What is a Yellow Card in Soccer

A yellow card in soccer is a physical item carried by the referee. It is, quite literally, a yellow piece of card. Yellow cards are used in matches to caution players for disruptive or unsportsman-like behavior. They are used as a caution for minor offenses, whilst a red card is used as a much harsher punishment. 

A player who has been shown two yellow cards in one game will be immediately shown a red card and sent off the soccer pitch for their behavior. The offending player is not allowed to be replaced on the pitch by another player, and the team will be down a member for the remainder of the game.

The History of Yellow Cards

Yellow cards were introduced to the game of soccer by an English referee named Ken Aston. Aston is credited for bringing the need for yellow cards to light after two incidents. One during a match in 1962, he realised there was a language barrier between himself and the Chilean and Italian players. Being unable to communicate effectively with the teams made it extremely hard to keep track of warnings and offenses on both sides. Another such incident occurred during the 1966 World Cup, when players were being booked by referees and were unaware of it until it was noted in the newspaper. The Yellow Card system was developed as a way to keep track of bookings and to be used as a universal signal in soccer.  

Why is a Yellow Card yellow? 

A Yellow Card is yellow as it follows the standard traffic light system in place in most places of the world. The amber light on a traffic light is used to signify slowing down, whilst the red is used to signify an immediate stop. The same concept applies to the yellow card system in soccer, and Ken Aston came up with the idea when driving down Kensington High Street in London.

The idea was taken to the Referee’s Committee of FIFA, and the idea was approved and written into the rules of soccer. 

When Was the First Yellow Card Used?

The first yellow card to be used in a game of soccer was during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The first player to be given a yellow card was Soviet Union player Evengi Lovchev. The introduction of yellow cards has since made the sport of soccer easier to regulate and has removed a potential language barrier amongst players and referees. 

Yellow Card Offenses

The yellow card is used for more minor offenses, whilst the red card is reserved for players who are given two yellow cards or deserve harsher penalties for their actions. 

The yellow card in soccer is used in a variety of circumstances, most of which deal with the disruption of play or fellow players. 

  • Unsporting behavior
  • Delaying the restarting of play
  • Entering, re-entering or leaving the field without the referee’s permission
  • Dissent by word or action
  • Persistent offenses which infringe on the rule of play, especially after being previously warned.
  • Failing to respect the required distance for corner kicks, free kicks or throw-ins. 

Unsporting Behavior

Unsporting behavior is a vague offense and discretion is given to the referee to decide on what constitutes unsporting behavior. Referees do have a list which they can follow which dictates what is considered to be unsporting behavior.

  • Attempts to deceive the referee (By feigning injury, or pretending to be fouled).
  • Changes places with the goalkeeper during play or without the referee’s expressed permission.
  • Committing a free kick offense in a reckless manner. 
  • Handles the ball to interfere with or stop a promising attack.
  • Commits a foul which interferes or stops a promising attack, except where the referee awards a penalty kick for an offense which was an attempt to play the ball. 
  • Denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by an offense which was an attempt to play the ball and the referee awards a penalty kick.
  • Handles the ball in an attempt to score a goal (regardless of whether it’s successful or not) or in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a goal.
  • Makes unauthorised marks on the field of play. 
  • Plays the ball when leaving the field of play after being permission to leave the field.
  • Shows a lack of respect for the game.
  • Uses a deliberate trick to pass the ball (including from a free kick) to the goalkeeper with the head, chest, knee, etc. to circumvent the Law, whether or not the goalkeeper touches the ball with the hands.
  • Verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart.

Whilst unsporting behavior is up to a lot of interpretation by the referee, these guidelines help the referee realise that unsporting behavior is mostly made up of actions that aren’t performed in the spirit of the game of soccer. 

What do Referees Write on Yellow Cards?

When a yellow card is issued by the referee, they are normally seen writing on the back of the card.
On the back of a yellow card, the referee writes:

  1. The time when the offense was made during the game.
  2. What the offense was.
  3. The identity of the player who committed the offense. (Including the name, shirt number and team). 
soccer referee

This information is written down as a way to keep a record of offenses, times and players who commit them. It’s also done to ensure that a referee can keep track of how many yellow cards have been handed out during a match, and how many each player has received. This is especially important to do when multiple players have received yellow cards during a single match. 

The Most Yellow Cards Given During a Game of Soccer

The most yellow cards given during a UEFA game was in 2016, in a match between Bayern Munich and Juventus, which saw 12 yellow cards issued to players on both teams. 

During soccer games where several players receive bookings, it’s important for the referee to keep track of who has received them and for what reason. 

How Long a Yellow Card Lasts

A player will remain cautioned if they receive a yellow card for the remainder of the game, providing they aren’t sent off with a second yellow card. It makes no difference at what point in the game a player is cautioned with a yellow card, they will remain under caution for the remainder of the match. 

Can Yellow Cards Carry Over?

There are exceptions with certain seasons which see yellow cards carry over throughout the season. These are usually predetermined rules made by the season’s host, and players will have to remain extra cautious when playing. A predetermined amount of yellow cards can be given to a player during these seasons before they are sent off with a red card. 

A player being cautioned with a yellow card gives them much more incentive to avoid any conflict or unsporting behavior, as a second yellow card can result in a red card.

Can Soccer Managers get Yellow Cards?

Soccer coaches and managers are not immune from the rules imposed by soccer officials. There are ways in which managers and coaches can exhibit unsporting behavior can, too, can be cautioned during a game of soccer.
Team officials have their own rules to abide by, and there is a list of actions that can result in a yellow card being issued to them if they act inappropriately during a game of soccer. 

  • Not respecting the confines of their team’s technical area.
  • Deliberately entering the opposing team’s technical area.
  • Delaying the start of play by their team.
  • Dissent of word or action. This can include, kicking or throwing objects, or gesturing in a way that shows a clear lack of respect for other match officials. 
  • Entering the referee review area (RRA).
  • Excessively gesturing for a red or yellow card.
  • Excessively showing the signal for a VAR review.
  • Persistent unacceptable behavior.
  • Acting or gesturing in a provocative or inflammatory manner.
  • Showing a lack of respect for the game. 

One widely recognized example of a manager being shown a yellow card was during an English Premier League game, when Jose Mourinho was shown a yellow card for entering the opponent’s technical area. 

The Difference Between a Yellow Card and a Red Card in Soccer

A yellow card is used primarily as a caution, to ensure a player is aware that their actions are going against the rules of soccer. A player can be shown two yellow cards in one match, and on the second card they are shown a red card, which sends them off the pitch.

A red card is a more severe punishment than a yellow card, as it immediately sends the player off the soccer pitch and doesn’t allow the position to be replaced. The red card is reserved for instances when the referee feels that the player should be removed from the pitch all together as their actions have been so unsportsman-like or aggressive.