Foul (association football)
- 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. 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.
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
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.
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.
Misconduct Consequences 
During a match 
A player who has been cautioned and then shown a yellow card may continue to play in a match. A caution may be defined as "the first and the last warning provided to a player for misconduct during a match". If a player is cautioned again in the same match, the second yellow card is immediately followed by the showing of the red card, and the player is dismissed from the field of play.
A player who has been sent off as a result of having been cautioned twice is required to leave the field of play immediately and take no further part in the game; failure to do so may result in match abandonment.
When a goalkeeper is sent off (by either a second yellow, or a red card), he must leave the field immediately. If another goalkeeper is available, he can be substituted for an outfield player. If no substitute goalkeeper is available, or the team has already made the maximum permitted substitutions, an outfield player must become the goalkeeper. An onfield player may be designated keeper without need of a substitution, as long as the referee is informed.
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.
The Football Association 
In England, as of 2008, if a direct red card is shown, then the player in question is dismissed from the field immediately and normally faces a one-, two- or three-match ban depending on the offence, which exceeds the FIFA minimum. Suspensions apply to the player's next competitive domestic matches, whether these be in league or cup competitions. FIFA does not normally expect a red-carded player in a domestic league match to sit out the national cup or international competition (such as the UEFA Champions League); his ban is to be served in the next league match. The same principle applies in reverse for players sent off in European or international competition.
Repeated dismissals in the same season will result in ban being extended by one match for each previous dismissal. For example, if a player who already has been sent off twice in the season incurs a third red card for violent conduct, he will be banned for five games (three for the violent conduct plus two on account of the previous dismissals). The FA will also suspend players every time they accumulate five cautions in a season. Players will miss one match after five cautions, two after ten and three after fifteen. Should anyone record twenty cautions in a season he will be summoned to a disciplinary hearing.
Current FA rules allow a ban to be overturned with a successful appeal for wrongful dismissal. The onus is on the player to prove his case and the ban can be extended if the FA deems the appeal to be frivolous. Consequently, most clubs will not appeal unless they are certain that they have a good case. Appeals must be made within a day or two of the match, and a decision will always be reached prior to the club's next scheduled match. In the case of a red card that was shown after two yellow cards, the player is dismissed and receives a one-match ban without the right to appeal, except in the case of mistaken identity.
The FA's appeals policy is generally seen as quite restrictive and only a small percentage of red cards are ever overturned. However, it should be noted that until the current policy was enacted during the early 2000s, the FA's disciplinary policy was somewhat more lenient, and three-match bans sometimes did not take effect until as late as two weeks after the red card was issued. Nonetheless, successful red card appeals have become a source of friction between the FA and FIFA. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has occasionally mooted going so far as to suspend the FA from FIFA and barring England from international tournaments for its continued defiance of FIFA directives. Eventually, FIFA backed down and granted conditional dispensation to the FA system, provided appeals are only upheld "in cases where video evidence is absolutely clear the referee has made a 'serious and obvious error'".
The use of video replays has also been a point of contention with regard to its actual or potential use for both red card appeals and retroactive yellow or red cards for diving. Trials for this technology (Hawk-Eye) commenced in England in 2007, and the Football Association has declared the system as "ready for inspection by FIFA".
Cautionable offences (yellow card) 
A player is cautioned and shown a yellow card if he/she commits any of the following offences:
- Dissent by word or action
- Persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game
- Delaying the restart of play (includes deliberate time-wasting tactics)
- Failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, throw-in or free kick
- Entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee's permission
- Deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee's permission
In addition, a player is cautioned (shown a yellow card) for "unsporting behaviour" which, according to US Soccer, includes the following:
- Commits a direct free kick foul in a reckless manner (for example, charging, pushing, tripping)
- Commits a direct free kick foul in a reckless manner while tackling for the ball from any direction
- Commits a tactical foul designed to interfere with or impede an opposing team’s attacking play (e.g., pushing an opponent, blatantly holding an opponent or an opponent's uniform, handling the ball deliberately)
- Handles the ball deliberately to score a goal
- Commits an act which, in the opinion of the referee, shows a lack of respect for the game (e.g., aggressive attitude, inflammatory behavior)
- Fakes an injury or exaggerates the seriousness of an injury
- Fakes a foul (dives also called simulation) or exaggerates the severity of a foul
- Interferes with or prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands into play
- Verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart
- Unfairly distracts or impedes an opponent performing a throw-in
- Changes jerseys with the goalkeeper during play or without the referee's permission (both players must be cautioned)
- Engages in trickery to circumvent the goalkeeper's limitation on handling the ball played from a teammate's foot (the defender who initiates the "trickery" is cautioned, the decision does not require that the goalkeeper actually handles the ball, and the misconduct can occur during dynamic play or at a restart)
- Makes unauthorized marks on the field
- Removes the jersey or covers the face with a mask or similar device after scoring a goal
- Uses an artificial aid to unfairly assist play (for example, leaning on the shoulders of a teammate, using an article of clothing to avoid direct contact with the ball, moving or removing a corner flag on a corner kick, hanging on a crossbar)
- Uses tobacco or tobacco products in any form in or around the area of the field
- Feigning a kick during a penalty kick
- Celebrating a goal too close to the spectators after scoring a goal (The goal scorer will be cautioned.)
A substitute or substituted player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he/she commits any of the following three offences:
- Unsporting behaviour (as above)
- Delaying the restart of play
- Dissent by word or action
Sending-off offences (red card) 
A player, substitute or substituted player is dismissed from the field of play and shown the red card if he/she commits any of the following offences:
- Serious foul play
- Violent conduct
- Using offensive, racist, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
- Spitting at an opponent or any other person
- Denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper inside his/her own penalty area)
- Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick (known as a professional foul or "last man" foul)
- Receiving a second caution (yellow card) in the same match
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.
A player, substitute or substituted player who has been sent off must leave the vicinity of the field of play or the technical area.
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.
If the ball is out of play when the misconduct occurs, play is restarted according to the reason the ball became out of play before the misconduct. (Any infraction of the Laws of the Game that happens 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).
See also 
- Ken Aston – the inventor of yellow and red cards FIFA.com, 15 January 2002
- Ask A Referee Q&A moderated and approved by United_States_Soccer_Federation
- Laws of the Game 2008/2009 (page 62) FIFA, July 2008
- See Uefa reduces Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho's ban, BBC Sport website, 6 December 2010, also Uefa investigation into red cards surprises Real Madrid, ibid., 26 November 2010
- FA Disciplinary and Suspensions Football Association[dead link]
- Cheap first yellow does not appeal Mail Online, 18 January 2008
- Use of video replay Times Online (subscription required)
- 7+7 Memorandum, www.ussoccer.com
- Q&A: So what makes a bad tackle?, BBC Sport website, 24 September 2012