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Soccer Red Card Rules – Official: You Must Know

Red cards in soccer totally change the way a game goes. That extra player makes big a difference.

This can make an interesting game, while one team tries to break down the opponent as they defend and they try to counter-attack.

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When do you get a red card in soccer?

A red card is given when a player uses “excessive force”. This can be an aggressive tackle that endangers an opponent or misconduct as outlined in the rules below.

In this article, I will take you through all of the areas where a player can receive a red so that we can avoid it as players and we can instruct other players to do the same.

Knowing the official rules will help us play a better game – we’ll know how we can tackle the safe side of the law. Being strong in the game is a major factor in competing, it’s a physical game, so it’s best to know right from wrong.

History of Red Cards in Soccer

Red and yellow cards came into the game of soccer after the violence at a world cup in 1962. The first foul in the match was after 12 seconds and Kaplan International reports after the referee had returned to England and was driving home  

While I was driving the light turned red and I thought, ‘Yellow, calm down and red, stop, go out.’”

Referee Ken Aston

After this incident at the world cup, it was another 8 years before red and yellow cards were introduced. In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico cards were first used.

Official Soccer Rules

There are many opinions about when a red card should be shown in soccer, but the best place to get the rules is from the rule-makers. Football Federation International Football or FIFA as they commonly know.

These three stages are outlines for what a player should receive, for their offense;

Careless Soccer Play

Carless – means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making his challenge or that they acted without precaution: no further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless.

FIFA Law 12

Reckless Soccer Play

Reckless – means that the player has acted with complete disregard of the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent: a player who plays in a reckless manner shall be cautioned.

FIFA Law 12

Using Excessive Force Soccer Play

Using excessive force – means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring an on opponent: a player who uses excessive force shall be sent off

FIFA Law 12

Seven Reasons for a Red Card

  1. Serious foul play
  2. Violent conduct
  3. Spitting at a person
  4. Deliberate handball – denying a goal-scoring opportunity
  5. Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity
  6. Offensive, aggressive, abusive language or gesture
  7. Receiving a second caution
○ Soccer Red Card Rules - Official: You Must Know ○ referee red card soccer
Referee Showing a Red Card

When a Player is Sent Off?

If a player is sent off, that player needs to leave the field of play, plus they cannot stay in the technical area, which surrounds the manager and the substitutes. Normally the player will go to the locker room.

1.0 Serious Foul Play

Using Excessive Force

A player will receive a red car for using force that’s more than necessary. For example, tackling a player where the player’s intention is to injure.

This is just one example where a player can be sent off, but there are many more.

○ Soccer Red Card Rules - Official: You Must Know ○ soccer foul
Excessive Force Foul


If a player lunges or slides towards a player with their leg raised in an aggressive manner, with the studs toward the opponent. It can be one leg or two, coming from the front, back or sides. This is classified as ‘serious foul play’.

If a player commits an offense while the ball is still in play. The referee can let the play continue to allow an advantage and give a red when the ball is out of play.

2.0 Violent Conduct

Excessive and brutal force when challenging a player, spectator, or another person.

This can be on the field of play or outside of it. It applies to any player on the pitch and also those on the bench. The referee will only allow play to continue if there is a goal-scoring opportunity.

Object or Ball Thrown

If a player throws an object, either on the pitch or bench, in an aggressive manner, the player will be shown a red card.

Denying a Goal or Scoring Opportunity

If a goal-scoring opportunity is denied, this can be inside the penalty box or outside. If the referee allows play to continue as an advantage and a goal is scored, only a yellow card would be given.

The two offenses for this to happen are;

  1. Deliberate handball
  2. Any offense that would cause a freekick

The closer to the goal the offense occurs, the more likely a red card is given. Including if the ball would have gone into the goal if it were not for the handball. Along with other factors, such as the positions of the defenders and the direction of play.

Offensive, Insulting or Abusive Language

Any player who’s guilty of the above must be sent off. This can be towards any person, players, officials, or spectators.

Two Yellow Cards

If a player is shown two yellow cards in the match given for offenses covered in this article. The referee will show the second yellow to the player and then the red card.

Are there Sin Bins in Soccer?

In the professional game, there are currently no sin bins for offenses, like they’ve in many other sports.

They’ve introduced sin bins at the grassroots level of soccer in England. This is for the youth players and it’ll help them adapt to the rules and give the referee more control.

Sin bins could be introduced into the game in the future, giving an extra dimension. The infographic below is from the English FA:

○ Soccer Red Card Rules - Official: You Must Know ○ sin bin orange card
Soccer Sin Bin Infographic

What happens when you get a red card in soccer?

The player is sent off from the field and cannot stay in the technical area.

How many games do you miss when you get a red card?

For two yellows resulting in a red card, the player will be suspended for 1 match. Reds card for dissent will get a 2 match ban and for aggressive force 3 matches. For extreme cases, a ban can be for 4 matches or more.

Can you get a red card after a yellow?

If an offense made is worthy of a red card, the player will be shown a straight red card.

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