What Happens If a Goalkeeper Gets a Red Card?

The last line of defense, arguably one of the most important players on the pitch, is the giant goalkeeper with the safe (hopefully) hands.

Your goalkeeper can be the difference between victory or defeat, nowhere else on a soccer field can one mistake be so costly, which is why losing one to a red card can be crippling to a team.

What happens if a goalkeeper gets a red card? When a goalkeeper gets a red card, the coach needs to substitute an outfield player and replace it with the reserve keeper. The team with the red card needs to play 10 against 11 for the rest of the game.

When Goalkeepers See The Red Mist

When the goalkeeper sees the red mist and goes flying into challenges they have no business being involved in, it usually leads to one thing, a red card.

It’s a manager’s worst nightmare, as unlike outfield positions which may be rotated to keep players fresh, the keeper is invariably the best at the clubs’ disposal.

As such, losing the no.1 is a real issue, if the manager has planned ahead (and usually they do these days as many leagues can have 9 subs on the bench with a maximum of 3 being used) and has a reserve keeper on the bench, they can take an outfield player off and bring the new goalkeeper on.

While this solves the issue of who is going to tend the goal, it then leaves the rest of the game in favor of the opposition.

Not only has the likely better, or at least the keeper with more match freshness, been lost in favor of someone who now needs to hit the ground running, but as the keeper spends most of their time inside the penalty box, there is a high likelihood that a penalty was awarded to the opposing team.

This “double jeopardy” punishment has been an issue for some time, and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) is continually reviewing and amending the rule.

In its most basic form, the double jeopardy rule means that it is harder (in theory) to both concede a penalty AND get sent off as well. In reality, many players still get sent off and concede the penalty, as if the foul is deemed dangerous, or they had no way of reaching the ball, the referee can still award both punishments.

Penalty & Red Card

So the worst has happened, you are a man down, you’ve had to take off your striker and put your substitute goalkeeper on instead. And even worse, the opposition has a penalty.

Like sharks after prey, they smell blood in the water, and they are going to make the rest of the game very uncomfortable. The striker steps up against your barely warmed-up second-string goalie… He shoots… He scores!

The team is in real trouble now, with the striker taken off, the team is effectively impotent in front of the opposition goal; even if it is a midfielder taken off, the loss of cover means the other team runs riot, attacking at will.

If the team was lucky, the red card comes in the 88th minute, just 2 minutes to go, but it rarely is, to scare fans and teammates alike, the maniac keeper went in studs first in the 22nd minute! A lifetime to hold on to scrape a draw.

The Siege Mentality of 10 vs 11

Sometimes having the goalkeeper sent off isn’t the end of the world, especially if it looks like a poor refereeing decision. Anger sets in, a “They Shall Not Pass!” siege mentality galvanizes the squad. The fans get louder and the remaining players feed on the energy of the support.

The opposition begins to feel it too. Numerical superiority suddenly feels less important, the 10 players facing you are now digging in on the edge of their box. It feels like there is no way through, and suddenly your fans are getting nervous. Surely they can beat a team with 10 men?

There are countless instances of players being sent off, and the team holding on or at least minimizing the damage to a small loss. With goalkeepers, this tends to be more difficult, purely because of the risk of an immediate penalty goal going in.

An opposing team with time to wear the reduced team down should find a way through eventually, but there are many instances of taking the foot off the pedal, feeling secure and confident rather than driving forward to finish off a team, time slips away, the opportunities disappear, teams crumble.

Having been sent off does not necessarily mean an immediate defeat, Jens Lehmann of Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal fame was sent off 7 times in his career! Including in the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona.

Despite going down to 10 men Arsenal took the lead before a dominating Barcelona team took the game 2-1, however, the galvanizing effect of going a man down had fired Arsenal up, and they continued to make a game of it for much of the remainder of the match.

Why Goalkeepers Get Sent Off

Goalkeepers are often a different personality to outfield players, at least during games. They need to be confident, assertiveness is a must to be between the sticks.

Both screaming at their own players for protection, and threatening opposition players who venture near their net, the keeper has to know they are right at all times, split-second decisions are their jobs.

And this sometimes leads to rashness, going for a tackle that anyone else can see is a mistake, the goalkeeper has to go into it assuming they are right. When they are, the fans love them, their teammates pat them on the back, in a team sport, the goalkeeper can be the sole hero.

When it goes wrong though, when they mistime a tackle, or go for the ball outside the penalty box and take down a player, out comes the red card. The goalkeeper is suddenly the most hated person on the pitch.

Many goalkeepers are decisive and are situationally aware, which is why they get sent off sporadically, the ones that don’t have awareness are the ones that get sent off regularly.

The Repercussions of Losing a Keeper

Getting two yellow cards and thus being sent off is a terrible way to lose a goalkeeper, having been warned once, you should hope a lesson has been learned.

Regardless of a straight red, or two yellow cards, the resulting punishment is a one-match ban, but there is always the risk of a further suspension if the challenge was a particularly bad one, or if the referee feels the player shows dissent when being sent off.

Dissent towards the referee by the goalkeeper, either through foul language, angry gesture or just refusing to accept their fate, usually results in a two-match ban.

If the goalkeeper has displayed some form of violent conduct, perhaps an opposition challenge was deemed reckless and the keeper retaliates and gets sent off, the result is invariably a three-match ban.

As already pointed out, the goalkeeper is usually the best available to his club, and to lose them for up to three games due to suspension is something managers look to avoid. A rash challenge occasionally can be forgiven, a one-match ban is dealt with.

But a goalkeeper with tendencies towards retaliation and anger can cost the team over and over again. Fines are often given out for dismissal, loss of wages usually hits home the importance of keeping your head.

At the end of the day, losing any player is hard on a team, but losing your goalkeeper causes more disruption and anxiety to a team than in any other position. The sense of disorder is often palpable, fans and players expect the worst, and usually get it when the goalie walks.

Connor Smith

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

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