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Soccer offences: Playing in a dangerous manner versus serious foul play

Updated on January 9, 2012
Dangerous play; this would warrant a caution as well.
Dangerous play; this would warrant a caution as well.
Serious foul play, but the Newcastle United player (black/white strip) should do community service for that too.
Serious foul play, but the Newcastle United player (black/white strip) should do community service for that too.

Sometimes football commentators, coaches, players and fans may not understand the laws of the game very well. Even some referees make some errors regarding application of the laws of the game. A common error is that of confusing serious foul play and playing in a dangerous manner.

A referee instructor once pointed out that certain referees, in their match reports, stated that a player was shown the red card and sent off for playing in a dangerous manner. That is erroneous, since playing in a dangerous manner is not one of the seven sending-off offences outlined in Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct.


Serious foul play occurs when a player challenges for the ball or tackles an opponent with excessive force or brutality when the ball is in play. In order for this to occur, the offence must be committed by a player who is challenging for the ball while it is in play.

Excessive force or brutality is somewhat subjective, since it is in the opinion of the referee. However, FIFA guidelines indicate that the phrase “excessive force” refers to using more force than is necessary to execute a tackle or challenge and where the safety of the opponent is compromised.

Playing in a dangerous manner refers to attempting to play the ball (while it is in play) in a manner that threatens injury or harm to an opponent or even the player himself. For a player to be guilty of this offence, he must commit it near to an opponent, and the opponent must be adversely affected.

There are important differences between the two offences; those differences are outlined below.


It is mandatory that there is contact for serious foul play to be committed. If there is no contact at all, the offence should be “playing in a dangerous manner.” In some cases, the difference between the two is a matter of centimetres. Playing in a dangerous manner can easily result in serious foul play if physical contact is made. That’s because the manner of challenging for the ball was dangerous and risky in the first place.

Type of free kick

Both offences result in the award of a free kick against the team committing the offence. With serious foul play, the restart of play is either a direct free kick or a penalty kick. With playing in a dangerous manner, the restart of play is an indirect free kick, regardless of where the offence is committed.

Disciplinary action

Serious foul play is a sending-off offence; it warrants a “straight red card.” Playing in a dangerous manner is not always punishable by a card. If the challenge is reckless, though without contact, the referee may caution the guilty player. A red card is not issued for playing in a dangerous manner, but if a player denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by committing this offence, he should be sent off and shown the red card.


No genuine football fan should confuse serious foul play and playing in a dangerous manner. While they are both offences that occur while challenging for the ball, serious foul play is the far more serious offence.


Submit a Comment

  • samtenabray profile image


    7 years ago from uk

    It often depends on the referee, which attributes to the unpredictability of the Beautiful game.

  • SpiffyD profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from The Caribbean

    More often than not, once those two questions are answered 'yes,' the player would get an early shower. This is because of the increased likelihood of injury with a 'studs up' challenge.

    The first picture in the hub is an example of questions 1 and 5 being answered, but there is no direct contact with the opponent and an attempt to play the ball fairly. However, if there was contact (even the slightest contact), the Bruce Lee high-kick there would have been an instant red, regardless of whether the player was attempting to play the ball. It wouldn't matter whether there was malice or not either.

    In some instances there may be mitigating factors that allow for a caution. These include the judgement/leniency of the referee, the speed/intensity of the challenge, and the non-appearance of malice as well.

  • tazzmania89 profile image


    7 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

    So say for example, a challenge occurred and questions 1 and 5 were answered yes. Is that a caution, yellow, or a red card?

  • SpiffyD profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from The Caribbean

    The difference between the yellow card and the red card is the difference between a reckless challenge or one made with excessive force or brutality. FIFA Laws indicate that a reckless challenge is merely one taken without considering the safety of the opponent. To help referees make the distinction, FIFA offers videos of fouls with guidelines about the appropriate sanctions.

    There are about 19 factors that a referee may consider in determining the seriousness of the foul. I extracted the strongest considerations below:

    1. Does the player act with complete disregard of the danger to the opponent?

    2. Is the player putting the opponent in a dangerous situation?

    3. What degree of speed/intensity is the player using when making a challenge?

    4. Does the player show clear malice when making the challenge?

    5. Does the player use his studs when making the tackle?

    6. Which part of the body does the player use to make contact?

    7. In which part of the opponent's body is the contact made?

    Questions 6 and 7 highlight a very important consideration in determining the seriousness of a foul. Using the elbow will make a player a candidate for serious foul play or misconduct, especially is it is an elbow near to or on the face. There are a few other questions, but those are the most important when distinguishing between a careless foul (no sanction), a reckless foul (yellow card) and serious foul play (red card).

  • tazzmania89 profile image


    7 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

    How do you differentiate between giving a yellow card or a red card for a serious foul?


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