The History of the Yellow and Red Card

The red and yellow cards are vital to the game of football, oftentimes deciding significant match results. They can completely change the atmosphere of a game, switching the crowd from cheerful to miserable in a split second. Sometimes the players get a bit rowdy and it is important to have tools like this that keep the teams in check. Considering how often conflict arises during a tense match, it seems hard to believe that the yellow and red card system was only created 35 years ago.

Why were the cards invented?

During the 1962 World Cup in Chile, a violent fight broke out between Chile and Italy, proving as one of the most gruesome brawls in football history. Ken Aston, an English referee, was forced to whistle the first foul 12 seconds into the match and again at the 12-minute mark when he decided to remove Giorgio Ferrini, a player from the Italian team, from the pitch. The non-English-speaking player did not understand Aston’s request and refused to leave the field, growing increasingly violent and upset until he was eventually forced off with the help of the police. Ken Aston realized the necessity of a system punishing players for bad sportsmanship. Because of the language barriers, it was difficult for referees to send the players away only with words.

When Ken Aston returned home, he was drawn to a set of traffic lights where he was inspired to invent the red and yellow cards. “While I was driving the light turned red and I thought, ‘Yellow, calm down and red, stop, go out.’” He figured that the two cards and colors would be a clear code for players who did not speak the same language, as the colors were universally understood. The red and yellow card system was first used at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico and they are still used in every football match today.

history of red card
A recognizable sight across the globe: the red card.


Famous times the yellow and red card have been used

One of the most memorable moments in David Beckham’s career was in the quarter final against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. After an underhanded foul by Diego Simeone, a player from the Argentinian team, Beckham fought back with a less-than-subtle trip of his right leg, sending Simeone face-first into the ground. This reckless act earned Beckham a red card at one of the world’s biggest footballing stages. England was kicked out of the World Cup that night and Beckham became the nation’s biggest scoundrel. It brought about a sizeable backlash in England, with images of Beckham being burned in outrage, all due to the power of the red and yellow card.

what yellow and red cards mean
The use of red and yellow cards could make the difference of whether you celebrate or not.


Unquestionably, the most famous and most dramatic of all send-offs happened in the final of the 2006 World Cup. Zinedine Zidane had practically taken France to the final, only to headbutt Marco Materazzi to the ground, which earned Zidane a red card. France went on to lose the match with only 10 players. The stunned audience later found out that Materazzi had provoked Zidane by insulting him, and the Frenchman was praised for his performances in France. Despite the incident, his reputation has remained unscathed.

It is clear that the red and yellow cards are necessary when international teams play against one another. Because of this system, International crowds are able to recognize penalties, which aids in the overall atmosphere of the game. With the difficulties of language barriers, the cards became recognizable worldwide.

If you want to know more about English and the football experience, read about how David Villa studied English and visited our students in our Melbourne school. Or, if you're hoping to break down your own language barriers but don't want to be limited by two colors, consider studying abroad at one of our English skills all over the world.

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