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Definition of a Red Card in Soccer


The red card is a measure of discipline in the game of soccer. The referee can give a player a yellow card, which is a warning, but for serious fouls or infractions, players can also receive a red card. This results in instant ejection from the game. The player cannot be replaced, leaving his team shorthanded. A player who receives two yellow cards in a game will also receive an automatic red card.


Red cards were introduced into soccer to help curb serious foul play. Englishman Ken Aston is credited with the introduction of red cards into soccer laws. Aston was in charge of referees at the 1966 FIFA World Cup and was said to be concerned by dangerous play. A red card was introduced to eject players guilty of this, and it was designed to illustrate the ejection clearly to fans. Red cards were first used in the 1970 FIFA World Cup.

Foul Play

Red cards are awarded at the discretion of the match referee. Red card offenses include the excessive use of force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball. Violent conduct is also a red card offense. Red cards are also awarded for fouling a player and denying them a clear goal-scoring opportunity, or the deliberate use of the hand to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity. As stated, if a player receives two yellow cards during a soccer game, an automatic red card is given.

Unsportsmanlike conduct

Red cards are also awarded in soccer for unsportsmanlike conduct. These decisions are made at the discretion of the match referee, and offenses include using foul language towards or spitting on an opponent. Verbal or physical dissent towards the match referee can also result in a red card in accordance with soccer laws. This includes, but is not limited to, disrespectful or foul language towards a match referee and any form of physical confrontation against a match referee.


When a player receives a red card, they are not allowed to be replaced by rule and therefore their team must play the remainder of the game a player short. This puts a higher amount of pressure on the team playing shorthanded. Jan Vecer led a team of researchers from Columbia University who studied the impact of a red card on soccer games. The research took place during the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 European Championships. The results showed a team that has a player red carded is less likely to score, while the likelihood of the opposing team scoring increases with the extra player at their disposal.


A player who receives a red card could also be suspended from future games in addition to their ejection. Individual tournaments and leagues have differing suspension rules. In the English professional leagues, a player faces a suspension that varies between one and three games after receiving a red card.