What Is a Yellow Card in Soccer?

By Woodland Soccer Team •  Updated: 07/10/22 •  8 min read

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Can you imagine a soccer game in which players would be allowed to punch, bite or spit on each other? Granted, they could do it, but that would get them at least a yellow card.

What Is a Yellow Card in Soccer?

Yellow card or booking is an official sanction given by the referee in order to discipline a player for misconduct during the soccer game. The Referee shows a yellow card directly to a player who committed an offence during the game, but it should be a public act visible to all other participants in the game, including the spectators.

How Many Yellow Cards Can a Soccer Player Get?

A player can get a maximum of two yellow cards per game – the first one being the warning after which the player stays on the pitch, and the second one, which automatically becomes a red card, excluding the player from the match without the possibility of someone replacing him, which leaves his team with a player less for the rest of the game. Player who has been booked will start the next match, except in situations when he is suspended. Suspension happens when a player collects certain number of yellow cards in different matches during the season. It depends on
the rules of a certain competition how many cards a player can get before being suspended. Suspensions usually come after 3 to 5 yellow cards (spread across multiple matches) and are followed by a fine.

Why Do Players Get a Yellow Card?

There are different reasons for being sanctioned with a yellow card. A player is given a yellow card in order to be formally warned about his further misconduct. If a yellow card would be transformed into words, the referee would say: “If you repeat such a misconduct again, or you do something similar, I will put you out of the game”. The most common cases when a player is sanctioned by a yellow card are: unsporting behavior, delaying the restart of play (stealing time), dissent (verbal or action), deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission, not respecting the required distance during set pieces, persistent offenses. Interestingly, there are also actions which don’t include other players or referees, like improper celebration of a scored goal or improper gesture to the fans.

Who Can Earn a Yellow Card?

A yellow card can be given to any player on the pitch, but also to the players who are sitting on the bench as substitutions. It often happens that a team’s manager or other staff members get a yellow card for complaining about the referee’s decision or insulting the referee.

Who Can Give a Yellow Card?

Despite there being four officials on the pitch, neither a linesman or fourth official can give a yellow card. The only person who can give a yellow card is the referee. Others can inform the referee on things he couldn’t hear or see, so this information can lead to a yellow card as well. Has Any Player Ever Earned More Than Two Yellow Cards

During the Same Match?

During the 2006 World Cup group stage game between Australia and Croatia, English referee Graham Poll made a huge mistake by not sending off Croatian defender Josip Simunic. Simunic was shown his first yellow card in the 61th minute. 30 minutes later, Poll showed Simunic his second yellow card, but didn’t send him off with a mandatory red card. In the 3rd minute of injury time, Simunic was unhappy with Poll’s decision and pushed him, so Poll showed him his third yellow card and sent him off. This was one of the greatest controversies regarding referee’s decisions
in this competition and it has ruined Graham Poll’s further career.

Why Is a Yellow Card Important and How Can It Influence the Game?

A player who gets a yellow card is automatically under the pressure not to earn the second one and get sent off. Player’s acting style in a match has to be more cautious after getting a yellow card and he must take care of tackles’ intensity and not get provoked by the opponent. A potential second yellow card would lead his teammates
into a handicap, so the booked players are often substituted by the coach in order to prevent this risk. All this can impact the team, but also the coach’s strategy and tactics forcing him to adapt during the game.

When Was the Yellow Card Invented?

Before inventing yellow and red cards, soccer used to be a “dirty” game with not much fair play. Players were allowed to commit repeated tactical fouls with high intensity in order to ruin the opponent’s actions, which was totally unfair and allowed less skilled teams to be an equal rival, increasing their chances for an undeserved positive score. In order to prevent such actions, The Laws of the Game (“rules of football”) have been set by FIFA – Fédération Internationale de Football Association, an international governing organisation responsible for soccer. These rules
progressed and modernized during the time, but in the second half of 20th century they got a great change, a key invention that will forever change soccer.

Kenneth George Aston, one of the best referees during the ‘60s, was the one responsible for inventing yellow and red cards. He had many problems with players’ unsporting behavior during the 1962 World Cup in Chile. Passing down Kensington High Street in London, Ken Aston stopped at a traffic light and a perfect idea came to his mind – to use an internationally recognized color scheme – yellow and red – as a way of signalling a sanction for minor and serious misconduct, respectively.

While the use of the colors was Aston’s idea, it was his wife who gave these means of sanctions their recognisable shape and size which can fit in the referee’s pocket. After Aston told her about his idea, she reportedly went to the bedroom and came back with two cards. That was the birth of red and yellow cards.

Cards were first used during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. After that, many other sports have adopted yellow and red cards as a means of sanction.

What Is the Format and the Dimensions of a Yellow Card in Soccer?

A yellow card should fit perfectly in a referee’s pocket. Regarding this, a yellow card is 10,1cm (4 inches) long and 7,6 cm (3 inches) wide. On the back of the yellow card there is a space for writing, so the referee could write down names of players who are booked, time of a given yellow card and the reason for a given card. Cards are
made of plastic and can be reused for many years.

Does VAR Check Yellow Cards in Soccer?

The video assistant referee (VAR) is a tool which helps referees to correct obvious errors and serious missed incidents and to make fair final decisions. However, the VAR is not responsible for giving a yellow card, so the referee will not consult the VAR for yellow cards. On the other hand, a player (including substitutes) can be
shown a yellow card if he excessively appeals for the use of the VAR. The video assistant referee can intervene for an incident where the second yellow card should become a red card and a player should be sent off.

Who Are the Top 3 Players With the Most Bookings in Modern Football?

Players who commit many fouls (especially defenders and defensive midfielders) are always at risk of getting yellow cards. However, we have some favorites in this category and I’m sure you wouldn’t like to play a striker against these lads. Third on the list is Barcelona’s bad boy Dani Alves with 210 yellow cards. Despite having many attacking tasks in his position, he was often responsible for stopping world class wingers. The second place is still reserved for Mexican defensive midfielder Gerardo Torrado, despite him retiring in 2017.

He was known for a rough approach on the pitch and for fearless tackles. An absolute winner in this competition is Spanish center back and ex Real Madrid’s captain Sergio Ramos. One of the best center backs in the 21st century has earned 262 yellow cards in his career. Interestingly, he is in second place on a list of footballers with the most red cards. Is It Possible That a Player Doesn’t Earn a Yellow Card.

During His Career?

Believe it or don’t, there is a player who has never been booked in his senior career as a soccer player. Famous Englishman, Gary Lineker, was involved in 567 games during his professional career and has never earned a yellow card. In this period he scored a total of 330 goals.

Final Thoughts

Yellow card is one of the most important and internationally recognizable signs not only in soccer, but in many more sports. This almost 70 years old invention has changed the history of sports. What would modern sport look like had Ken Aston never married – one can only imagine…

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Woodland Soccer Team

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