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Misconduct (association football)

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Title: Misconduct (association football)  
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Subject: Andy Capp, Dismissal, Laws of the Game (association football), Patrik Berger, Zesh Rehman, Stephen Warnock, Emmerson Boyce, Richard Dunne, Super Soccer, Foul (association football)
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Misconduct (association football)

A foul in association football is an unfair act by a player which is deemed by the referee to contravene Law 12 of the Laws of the Game. For an act to be a foul it must:

  • be a specific offence listed in Law 12 of the Laws of the Game (other infractions, for example technical infractions at restarts, are not deemed to be fouls);
  • be committed by a player (not a substitute);
  • occur on the field of play;
  • be committed against an opponent, when applicable (For example, a player striking the referee or a teammate, is not a foul, but a misconduct);
  • occur while the ball is in play.

As can be seen from the above not all infractions of the Laws are fouls, rather they may constitute – and be punished as – technical infractions and/or misconduct. 'Misconduct,' in association football, is any conduct by a player that is deemed by the referee to warrant a disciplinary sanction (caution or dismissal) in accordance with Law 12 of the Laws of the Game. Misconduct may occur at any time, including when the ball is out of play, during half-time and before and after the game, and both players and substitutes may be sanctioned for misconduct. This is unlike a foul, which is committed by a player, on the field of play, and only against an opponent when the ball is in play.

Misconduct may result in the player either receiving a caution (indicated by a yellow card) or being dismissed ("sent off") from the field (indicated by a red card). When a player is cautioned, the player's details are traditionally recorded by the referee in a small notebook; hence, a caution is also known as a booking. The referee has considerable discretion in applying the Laws; in particular, the offence of "unsporting behaviour" may be used to deal with most events that violate the spirit of the game, even if they are not listed as specific offences.

The system of cautioning and dismissal has existed for many decades, but the idea of language-neutral coloured cards originated with British referee Ken Aston, who got the idea while sitting in his car at a traffic light.[1] The first major use of the cards was in the 1970 FIFA World Cup, but they were not made mandatory at all levels until 1982.

History and origin

The idea of using language-neutral coloured cards to communicate a referee's intentions originated with British football referee Ken Aston.[2] Aston had been appointed to the FIFA Referees' Committee and was responsible for all referees at the 1966 FIFA World Cup. In the quarter finals, England met Argentina at Wembley Stadium. After the match, newspaper reports stated that referee Rudolf Kreitlein had cautioned both Bobby and Jack Charlton, as well as sending off Argentinian Antonio Rattin. The referee had not made his decision clear during the game, and England manager Alf Ramsey approached FIFA for post-match clarification. This incident started Aston thinking about ways to make a referee's decisions clearer to both players and spectators. Aston realised that a colour-coding scheme based on the same principle as used on traffic lights (yellow - caution, red - stop) would traverse language barriers and clarify whether a player had been cautioned or expelled.[2] As a result, yellow cards to indicate a caution and red cards to indicate an expulsion were used for the first time in the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. The use of penalty cards has since been adopted and expanded by several sporting codes, with each sport adapting the idea to its specific set of rules or laws.

Categories of foul

Direct free kick offences

A direct free kick is awarded when a player commits any of the following in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

  • Kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
  • Trips or attempts to trip an opponent
  • Jumps at an opponent
  • Charges an opponent
  • Strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
  • Pushes an opponent
  • Tackles an opponent

Or commits any the following offences:

  • Holds an opponent
  • Spits at an opponent
  • Handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area).

In determining whether or not a player deliberately handled the ball, the referee has several considerations:

  • Movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  • Distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  • Position of the hand ('natural' position versus 'unnatural' position) does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement
  • Touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement (considered an extension of the hand)
  • Hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement (also considered an extension of the hand)

If a player commits a direct free kick offence within his own penalty area, a penalty kick is awarded irrespective of the position of the ball, provided the ball is in play.

