Red Card In Soccer (Explained)

Penalties exist in nearly every sport to keep order during play. Soccer is no different, as they have a penalty system used by the referees that dates back to the original rules of the game. Depending on the severity, players can receive differently colored cards. The ultimate punishment? A red card.

What is a soccer red card? Red card is a signal for a player to be sent off for the rest of a match. They can either get a red card directly for a serious infraction, or two yellow cards that add up to a red. When a team has a player with a red card, they are forced to play the rest of the match with 10 players instead of 11.

Different Types Of Red Cards

The two ways for a player to receive a red card is to either pick one up directly for a serious offense, or get two yellow cards that add up to a red card. The direct red card is viewed as much more severe, and it usually carries a slightly longer suspension after the fact. Two yellow cards might only result in a one-game suspension, or no suspension at all.

Red cards are always up to a referee’s discretion, but some general tactics can lead directly to this punishment. As they try to clean the game up as much as possible and have everything under control, it makes sense to have some basic rules to follow across the board.

Physical Harm

Players can receive a red card for any extremely physical play that is geared more towards injuring an opponent rather than playing in the game of soccer. A serious foul that does not look like a legitimate play on the ball is one way to get a player hurt for no reason.

Physical play can come from a vicious slide tackle, grabbing a player to take them down to the ground, taking swings at a player to start a fight, and more. There are even people who have received red cards for spitting in an opponent’s (or referee’s) face.

Foul Language, Obscene Gestures

Referees are trying to clean up the sport of soccer as much as possible, especially when it comes to anything that could offend the younger fans. Soccer is an emotional sport, and referees let a lot of things go. However, they do not necessarily let go of blatant foul language, or gestures for that matter. Players did not use to receive red cards nearly as often in the past for this, but it is a good way to start eliminating verbal abuse from getting out of hand.

Deliberate Handballs

Perhaps the most basic rule of soccer involves not touching the ball with the hands. Hand balls will inevitably happen once in a while, but if it is deemed deliberate, it can carry harsh penalties.

There are a lot of people out there who believe that this is a bit too much for a hand ball. However, it helps to keep the game fairly clean, as players might be more willing to risk a handball if they knew they would only get a slap on the wrist. They do happen completely accidentally, and it is mostly a judgement call by the referee with that.

Purposely Stopping a Goal Scoring Opportunity

Purposely stopping a goal scoring opportunity for the opposing team, is one of the most common ways to receive a red card. If the opposite team is about to score, but gets tackled in an unfair way, which prevent them from scoring, the player will immediately receive a red card. Every foul that purposely obstructs an obvious goal scoring opportunity, will lead to red card.

Two Yellow Cards

Yellow cards are reserved mostly for minor infractions, but players should be a little more cautious if they pick one up early in the match. It should be viewed as a stern warning in a lot of cases, as players might find themselves in a tough situation.

What Happens If The Goalkeeper Receives a Red Card?

A goalkeeper can get a red card just like any other player on the field. It causes a bit more of an issue, since teams have to find a way to replace that player somehow.

The workaround is to use a substitution to put in the backup goalkeeper, and then play the rest of the match with one man down. At some smaller levels, they can get around this by actually moving a player to goal if they have any experience playing there. This will not happen in professional ranks with so much specialization, but it does save a substitute.

The only time an outfield player will step into the goal is if the goalkeeper receives a red card, and the team has already used up all three substitutions. This happens very rarely, but there are examples of this happening at even the highest of levels. It usually spells trouble for the opposition, but it makes for some exciting play during that time for fans to see a team play in such an unconventional manner.

Do Players Miss Additional Games After Receiving a Red Card?

There are no set rules when it comes to red card suspensions across the board. Professional leagues tend to issue suspensions that last anywhere from one to three games, and they must be in that same competition. This can be a bit confusing for fans to follow, but the team needs to figure out a way to handle anything thrown their way.

Take a look at a high-level team in the English Premier League for an example. A player gets a red card in a Champions League match, and that is their last match in that competition for a while. That player can return and play in every match that takes part in the Premier League, but that red card suspension starts with the next Champions League match.

Too Many Red Cards=Walk Over

Soccer played at the highest level requires at least seven players on each side. That means each team can lose up to four players from red cards. If five or more players are sent off, the match is automatically called off.

Some major incident must happen during the match for that many players to be sent off. Usually, it makes sense anyway to call the match, as the fans and opposition are probably very upset as well.

Why Are Red Cards Used In The First Place?

From the early days of soccer, the red card has always been around as a way to handle displine on the pitch. It is the best way to keep order as much as possible, and is a very stiff penalty for teams.

The reason why soccer uses yellow cards and red cards simply comes down to a simple system that is understood in any language. Soccer is a truly international sport, and everyone knows what yellow and red means.

How Often Are Red Cards Issued?

It is hard to pinpoint exactly how often red cards are issued, since that usually comes down to a pretty crazy scenario in a single match. Certain leagues tend to have more red cards issued that others. Players might not be playing for as much, and referees might have a shorter leash before issuing a penalty.

Expect to see a red card in a high-level competition about once every four or five matches. Since the top players know just how severe the penalty is, and referees don’t want to dictate batches, it leads to quite a bit of leeway on both sides. Maybe in the past, certain actions would have received direct red cards. Now, referees are slightly more lenient to keep everything flowing.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired early at 21 due to injuries - which lead me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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