soccer player gets a red card during a game then they are required to immediately leave the soccer field. The player can then no longer take any part in the game and the team cannot bring on any other player to replace this player.

The Laws also state that:

“A player, substitute or substituted player who has been sent off must leave the vicinity of the field of play and the technical area. “

IFAB Laws of the Game

This means that they cannot just go over and stand or sit with the rest of the substitutes, coaches, and officials from their team but must leave the area of the game altogether.

In many games, if a player is sent off you will usually see them go back to the team changing room and wait there for the game to be over.

Once the player has left the “vicinity of the field” the referee will restart the game with a free-kick to the team who the player committed the offense against.

A player being sent off not only affects the player who received the red card but affects the whole team.

This is because the penalty for getting a red card is that a player can no longer take part in the game and this means the rest of the team must play with one player less than the opposing team for the rest of the game. They will from that point onwards be playing at a disadvantage.

How Many Players Can Be Sent off in One Game of Soccer?

number of players that can be sent of in soccer

Another question this raises is how many players can be sent off in a soccer game?

A maximum of 4 players from one team can be sent of in a single game of soccer. If after this a 5th player on the same team is shown a red card the referee will end the game immediately and the team who had 5 players shown a red card will forfeit the game.

To find out if a soccer team has ever forfeited a game, check out this article I wrote, giving you the answer to this question.

The reason for this is that the rules of soccer make it clear that a team must have a minimum of 7 players on the field of play at any one time. If a team has fewer than 7 players on the field then the game may not continue.

What Happens If a Goalkeeper Gets a Red Card

A goalkeeper in soccer is no different from any other player when it comes to the question of whether a goalkeeper can get a red card.

A goalkeeper can receive a red card and faces the same consequences as any other player in that they must immediately leave the soccer field, cannot return for the rest of the game, and the team cannot bring on an extra player to replace them.

However, something that does need to be taken into account if a goalkeeper is sent off is that each team must have a player who is designated as the goalkeeper on the field at all times.

There are two options for a team at this point.

  1. They can substitute another player from the team, bring them off the field and replace them with another goalkeeper who will come onto the field.
  2. Or alternatively, they can reposition an outfield player on the team and designate them as the goalie for the rest of the game.

Taking an outfield player and making them the goalkeeper for the rest of the game is not the option that you see teams taking very often.

The only time this happens is when a team has already used up their quota of permitted substitutions for the game and have no other option than to reposition an outfield player and make them the goalie.

If you’re interested in finding out why soccer limits substitutions during games then click here to have a look at an article I wrote explaining everything you need to know about it.

Have a look at this video below to see a compilation of outfield players playing as goalkeeper after the original goalkeeper was shown a red card or was injured.

10 OUTFIELD PLAYERS AS GOALKEEPERS

How Many Games Does a Player Miss If Banned for a Red Card?

One of the consequences of getting a red card during a soccer game is that the player will be banned for at least one game following the game they received the red card in. And depending on the seriousness of the red card offense they could be banned for more games than just one.

In most soccer competitions when a player receives a red card as a result of receiving a second yellow card or because of a professional foul (a foul that prevents the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) they will automatically receive a one-game suspension.

If a player receives a red card due to dissent they will be banned for two consecutive games.

And if a player gets a red card for violent conduct or serious foul play they will be suspended for a minimum of three games but this suspension can be extended depending on the seriousness of the offense.

With any red card decision, the awarding of a red card to a player can be overturned. A panel or disciplinary board may review the referee’s decision and has the authority to extend or reduce the length of the ban.

One example of this was in 2014 when Luiz Suarez was suspended for 4 months from all soccer-related activity and banned for nine competitive international matches after receiving a red card during a game between Italy and Uruguay during the World Cup.

The reason for the length of the ban was to do with the seriousness of the offense. He had bitten another player during the game.

Eric Cantona is another player who received a lengthy suspension after receiving a red card.

In 1995 while playing for Manchester United Cantona was given a 9-month ban for not only receiving a red card during a game but attacking a fan who was insulting him on his way off the field. After hearing the fan shouting abuse at him he launched into a kung-fu kick towards the fan.

I’ve put this information in a table below to make it clear and easier to understand.

Table showing length of suspension received for a red card in soccer:

Reason for Red CardLength of Suspension
– Receiving a second yellow card
– Professional foul
1 game
Dissent2 games
Violent Conduct or serious foul play3 games or more
Length of suspension received for a red card in soccer

Soccer Players Can Get Fined for Receiving a Red Card

There is no universal standard when it comes to the question of whether a player will get fined for receiving a red card. It is up to each soccer club to decide if they want to issue a fine to their players or not.

Many soccer clubs do fine their players for getting a red card during a game. When most teams decide on the rules and policies they have regarding the punishment a player may receive for getting a red card, they will make a standard rule as to how much a player will be fined.

However, there are also teams out there who do not fine their players for getting a red card.

The Player Who Has Received the Most Red Cards

To end this guide to the red card in soccer I thought it would be interesting to look at which players have received the most red cards during their careers.

Although players like Lionel Messi have managed to receive relatively few red cards despite playing a huge number of games throughout his career some players seemed unable to control themselves from getting multiple red cards.

If you’re interested to find out how many red cards Lionel Messi has been given throughout his career, and what the story is behind them then click here to go to an article I wrote answering this question recently.

Gerardo Bedoya is the soccer player who has received the most red cards in the history of soccer. His 46 red cards throughout his career is a record which no other player comes close to

Here’s the list for you of players who have received more red cards in soccer than any other players:

PlayerAmount of Red Cards Received
Vinnie Jones 12
Felipe Melo 14
Yannick Cahuzac 17
Pablo Alfaro 18
Paolo Montero 21
Alexis Ruano Delgado 22
Sergio Ramos 24
Cryil Rool 27
Gerardo Bedoya 46

More Info

If you’ve found this article helpful and are interested in finding out more about the yellow card in soccer then click here to go to the article I wrote – Yellow Card in Soccer: A Complete Guide

If you looking for more information about the rules of soccer click here to see the article I wrote – A Simple and Easy to Understand Guide to the Rules of Soccer

All information regarding what a red card means, what red card offenses are, and who can be shown a red card are taken from the official Laws of the Game of soccer as governed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB)

Ben

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Sign up to the yoursoccerhome.com newsletter here or check out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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