In sport, there are many different markets to bet on and this is even more so the case when you split this down into individual sports.
Football, in particular, is one of the most popular sports in the world and this translates into betting as well with many fans almost obsessively poring over statistics to justify their selections. A market where this can actually be beneficial is the booking points market, which can deliver good returns for fans who know what they are doing.
Betting on booking points has become more popular with the rise of bet builders, bet requests and same match accas, therefore, we decided to look at exactly how they work and how to best make decisions when betting on the market.
What Are Booking Points?
The booking points market is an score of how many cards players receive in a football match and odds will vary based on the bookmaker. A general bet in this market could be offered as ‘over 20 points’ which means players would have to receive a number of yellow or red cards depending on how many points are assigned to each colour.
Usually, yellow cards are worth 10 points and a red card is worth 25 points, however, in the majority of cases, if a player received two yellow cards and then subsequently a red card, the total booking points would be 35 – not 45 – the second yellow card essentially not counting in the points tally.
The booking points market has actually become one of the most popular in football, because the statistics that refer to historical bookings are easy to find on a number of reputable websites, and as a result, there are some players who you could easily guess would receive a booking in a game.
How Do Booking Points Work In Betting?
When it comes to betting on booking points, the majority of bookmakers will typically offer the main market which is displayed as ‘+x’, such as ‘+20’, ‘+30’, ‘+40’ and so on, with odds being offered for each selection.
For example, if you put a bet on there being ‘+40’ booking points in a match, this means that you would be paid out for 40 or over booking points. It means that if a player was awarded two yellow cards (and obviously a red) and another player was awarded a yellow card (10, 25, 10), you would win the bet with the total being 45 booking points.
This is where, as a punter, you would need to have a good understanding of football, the statistics and also the major variables that can be responsible for influencing the number of booking points in a football match; similarly to the many number of factors that can influence the outcome of a horse race.
Do Booking Points Differ Between Bookies?
|Yellow Card||Red Card||X2 Yellow Cards for same player|
|Betfair||10 points||25 points||35 points|
|Bet365||1 card||2 cards||3 cards|
|Paddy Power||10 points||25 points||35 points|
|William Hill||10 points||25 points||35 points|
|BetVictor||10 points||25 points||35 points|
|Ladbrokes||10 points||25 points||35 points|
|Coral||10 points||25 points||35 points|
Invariably, most bookmakers work on the same points being awarded, however, there are some that do not offer this market and instead, just work on a yellow card and/or red card system; this being the case with Bet365.
Above, we have summarised in a table of how the main bookmakers work in terms of the booking points market.
In all cases booking points do not count when players are awarded cards for off the pitch (e.g. a substitute). There have been numerous incidents when substitutes on the bench have been awarded cards for their conduct and certainly managers who have been sent to the stands.
Also, in all case booking points do not count in extra time and penalty shootouts – although for big tournaments like the World Cup or the Euros sometimes bookies will count these in special offers. You will find in almost all cases that most bookmakers (or all above), do not count booking points in these scenarios.
Factors That Influence Booking Points & Betting
In a game of football, anything can happen, which can have an effect on proceedings during the match and as a result, this has a bearing on the number of bookings awarded in the process. There are a number of factors that can affect this, so let’s take a look at what these are.
Often games between two strong teams can have a highly charged atmosphere and both sets of players are likely to be high on adrenaline. When this happens, some players cannot contain themselves and are eager to outperform their opposite number which means that there can be a lot of over-exuberance from players.
It can lead to an increase in reckless challenges and in the worst cases, can result in a player getting injured. Intensity levels can also differ depending on the importance of the match and what is at stake. Two big teams playing for a place in the next round of the cup for example or potentially for first place in the Premier League might play at very high levels of intensity as we saw many times before between fierce rivals Manchester United and Arsenal when the two clubs often went head to head for bragging rights.
Sometimes, players who have either been injured or who have not played for a while may see that their performance is negatively affected and as a result, this could lead to them picking up a booking. Quite often, there is no malice or intent in these cases, just purely because their lack of match fitness and sharpness means that they could be slower and mistime the tackle on an opposing player.
This is usually true for midfielders in this instance because of the fact that they typically have to cover a lot of ground during a game of footballer and one who is either returning from injury or who hasn’t played many matches could be exposed.
We have seen over the years that as players get older – typically past the age of 30 their pace starts to leave them and usually the best learn to adapt their game, however, there have been many occasions whereby older players have been caught out by younger, faster opponents.
Sometimes, there are those who commit a tactical foul, knowing that they are never going to catch the player, but are willing to take a booking in order to prevent a goal-scoring situation. We have seen this happen with defenders as they have got older and cannot deal with younger, faster players running at them with the ball.
Some countries traditionally have a more aggressive style of playing, as is reflected by their youth coaching policies and as a result, when making your bet, this could well play a part in the decision making process. Italy historically, has always been a country whereby players (especially defenders) have played hard and as a result they have received a reputation for bookings.
Paolo Maldini, for example, who is rated as one of the best ever defenders and part of a great defence at AC Milan, picked up 90 bookings during his career, though such was the quality and intelligence of his play, he only received two second yellow cards and subsequently, two red cards, across 887 games.
