Cards — Must versus Need

Esther, a youth level referee, asks:

Last week I was center Ref for a U12BR game. A Red player was dribbling along near the center circle.  An Orange player came up and did a sliding tackle with both feet from the front. He didn’t contact the player or the ball, but I believed the tackle to be careless given that it was with two feet and was very close to the other player. I whistled and called a DFK for the Red team. I was discussing this with another Ref today and he believes that I should have given a red card to the Orange player because he tackled with both feet. What should the call have been? Should I have given a card?


We don’t believe in “hard and fast” rules which don’t have a clear, firm basis in the Laws of the Game.  You decided that the tackle was careless and the reasons you offered are relevant.  Given this, a card of any color would have been inappropriate, if for no other reason than that an illegal tackle does not rise to a cautionable level until and unless it is deemed at least reckless.

Apparently, the conversation with “another Red” you related involved someone who thought there was some “hard and fast” rule involving having to give a red card for sliding tackles + both feet.  The common indicators of a cardable tackle do not include “sliding” — what they do include are such things as:

  • the direction of the tackle (because coming from behind or outside the peripheral vision of the player being tackled prevents the victim from being able to prepare for the challenge)
  • coming in at high speed (greater chance of injury)
  • both feet (because a two-footed slide is considered uncontrolled)
  • with cleats exposed (the danger there is obvious)
  • with one or both feet higher than ball height (because it suggests that there was not an attempt to play the ball, plus the inherently greater susceptibility to injury the higher up the leg you go)

The only one of the above criteria you specifically alluded to was the use of both feet and that element is one of the least likely to lead to a card.

But this leads us into another issue and that is the question of whether, all other things being equal, you must give a card under specified circumstances (which brings us back to the “hard and fast” rule business).  There are only six offenses listed in the 2016/2017 version of Law 12 which can draw a caution and seven offenses leading to a red card.  Some are very specific, some are couched in general terms.  Once you decide that what you have seen is, in your opinion, one of these thirteen offenses, a card is expected (not giving one would require a persuasive rationale) but the real decision is whether what you saw fit the offense.  It may or may not,  Or, even more commonly, it might fit … and if it only “might,” then what do you use to decide?  The answer is “does this behavior need a card?”  For the good of the player, the good of the other players, the good of this game (the one going on right now), or the good of the sport?  We know you don’t think you asked this particular question but, really, you did when you said “Should I have given a card?”…

Abandoning a Match

A youth referee asks:

Can the Ref abandon the match and not tell the coaches? Had a situation where the Ref said that, in his eyes, the match was over after a parent and coach came on the pitch to stop two kids fighting then ended up fighting themselves. The Ref never blew for full time but said to the other coach it’s finished anyway. Now in his report he is saying he abandoned the game but did not tell anyone this. Can he do this?  I am a a Ref myself and don’t know.


Not wishing to be flippant but the obvious answer is, yes, he can do this … because he did it.  And we’re not sure how the Referee could do anything more to signal that the match has been terminated beyond leaving the field himself.

On a more serious note, the referee is given the authority to terminate a match due to what used to be called “grave disorder” — which means any events on or around the field which would cause the Referee to be concerned about the ongoing safety of the players or the officiating team based on actions by the players, substitutes, team officials, and/or spectators.  By the way, the Law no longer distinguishes between “abandoning” a match or “terminating” a match — the terms are used interchangeably.  There is no particular need to blow the whistle to announce this but, in practice, the whistle has usually already being blown (perhaps numerous times!) in response to the events which eventually resulted in the decision to terminate the game (in this case, the start of the players fighting).

Just based on the information provided, it would seem that termination would not be considered an incorrect response to (a) players fighting, (b) a coach and a parent entering the field illegally (which would be the case if the Referee didn’t explicitly give them permission to enter) and (c) then themselves fighting.  That would definitely be a “hostile environment” not conducive to trying to get the teams back onto the field after removing the fighters and expecting the teams to play peacefully.  It might have been useful to officially notify both teams that the match was being terminated with a simple statement that the decision was required based on a concern for everyone’s safety.  Neither is required.

