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Red & Yellow Card in Football | Know how footballers are cautioned for their on- field faults

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Football is undoubtedly the most followed and recognized game globally. It is the world’s most popular ball game in number of participants and spectators. A major reason for it enjoying such a large following is its simple principal rules and the essential equipment required for it. The sport can be essentially played anywhere; from a back alley to a cricket field, from a beach to a park, if you have a minimum number of players and the most important element of them all, a football ball, you can play the game anywhere. Now, there are so many aspects of football that modern fans of the game take for granted. With time, new rules have been integrated into the game. Of all the rules that have been introduced to football over the years, the decision to issue players with yellow and red cards for infractions of the rules of the game has been influential and effective.

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Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the governing body of football. It is estimated that at the turn of the 21st century, there were around 250 million football players and a little over 1.3 billion people “interested” in the game.

Issued by the referee to punish and warn against fouls and misconduct caused during the game, many people assume they have always been a feature of football. However, they are a much more recent phenomenon.

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From the introduction of the corner flags, determining the size of the football and even the size of the field have all undergone certain changes over time. Discipline is a very vital part of any game; the same goes for football. It is believed that the introduction of the issuance of these cards has helped immensely in curbing down the unnecessary hostility and indiscipline that often occurs during a game, which at times lead to quite violent endings. In this blog, we will look at the origins and meaning of red and yellow cards and will also know about who got the most yellow & red cards in football.

The Origins of Red & Yellow Cards in Football

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Red and yellow cards were invented in 1966 by Ken Aston who was responsible for overseeing the referees at that year’s World Cup. With the variety of languages spoken in the World Cup, Aston saw several instances where it was not always clear to both players and spectators what decision the referee was making during the game. It was then he came up with the color-coded card system that we know today.

It is believed that he came up with this color-coded system when he was at a traffic signal, from the lights of the signal; he derived that people, irrespective of language, would understand this color-based system of caution.

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  • Yellow, take it easy; Red, stop, you’re off.

Aston was a teacher before he became a referee, so knew too well about the importance of communicating. He approached FIFA with his idea of yellow and red cards in football and the decision was taken to trial. His system was first used in the 1970 World Cup and is now used throughout football and in many other sports.

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What Does a Yellow Card in Football Mean?

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A yellow card is given as a caution or warning for offense or serious misconduct during the game. After receiving one yellow card, it allows players to stay on the field for the remainder of the game, whereas a red card in football means that the player has to leave the pitch with an immediate effect. Two yellow cards are shown to the same player within the same game resulting in a red card and the player has to leave the field.

There are six different types of offense that can result in a yellow card being shown to a player. They are:

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Unsporting Behaviour

This can be a broad number of actions or types of conduct that are not deemed as being sportsman like. Examples include attempting to deceive the referee by ‘diving’ or celebrating a goal in an overelaborate or extravagant manner.

Dissent by Action or Word

The referee has to have complete authority on the field of play so anything that challenges this can be classed as dissent. Examples can include comments that are excessively loud at an official or several players congregating around an official disagreeing with a decision.

Continuous Infringement of Laws

Understandably, some form of infringement of the rules will occur during a football match. However, if a player is deemed to be doing it on a persistent basis, the referee will issue them with a yellow card.

Delaying Play Restarting

Also known as time-wasting, this can include a player taking an excessive amount of time to take a free kick or even deliberately taking it from an incorrect position knowing the referee will order it to be taken again.

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Not Standing the Required Distance

Opposing players must stand 10 yards away from the ball at a free kick or corner. Failure to do so after being warned can result in a free yellow card.

Entering or Re-entering the Field

Once the game is in progress, players cannot enter or re-enter the field or deliberately leave the field of play without the express permission of the referee. Failure to do so is an automatic yellow card.

What Does a Red Card in Football Mean?

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A red card in football means two things when shown to a player. Firstly, they have committed a serious foul or have committed serious misconduct in another way. Secondly, they will have to leave the field of play immediately. The player awarded the red card, apart from having to leave the field, will also be handed a suspension starting from the following match.