Indirect free kick offences

Fouls punishable by an indirect free kick are:

  • When a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area:
    • controls the ball with his hands for more than six seconds before releasing it from his possession
    • touches the ball again with his hands after he has released it from his possession and before it has touched another player
    • touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a team-mate
    • touches the ball with his hands after he has received it directly from a throw-in taken by a team-mate
  • When any player in the opinion of the referee:
    • plays in a dangerous manner
    • impedes the progress of an opponent
    • prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands
    • commits any other offence, not previously mentioned in Law 12, for which play is stopped to caution or send off a player

Some technical breaches of the rules, such as the offside offence, result in play being restarted with an indirect free kick, though these are not considered fouls.

Yellow card (caution)

A yellow card is shown by the referee to indicate that a player has been officially cautioned.[3] The player's details are then recorded by the referee in a small notebook; hence a caution is also known as a "booking". A player who has been cautioned may continue playing in the game; however, a player who receives a second caution in a match is sent off (shown the yellow card again, and then a red card (see below)), meaning that he must leave the field immediately and take no further part in the game. The player may not be replaced by a substitute. Law 12 of the Laws of the Game (which are set by the International Football Association Board and used by FIFA) lists the types of offences and misconduct that may result in a caution. It also states that "only a player, substitute or substituted player" can be cautioned.[3] A player is cautioned and shown a yellow card if he/she commits any of the following offences:

  1. Dissent by word or action
  2. Persistent infringement on the Laws of the Game
  3. Delaying the restart of play (includes deliberate time-wasting tactics)
  4. Failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, throw-in or free kick
  5. Entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee's permission
  6. Deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee's permission

In addition, a player can be cautioned and shown a yellow card for "unsporting behaviour". What constitutes cautionable unsporting behaviour is generally at the referee's discretion but may include simulation intended to deceive the referee, or delaying the restart of play by withholding the ball. Poor or deliberate fouls are commonly punished by yellow cards, although some tackles, especially those which are dangerous, two-footed, or those which prevent a clear goal-scoring opportunity for the player tackled, may be punished by a red card.

In most tournaments, the accumulation of a certain number of yellow cards over several matches results in disqualification of the offending player for a certain number of subsequent matches, the exact number of cards and matches varying by jurisdiction. In the UEFA Champions League, for instance, accumulating two yellow cards in a stage of the tournament will lead to a 1 game suspension; players have often intentionally collected the second yellow card which will "strategically" reset their tally of yellow cards to zero for the next stage but this is considered unsporting conduct.[4]

Red card (dismissal)

A red card is shown by a referee to signify that a player has been sent off.[3] A player who has been sent off is required to leave the field of play immediately and must take no further part in the game. The player who has been sent off cannot be replaced during the game; his team must continue the game with one less player. Only players, substitutes and substituted players may receive a red card. If a team's goalkeeper receives a red card another player will be allowed to assume goalkeeping duties (teams will usually substitute an outfield player for another goalkeeper if this option is available).

Law 12 of the Laws of the Game lists the categories of misconduct for which a player may be sent off. These are:

  1. Serious foul play (a violent foul)
  2. Violent conduct (any other act of violence) e.g. assaulting the referee.
  3. Spitting at anyone or another player
  4. A deliberate handling offense to deny an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by any player other than a goalkeeper in his own penalty area
  5. Committing an offence that denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (informally known as a professional foul)
  6. Using offensive, insulting or abusive language or gestures
  7. Receiving a second caution (yellow card) in the same game

In most tournaments, a single direct red card (i.e. not one received as a result of two successive yellow ones) results in disqualification of the offending player for one or more of subsequent matches, the exact number of matches varying by the offence committed and by jurisdiction. Should a team's on-field players receive a total of five red cards, they will be unable to field the required minimum of seven players and the match will be abandoned.

Other offences

Not all infractions of the Laws are fouls. Non-foul infractions may be dealt with as technical infractions (e.g. as breaching the rules governing the restarts of play) or misconduct (these are punishable by a caution or sending-off). Note that persistent fouls or misconducts may constitute a cautionable offense.

Referee's discretion

The referee has a very large degree of discretion as to whether an act constitutes a cautionable offence under these very broad categories. For this reason, refereeing decisions are sometimes controversial. Other Laws may specify circumstances under which a caution should or must be given, and numerous directives to referees also provide guidance.