Anytime the Referee ends a match via termination (or abandonment), full details must be included in the match report.  Further, most leagues, tournaments, referee coordinators, or assignors appreciate a quick telephone call or email message alerting them to the likelihood of further “discussion” about what happened.…

Coach in Trouble

A Premier League coach from an Asian country asks:

[Revised and summarized]  I’m the Assistant Coach in a Premier League for one of the Asian countries. We had an eventful match last week. Around minute 65, an opposing player made a very harsh tackle against my team’s striker and created a very heated situation involving both teams. I felt the Referee did not control the situation and I ran onto the field to help him control things. The situation became more heated when the Referee only gave a yellow card for the tackle. After the game, I approached the Referee and said ” Hi Referee —  it should be a red card — come on Referee. I hope next time you can make a better decision.” I didn’t use any vulgar words. However, the Referee wrote in his match report that I pulled his hand and used vulgar words towards him. How can I defend myself when there was no video evidence showing either of these things? I was fined by my football federation. How can I defend myself?


We’re sorry that this occurred and that you feel the punishment you received was not justified.  Unfortunately, there is no way we can assist you either generally or in particular.  We cannot comment on what goes on in other countries, much less on what is essentially an internal administrative matter.  What punishments are assessed after a game is over are outside the scope of the Laws of the Game, particularly where it involves a coach.

What we can say, however, it that you should not have come onto the field “to help [the Referee] to control things” unless you were actually given permission by the Referee to do so.  This would be considered a violation of Law 3 if a player had done it and, if done by a team official (which, as an assistant coach, you are), could be the basis for a dismissal from the field for “irresponsible behavior.”  It is also the case that having any conversation with members of the officiating team after a match is over — particularly if the conversation goes beyond how nice the weather was — is not a good idea.  First, nothing you might say would likely educate the Referee.  Second, you might in fact be wrong.  Third, even if right, immediately following a difficult, heated match, is not a conducive time for “educating” anyone (I’m sure you would agree were the situations reversed and the Referee wanted to talk to you about your coaching strategy!).  We Referees have a saying, “if you don’t want the coach to referee, don’t try to coach the players” and it applies here as well.

Finally, coming onto the field as you did, with the conversation not being documented by film or sound recording, merely sets up a “he said/did, no I didn’t say/do” debate which, on balance, will usually be decided in favor of the Referee.  We cannot comment directly regarding your federation but our experience has been that there are almost always channels for filing complaints after the match using official forms and giving everyone a chance to cool down at least a bit.  Most such opportunities provide for responses and offers of proof or extenuating circumstances.

While we can’t help in your case, we hope that all team officials will take note of our advice here and respond to similar situations accordingly.…

Misconduct Before the Match

An adult referee asks:

When can a referee show cards before the game as the new laws talk about when the game starts and during field inspection?


This is actually one of the more interesting Law changes announced in 2016.  Previously, referees were allowed to show yellow and red cards for misconduct before the match (from the time they entered the area of the field) and after the match (from the end of the match , including any tie-breaking procedures, to when the officiating team left the area of the field.  More to the point, a yellow card issued before the match “counted” if a second yellow card were issued during the match — the second yellow would earn a red card just as if the first caution had occurred during the game.  A red card before the match, which resulted in the usual dismissal from the field, did not also result in the team having to play “short.”

With the 2016/2017 Laws, however, the International Board changed things in two ways.  First, no cards (red or yellow) could be displayed, regardless of the conduct, before the opening whistle of the match and therefore a “second yellow” send-off could only be based on cautions issued during the match (not before or after).  If any misconduct occurred before the match which would otherwise warrant a send-off (e.g., spitting or violent conduct), the player involved would still be sent off and (as before) the team could still field the same number of players.  In either case, all misconduct before or after a match, including otherwise cautionable offenses, must be documented in the match report.

Something else changed as well.  The International Board decided to mark the beginning of the “before the game” time by the appearance of the officiating team for the purpose of conducting the inspection of the field.  While this sounds acceptable, the Board was thinking of international and national  matches and other very high level matches where much of what happens is governed by tight schedules and highly ceremonial activities (such as formal field inspections).  In these kinds of matches, the officiating team is usually sequestered in stadium rooms until their first official appearance and so their formal entry onto the field to begin their publicly visible responsibilities under Laws 1, 2, and 4 is easily recognizable.

For most of us, though, things are much looser, less regimented, and often complicated by assignment schedules which include multiple matches where the same officials, as a team, may be “at the field” for long periods of time throughout the day.  This makes it difficult to determine the precise moment when the authority to send off a player before the game actually starts.  Our advice to you is that it starts when you decide it starts (and, likewise when the match is over, when you want your authority to send off a player will end).  It would be a good idea not to abuse this flexibility by, for example, marking the start of your before-the-game authority by when you drive into the parking lot or the end of your authority as late as the middle of the next game!

