Referee holding ball and showing a red card

What Is a Red Card In Soccer?

Published date: October 13, 2021

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The world of sports isn't for everyone, but it's never too late to start taking an interest and getting involved in some capacity. Even then, there are many different sports and events that are broadcast around the world, and for Americans, one sport that isn't quite as popular on your home turf is football, or as you call it: soccer.

In soccer, your goal is the same as many other field sports: to work with your team to get the ball to the other side, into the goal, and score for your team. But there are many nuances to that with many different strategies, and those strategies have to work within and around the bounds of the rules. If you break a rule, there can be pretty severe punishments. Today we'll talk about some of the different penalties you may see the referee deal out.

What Can Get You Penalized?

There are three different severities of penalties in soccer, with varying types of fouls being categorized into one of these four.


These actions are against the rules, but their significance is not considered to greatly impact the game so much as to result in more severe punishment. However, repeated fouls can lead to harsher punishments, and the scope of some of these fouls could lead to additional or more severe penalties. Fouls can be treated in one of two ways, as decided by the referee.

Minor offenses will result in the opposing team being awarded an indirect free-kick. A more serious foul will still result in a direct kick being awarded instead, or even a penalty if the foul occurs in the penalty box.

Some activities that may cause the referee to call a foul include the following:

  • Tripping
  • kicking
  • pushing
  • holding
  • charging into an opponent

The severity of the punishment will depend on whether it was intentional or not, the severity of the act, whether there was an injury, and other evidence that might affect the referee's decision-making.

  • Tackling from behind
  • Making contact with a player during a tackle before making contact with the ball
  • Jumping into or onto an opponent
  • Touching the ball with your hands when not the goalkeeper

Additionally, the goalkeeper has a particular set of rules which, when broken, can result in a foul:

  • Holding the ball for more than six seconds
  • Touching the ball with their hands after a teammate has kicked it to them
  • Touching the ball with their hands directly after a throw-in from a teammate

Yellow Cards

The referee can choose to hand out a yellow card, which acts as a caution for a player who has committed an act that results in a more severe penalty. These actions could include some of the following:

  • Repeated fouls
  • Unsportsmanlike behavior
  • Arguing with the referee's decision
  • Purposely delaying the game from progressing
  • Entering or leaving the field without informing the referee
Yellow card and Red card soccer field and stadium with fans the night light.


Red Cards

Red cards are the final severity of a penalty and result in the player being taken off the field for the rest of the game. They are considered the most severe of offenses and can result in potentially career-shaping events. As a player, these must be taken very seriously, and you should accept them in a sporting manner. Remaining calm and maintaining good poise can quickly diffuse a situation on the field and help the game resume quickly.

Some of the actions that can result in a red card include:

  • Severe fouls, such as those that could result in injury
  • Violent conduct
  • Abusive language and acts
  • Using your hands to intercede a goal
  • Fouling to prevent a goal
  • Taunting or provoking another player
  • Second warning/yellow card
  • Using prohibited and dangerous plays

A red card can be given out at any stage of the game, even after the match, so long as the officials are still on the field. You will know when a red card is issued as the referee will blow the whistle and raise their hand, holding up a red card.

Upon penalty, the offending player is immediately taken out of the game and is no longer allowed to play, being switched for another benched player. If there is no other player available, they will have to carry on playing a player short. In some leagues and tournaments, the player may also be suspended from participating in additional games as a further penalty.

Prohibited Plays

To elaborate on some of the actions that could result in a red card, let's talk a bit more about some points in more detail.

Violence and abusive acts and language are prohibited for pretty obvious reasons. To endanger another player or provoke or attack them in any way, verbally or physically, is cause enough to get you suspended from the match and even further matches.

While accidents do, of course, happen on the field, less lenient referees won't let the excuse of it being an unintentional slide as you are responsible for the safety of those around you and the harm you could inflict.

To this point, several prohibited plays are considered by officials to be too reckless and dangerous to perform during a game. These are plays that could harm yourself or other players around you, including but not limited to:

  • Bicycle kicking while other players are in the vicinity
  • High kicks with other players in the vicinity
  • Sliding and making contact with another player
  • Tackling a player directly
  • Forcefully pushing a player intentionally
  • Making excessive contact with other players when not near the ball

The officials of an event may find it necessary to include additional prohibited actions, adding to this shortlist. Always make sure to brush up on what plays are prohibited at the particular event, but, in general, don't perform plays that could be considered reckless, putting yourself or others in unnecessary danger.


The red card is one of the most severe punishments a referee can hand out during a game. Being a man down or having to switch players mid-game can severely affect the potential of winning, not to mention affect your career as a soccer player going forth.

While there are plenty of examples of players continuing to play after such punishments, you should still not risk the potential and play it safe and by the rules. A good player wins through skill, not through underhanded tactics.

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