As a general rule, in football, a player shown a red card is given a one to three-match ban, depending on the severity of the offense they’ve committed. 

Another point worth noting is that if the player is given two yellow cards (amounting to one red card), they will be suspended from the next match in the same league. Suppose a player is given two yellow cards in Bundesliga and his next match is in the Champions League, his ban will only apply to the Bundesliga.

Race-related incidents, like abuse or racial profiling, resulting in a ban that is often greater than three matches. Spitting incidents can get a player banned for more than six matches.

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There are five main reasons for a red card to be shown in football, including:

Serious Foul Play

What constitutes serious foul play is somewhat subjective and is ultimately up to the judgment of the referee. Examples can include actions such as two-footed tackles and any other activity that can endanger the safety of another player.

Spitting and Abusive Language

In football, spitting is almost always a straight red card and abusive language is dealt with harshly too. This can include insults or remarks that could be deemed racist or offensive in another way.


Anything violent such as kicking, punching, elbowing, kneeing, or attacking an opponent in any way will almost certainly is dealt with by the issuing of a red card in football.

Deliberately Fouling

When an attacker has a clear goal-scoring opportunity and deliberately fouls to prevent the goal, it is an automatic red card. This is also the case for intentionally using hands or arms to block a goal attempt.

Receiving Two Yellow Cards

In football, two yellow cards equal a red card. Thus if a player commits two fouls that are worthy of a yellow card for each one, then a red will automatically be issued and the player will have to leave the field of play.

What happens if the Goalkeeper Gets a Red Card in football

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Image Source- The Guardian

If the goalkeeper gets the red card, he too is sent off the field. As a result, the team is left with 10 players. The manager will have to substitute a goalkeeper in place of the one sent off.

Another is that if the manager has used up all three of his substitutes by the time the goalkeeper is shown the red card and sent off the field, another on-field player will have to don the gloves and act as the new goalkeeper for the remainder of the match.

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Players with the most number of Red & Yellow Cards

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In terms of players who hold the record for the most number of cards issued against them, Sergio Ramos (Spain; PSG) is the player with the most number of yellow cards, at 269.

And the player with the most number of red cards is Gerardo Bedoya with 46 red cards. The 46-year-old Columbian defender has retired as a professional,

However, it is worth noting that amongst the current active players, it is again Sergio Ramos who holds the distinction of the player with the most number of red cards at 28.

Most Red Cards in Football 

On 8 October 2022 in Stade de Reims vs PSG, Ligue 1, Sergio Ramos picked up two yellow cards within 30 seconds and saw a red card for the 28th time. Sergio Ramos received his first yellow card in 41st minute after arguing with referee Pierre Gailloust, who got back at the Spaniard and gave him a straight red moments later.

No.  Player Red Cards
1 Gerardo Bedoya 46
2 Sergio Ramos 28
3 Cyril Rool 27
4 Alexis Ruano Delgado 22
5 Paolo Montero 21

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How Many Red Cards Does Lionel Messi Have?

Lionel Messi has received a red card three times in his career, twice for Argentina and once for FC Barcelona.

Who has more red cards between Messi and Ronaldo?

Cristiano Ronaldo has more red cards than Lionel Messi.

Who has the most red card in football history?

Gerardo Bedoya has got the most red card in football. This former Colombia international player got 46 red cards so far.

Who Invented Red And Yellow Cards?

Red and yellow cards were invented in 1966 by Ken Aston who was responsible for overseeing the referees at that year’s World Cup.

How many red cards has Sergio Ramos gotten in his entire career?

On 8 October 2022 in Stade de Reims vs PSG, Ligue 1, Sergio Ramos picked up two yellow cards within 30 seconds and saw a red card for the 28th time. Sergio Ramos received his first yellow card in 41st minute after arguing with referee, who got back at the Spaniard and gave him a straight red moments later.

Which footballer has the least yellow cards?

Gary Lineker has never received a yellow or red card during his 16-year career. As a result, he was honored with the FIFA Fair Play Award in 1990. He is an English former professional footballer and current sports broadcaster. 

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