The bottom line in all this is that you are no longer authorized to show any cards before the first whistle or after the end of official play (including overtime and other tie-breaking procedures mandated by the rules of competition).  You can send off any player, substitute, or substituted player before or after the game (within the limits described above).  All misconduct before or after a match (cautionable or red cardable) must be included in the game report.…


An interesting question came up the other day about a recent game in Asia and what the referee should do when a substitute, warming up behind his team’s goal, sees that his goalkeeper is down and there are no defenders nearby to stop the ball, which is rolling quickly toward the goal. The substitute enters the field of play without the referee’s permission and prevents a goal from being scored by kicking the ball away.

Any debate as to what the referee should do must center around four issues:

1. What infringements of the Law have occurred?
• The substitute has entered the field without the permission of the referee and then interfered with play by kicking away the ball heading for the goal.

2. Where the infringement involves misconduct, what kind and what card?
• Substitutes entering the field of play without permission have committed unsporting behavior, a cautionable offense. In addition, a substitute can be sent off for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity, a sending-off offense.

3. What did the referee actually do?
• He whistled play dead, sent off the substitute, and restarted with an indirect free kick from the place where the substitute kicked the ball. While effective in dealing with the greater offense, the referee’s action was not entirely correct. Nor did the referee caution the substitute for unsporting behavior (entering the field of play without his permission).

4. With play stopped, what actions should the referee have taken, and what should have been the restart and from where?
• According to Law 12, “A player [and this includes substitutes and substituted players] who commits a cautionable or sending-off offense, either on or off the field of play, whether directed towards an opponent, a team-mate, the referee, an assistant referee or any other person, is disciplined according to the nature of the offense committed.”
• In this situation, the referee must first caution the substitute for unsporting behavior for entering the field of play without permission; that is the infringement that governs the restart. Second, the referee must send off the substitute for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick; this infringement does not figure in the restart — although it did during the game in question.
• The restart must be an indirect free kick for the initial misconduct, entering the field of play without the referee’s permission. The correct place would have been the position of the ball at the time of the stoppage (see Law 13 – Position of free kick). It would seem that an otherwise well-intentioned referee simply didn’t understand what the Law requires of him.

The place where the ball was when play was stopped would be its location at the moment the referee makes the decision to stop play, not where the ball might have ended up after the whistle was blown.…


I was the Center referee for an A division Co-ed match. There was a through ball for the attacking team, the forward run through to dribble into the penalty area. The keeper runs out to stop the ball, and missing it completely, and collided with the attacking player and took him out of play. I was near the top of the 18 yard, and had a clear view of the contact. I signalled a penalty kick, and issued a caution to the keeper. Since, it was his 2nd caution in this match, then I proceeded to show him the red card.

The defending team started screaming and said look at your assistant referee. He is standing firm around the 25 yard line, signalling an offside.

I reversed my call to an indirect free kick for the defending team, and took back the cards.

My reasoning is that I should have looked at my assistant referee first, and blown my whistle for the offside. If I had done that, it would have avoided the contact by the keeper and the forward.

Did I make the right call ?

USSF answer (March 28, 2012):

Your decision to use the information supplied by the AR was correct. Award the indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team. It is possible that the goalkeeper still engaged in certain behavior, whether it was during play against an opponent or during a stoppage resulting from the offside offense, so pleases consider the following:
Misconduct is separate from the foul (unless the foul was for serious foul play or denying a goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick). Accordingly, the second caution which resulted in a red card should not have been withdrawn SOLELY because the referee accepted the advice from the AR and declared that the stoppage was for the offside. The ‘keeper’s act itself might warrant the caution (and red) or a straight red regardless of the change in the decision. If the goalkeeper’s act was purely careless, rather than reckless (caution) or done with excessive force (send-off), then there is no need to caution the ‘keeper.…


If a player is sent off (red card), he/she cannot play in their next game.

Question 1: if the referee does not include the send-off in the game report, or does not submit a game report, is the player still required to not play in their next game?

Question 2: It is VERY common for referees NOT to tell a youth player why (unsporting behavior, dissent, serious foul play, etc) a card is being displayed. When asked by the player or coach, the VERY common response is ‘I don’t have to tell you’. How are youth players to learn from a mistake when there is absolutely no reason given by the ‘professional offical’ as to what the mistake was? Are game reports accessible to coaches, players, and/or parents?

USSF answer (February 28, 2012):
1. Referees are expected to submit their match reports as quickly as possible, usually within 2-3 days of the game. If they do not do so, then technically the events described (or NOT described) therein did not occur — but see below.