A change in 2004 to the Laws of the Game championed by FIFA President Sepp Blatter mandated automatic yellow cards for players who remove their shirts while celebrating goals. In addition, an instruction has been in the additional instructions at the end of the Laws of the Game for some time that should a player jump over or climb on to a perimeter fence to the Field of Play, they should be cautioned for unsporting behaviour. This was seen as mainly preventing incidents in professional football matches where crowds had rushed towards players and had led to injuries.


According to the principle of advantage, play should be allowed to continue when the team against which an offence has been committed will benefit from ongoing play. The referee indicates this by calling "advantage" and extending both arms in front of his body.

This means that a foul will not be called if letting play continue is more advantageous to the fouled team than stopping play for a free kick. However, if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at that time, the referee may then stop play and penalize the original offence. The advantage can also apply when a penalty kick originally would be called.

In rare situations, advantage can also be applied if the foul would have also resulted in a caution (yellow card) or send off (red card). Play is allowed to continue, but at the next stoppage in play the caution or send off must be issued and the appropriate card displayed.[5]


If the ball is out of play when an infraction of the Laws of the Game occurs, play is restarted according to the reason the ball became out of play before the infraction. (Any infraction of the Laws of the Game that occurs while the ball is out of play is misconduct, not a foul.)

If the misconduct occurs when the ball is in play, play need not be stopped to administer a caution or a dismissal, as these may be done at the next stoppage of play (this is usually the case when the opposing team would gain an advantage in having play continue). When this is the case, play is restarted according the reason for the ball becoming out of play, e.g. a throw-in if play stopped due to the ball crossing a touchline.

If play is stopped to administer a caution or dismissal:

  • If a foul has occurred as well as misconduct, play is restarted according to the nature of the foul (either an indirect free kick, direct free kick or penalty kick to the opposing team)
  • If no foul under Law 12 has occurred, play is restarted with an indirect free kick to the opposing team

Team officials

Team officials such as managers and coaches may not be cautioned or sent from the technical area in the above manner. However, according to Law 5 the referee "takes action against team officials who fail to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and may, at his discretion, expel them from the field of play and its immediate surroundings."

The league sanction for a sent-off coach or manager is normally a ban from being in the dugout or in the changing room for a certain number of matches thereafter. The particular football association determines the length of the ban and/or other appropriate action(s).

Post-match Penalties

Many football leagues and federations have off-field penalties for players who accumulate a certain number of cautions in a season, tournament or phase of a tournament. Typically, these take the form of a suspension from playing in their team's next game(s) after that number of cautions has been reached (usually two in international tournaments and five in a league season). Such off-field penalties are determined by league rules, and not by the Laws of the Game.

Similarly, a sending off usually also results in additional sanctions, most commonly in the form of suspensions from playing for a number of future games, although financial fines may also be imposed. The exact punishments are determined by tournament or competition rules, and not by the Laws of the Game. FIFA in particular has been adamant that a red card in any football competition must result in the guilty player being suspended for at least the next game without the right to appeal.

At the 2006 FIFA World Cup, any player receiving two yellow cards during the three group stage matches, or two yellow cards in the knockout stage matches had to serve a one-match suspension for the next game. A single yellow card did not carry over from the group stage to the knockout stages. Should the player pick up his second yellow during the team's final group match, he would miss the Round of 16 if his team qualified for it. However, suspensions due to yellow cards do not carry beyond the World Cup finals.

For the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the rules were changed so that any player who received two yellow cards between the beginning of the tournament and the end of the quarterfinal round (instead of the end of the group stage matches) would serve a one-match suspension for the next game. As a result, only players that received two yellow cards or a straight red card in the semifinal game would not be able to play in the final.

In the UEFA Champions League, for instance, accumulating two yellow cards in a stage of the tournament will lead to a 1 game suspension. In the group stage players have often intentionally collected the second yellow card which will "strategically" reset their tally of yellow cards to zero for the knockout round, but this is considered unsporting conduct.[6]

See also


External links

  • Q&A: So what makes a bad tackle?, BBC Sport website, 24 September 2012

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