what is a yellow card

Yellow Card in Soccer: What do you need to know?

Receiving a ‘card’ in a sports never seems to be a good thing. Indeed, I cannot think of one sport in which the issuance of a card results in a positive outcome for the player and his team. In Soccer, there are only two cards that can be issued, yellow cards and a Red card, yet again, receiving either is not something you should aspire to attain!

In this guide, I will provide you with all the information you require to understand the yellow card; how a yellow card is earned by a player; what it means for that soccer player; how it can have an impact on the game and even how it can have an impact on future games. For, although a yellow card is not as impactful as a red card, it can nevertheless be a contributory factor in affecting the overall result.

Yellow Card Soccer: The basics – what is a yellow card?

A yellow card is actually a lot more complicated in its entirety than many people think –especially according to the official Association Football rules. So I will try and make it as simple as possible. In short, ‘a yellow card is a caution awarded to a player by a referee for his conduct on the Soccer pitch.’

A yellow card notifies the player, the teams and managers involved as well as the fans that the player has been officially disciplined (as opposed to having been given an informal warning) and is now just one further offense away from earning a second yellow card and being sent off. Something which would see a red card automatically then issued and his team reduced to 10 men. 

Yellow Card: How does a player ‘earn’ one? 

There are a whole host of reasons under official Soccer rules that see a player given a yellow card (a link to the official rules is posted later) but essentially a player has to commit an offense deemed by the referee to transgress these rules in order to be shown one.

When such an offense occurs, the referee blows his whistle to stop the game, cautions the player and awards a free kick or even a penalty (under certain circumstances) to the opposing team. In the modern game, the referee no longer has to stop the game at the time of the offense to issue a yellow card. If for instance the referee believes the wronged team may gain an advantage in continuing play, he has the discretion to let the ‘game flow’ and come back and book the player later – usually after the ball next goes out of play. This change from traditional rules where the game was stopped and the player was cautioned instantly has benefitted the game hugely for it has resulted in far more goals scored and a greater spectacle for the fans.

Yellow Card: Offenses 

Under the F.A. rules there are numerous reasons a player should be shown a yellow card. Please scroll down to ‘Cautionable Offenses’ at the official link here. If you do, you will see what I meant earlier when I said it can be a lot more complex than people think!

Therefore, to make things as easy as possible, I have omitted some offenses and summarized the extensive list down to the most common offenses under different categories.

 ‘Cautionable Offenses’ are when the player is guilty of;

  • delaying the restart of play
  • dissent by word or action
  • entering, re-entering or deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission
  • failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a dropped ball, corner kick, free kick or throw-in
  • persistent offences (no specific number or pattern of offences constitutes “persistent”)
  • unsporting behaviour
  • entering the referee review area (RRA)
  • excessively using the ‘review’ (TV screen) signal

Any of the two above offenses occurring separately according the rules should see the player receive two yellow cards or cautions (even if in close proximity to each other) and thereby sent off. An example of such would be if a player enters the field of play without the referee’s permission and commits a reckless tackle or stops a promising attack with a foul or handball.

Furthermore, yellow cards or cautions can also be showed to a player for ‘Unsporting Behavior’ which is basically breeching the ethos of the game’s rules by amongst other;

  • attempting to deceive the referee e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)
  • changing places with the goalkeeper during play without the referee’s permission
  • committing in a reckless manner a direct free kick offence
  • handling the ball to interfere with or stop a promising attack
  • committing any other offence which interferes with or stops a promising attack
  • handling the ball in an attempt to score a goal (whether or not the attempt is successful) or in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a goal
  • making unauthorized marks on the field of play
  • playing the ball when leaving the field of play after being given permission to leave
  • showing a lack of respect for the game
  • verbally distracting an opponent during play or at a restart

And also even when just celebrating a goal!

  • The celebration must not be excessive; choreographed celebrations are not encouraged and must not cause excessive time-wasting.

There are a whole host of other reasons that can see the issuance of a yellow card to a player or substitute so if you want to become an expert, please just refer to the link. But to be honest, a simple ‘bad tackle’ is the most common reason for a yellow card shown and along with the above, enough knowledge for most people to understand and enjoy the game!

Other notable facts about being shown a yellow card

  • A yellow card lasts for the duration of the game so if for example a defender in particular earns one in the first minute, he has to be very careful for the next eighty minutes that he doesn’t get another and let his team down by reducing them to 10 men.

Note here, a good attacker will take notice of which defenders are on yellow cards and target them as they know the defender cannot play as ‘strongly’ against them as they might if they were not on a yellow card for fear of making a mistake and being ‘sent off’.

  • Yellow cards only remain for the duration of a single game. 
  • Players and coaches can also be shown a yellow card. Indeed, one particular famous manager made somewhat of a specialty out of earning them! and even took credit for them in spectacular fashion! See one Jose Mourinho:
  • Under English Premier League rules, any player who accumulates 5 yellow cards in 19 results serves a one match suspension with a two match suspension for 10 yellow cards accrued up until their team’s 32nd fixture.
  • In Major League Soccer (MLS) this is slightly different, yellow cards are accumulated across the games until a player has received 5 yellow cards. Thereby, the player receives a single match suspension.
  • In World Cup Final Matches, yellow cards remain on your record for the group stages before being stricken from the players’ record and reverting to zero for the Knock-Out rounds. Earning two yellow cards in separate games, will see the player suspended for the next match. 

Tragically in the past, this has seen some great players miss World Cup finals after earning a ‘second yellow’ in the semi-final. Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne famously crying when it would have happened to him had England beaten Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final.

This rule however has since been (correctly) adjusted so that it can no longer happen and a player is not forced to miss perhaps the pinnacle of his Soccer career.

What does a referee write on a yellow card?

When a player is shown a yellow card the referee usually notes:

  • The player’s identity, name or team number.
  • The misconduct reason and probably the actual act.
  • The match time.

This is in order to help the referee remember which players have already earned a yellow card and should be sent off if they receive another. Mistakes still occur however, with amongst other the wrong player receiving a yellow card and in one notable case a referee in the 2006 World Cup issuing 3 yellow cards to a player before sending him off! 

Amazingly captured here:

Ok, that should cover more or less everything that you might wish to know regarding yellow cards but I’ll leave you with one last fun fact.

‘Fun Fact’ 

Would you like to know how and why yellow cards came about? Take a look no further than this man Ken Ashton whose ‘traffic light’ inspiration was credited with their invention!