Technicalities aside, realistically the game occurred: people were there; witnesses can be subpoenaed; the referee could be reminded of his report; the player who was red carded should, on his own initiative or by direction of his coach, sit out his team’s next regularly-scheduled match. All this should occur even without the actual filing of the referee’s report. An opposing coach could certainly note at the team’s next regularly-scheduled game that Player X should be sitting out and, if this is disputed on any basis (including the lack of a report from the referee), a complaint could be filed which would eventually trigger a demand upon the referee to get the requiredreport in. In real life, there are literally thousands of games that occur with no formal referee report going into a league or association office — of course, in most of these, nothing untoward has occurred, but no one has any problem accepting that there was a game, there was a score, and Team B won.

2. The referee is REQUIRED to tell a player that he or he has been cautioned or sent off for one of the seven reasons for either sort of misconduct.

They cannot refuse to tell this to the player and should be reported to refereeing authorities if they do so refuse. They are NOT required to tell the coach anything. In most states (we cannot speak for all of them) the reports are not available to non-refereeing or competition officials, but appropriate parties can be told of the contents regarding a specific person or incident.…


Two quick questions, at the half of a u18 game. AR approaches the center,and states the center is “calling for the other side” Center tells AR the game is being called for both sides. AR argues the point,and is asked by the center to return to their sideline,AR at such time throws down their flag,and quits the game. Is this not a very poor behavior,and an example by the AR,who is also a referee? forget if LAW 5 or 6 covers AR. is this not reportable to the local association. second during a very physical game, team A and Team B are struggling for the ball,play continues. center verbally warns both players about use of elbows. A spectator jumps up out of their seat on the sideline in a aggressive manner,moves to the touch line,ands starts yelling at center about elbows. center approaches partway to sideline, tells spectator both players have been warned,and it’s under control,to sit back down. after game same spectator enters the field,and approaches the center, verbally assaults,and threatens the center. spectator is instructed to leave the field. does the referee retreat,or does he still have the field?

USSF answer (November 2, 2011):
Regarding the assistant referee, Law 6 tells us: “In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve an assistant referee of his duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities,” using the the match report form each referee should fill out after every match. This AR has also failed to live up to the Referee Code of Ethics and could be brought up on charges under U. S. Soccer Federation Policy 531-10 – Misconduct of Game Officials .

Regarding the aggressive spectator, Law 5 tells us that the referee stops, suspends or abandons the match because of outside interference of any kind. Before abandoning the game, however, the referee should ask the home team (tournament/league officials, if present) to have the person removed. If there is no help from these officials, then the match is abandoned and the referee includes full details in the match report.…


The game has finished, the players are on the sideline when the ref issues a player without their jersey on with a yellow for decent, the player blows up again so the ref issues another yellow to the same player resulting in a red, what is the outcome if the ref reports the wrong player in the paperwork since he had no jersey on how can he be sure he reports the correct player ? and if he does report the wrong player can the team challenge the result ?

USSF answer (August 11, 2011):
The final whistle has been blown, the game is over! Players may now remove their jerseys if they like, whether they are on the field or off. The referee committed an error in judgment and procedure by not determining the player’s name and number before issuing the caution for dissent and the subsequent caution and dismissal for receiving a second caution in the game. (Yes this period counts as part of the game if the referee has not left the area after the final whistle.)

The referee could have resolved the problem by informing the team captain and or a team official, such as the coach, that this player was being cautioned and then sent off and asking for the player’s name.

In answer to your final question, we cannot know what course the competition’s disciplinary committee will take in this matter, other than to remind the referee that procedure should be followed.…


A player on Team A asks the ref repeatedly why a foul was called. He didn’t respond. The same player for Team A was substituted and asked the ref why a foul was called in passing, again the ref ignored his request. The player while exiting the field said “you’re an idiot” not directly to the ref. The ref said “what did you say”. Team A player continued off the field and one of the players from Team B said to the referee he said “You are a ‘Effing’ idiot”.

Player 2 from (the sub) from Team A went on to the field. Referee Red carded the player that said “you’re an idiot”. My question is does Team A have to play a man short?

USSF answer (October 19, 2010):
Because the referee waited until the substitute entered the field and became a player, the former player’s dismissal for using offensive, insulting or abusive language does not result in Team A having to play short. If the referee had acted before allowing the new player to enter, then Team A would have to play short.

The harder question is this: suppose the referee is 100% sure that the second player who provided the answer embellished on the first player’s remark. Should the referee ignore the embellishment (“Effing idiot” vs just “idiot”)? It is probably best to let it go but let the player know that you know. …