Of course, UK nations also had a reputation for a similarly aggressive style of play – the ‘win at all costs’ mentality being a big part of the English coaching manual, once upon a time.
A pressure cooker situation of a match especially can influence the number of bookings that there are because the atmosphere can be particularly big. If it is a match between two rivals as well or in a huge stadium, that is full to capacity, this can also have a considerable effect on the players.
There are players who can also get completely caught up in the occasion and forget where they are as was the case in the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy when Zinedine Zidane reacted to a comment from Marco Materazzi and headbutted him. This was of course completely at the other end of the scale and Zidane was immediately dismissed for violent conduct. Undoubtedly the atmosphere played a part in what was a completely uncalled for action against another football player.
What a match has riding on it can also have a major effect on booking points, because it could be that a more cautious style of play is adopted to prevent players from being booked or dismissed, which obviously has the potential to alter the outcome of a match.
Some such games are often cagey encounters, especially if it is between the league leaders and third place; it could see the first place side take less risks going forward, in order to protect their position, while the team in third may be unwilling to do the same to avoid being exposed on the counter-attack. Each team knows that a dismissal of a player could result in them losing the game due to the extra man advantage that their opponents would have.
Some referees are renowned for being a lot stricter than others, especially when it comes to dealing out cards. This was the case with Italian referee Pierluigi Collina, who was widely regarded as the best referee of his generation. For all of his talent though, his style was strict and players often needed to think twice about making tackles that could often result in them picking up a booking.
Collina was a Champions League favourite, usually being in charge of many big games. Many punters often take into account who the referee is before they select the number of booking points because this is an important factor.
The head to head history between two teams may also be of consequence when thinking about booking points, particularly if the previous fixture was fraught and had a substantial amount of bookings. It may also be the case that there are one or two certain players who always seem to pick up a yellow card against teams, which can also be a clue when deciding how many booking points to bet on, similarly to the goalscorer market. For example, there are some players who seem to have a great record against a team when it comes to scoring. In this example, it would a case of a player having bad luck against such a team historically.
There could also be players who may believe that they have unfinished business against certain teams because they were involved in clashes against an opponent; sometimes this could be as simple as playing hard (without having picked up a booking), though which could lead to a booking or more in later fixtures. Such an example could include the famous midfield battles of Manchester United’s Roy Keane and Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira, which we go further into detail about further down.
This could be classed more as bad luck, though weather can play a part in the amount of booking points, especially if the conditions are wet. How slippy a pitch is, based on how much rain there is (or has been), may cause some players not realise this and may inadvertently follow through on slide tackles which may cause them to clash with their opponent, as well as winning the ball.
There have been numerous examples over the years where players have been caught out by the wet conditions when it comes to receiving bookings and as a result picked up a booking when under normal circumstances, they perhaps may not have.
What Positions Get The Most Booking Points?
When it comes to booking points or picking up a card in football, there are perhaps certain positions that receive more than others, however, there are numerous variables that play a part here, such as the tactics that a team plays. For example, a team that sits back and operates on the counter attack may be less likely to receive as many bookings than a team that presses high up the pitch, with the latter style perhaps more at risk. This being perhaps because their exuberance to win the ball quickly may cause late, or mistimed challenges, especially from strikers operating as the first line of defence. Let’s take a look at the positions that are perhaps the most prone to receiving the most booking points in a game of football.
In the Premier League from the 2014/15 to the 2020/21 season, the position that received the most bookings in each campaign was central midfield, which perhaps explains the nature of the game in the English top flight and how it has moved on over the years in terms of pace at which it is played. The table below displays the player, the club they were from, the number of bookings received and also the age that they were, which may help to give some indication of how much this factor (discussed above) plays a part.
|Season||Player||Club||Nationality||Age at the time||Number of Bookings|
|2015/16||Jack Colback||Newcastle United||English||25||11|
|2019/20||Luka Milivojevic||Crystal Palace||Serbian||28||12|
|2020/21||John McGinn||Aston Villa||Scottish||25||12|
You would have to go back to the 2013/14 season to find the last time that a defender received the most bookings in a Premier League campaign, this being Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta (28 at the time) and he actually operated from right back, for the most part, with Pep Guardiola occasionally utilising him in midfield.
Indeed, Man City won the Premier League during that campaign, by two points from Liverpool, which perhaps reflected the intensity at which Zabaleta played the game at, especially towards the latter part of the season when it became even more competitive.
Perhaps giving even more support to the theory that midfielders collect the most booking points is the fact that during the 2019/20 season, the top three ranking players for receiving bookings in the Premier League were all midfielders, as seen below. Indeed, you could even make a case for this being the top four being all midfielders due to the fact that Romain Saiss was utilised in both defence and midfield.
2019/20 Premier League Bookings
|Player||Club||Nationality||Age at the time||No. of bookings|
|Luka Milivojevic||Crystal Palace||Serbian||28||12|
The fifth ranked player during that season was Burnley centre back James Tarkowski, also with 10 bookings and interestingly, two others followed on the same amount; striker Callum Wilson (Bournemouth at the time) and Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka.
There have been two occasions over the last couple of decades, whereby five of the top six ranked players have all been English, with this occurring in consecutive seasons (2006/07 and 2007/08). Interestingly, this was around the time that there was a complete overhaul of the grassroots coaching system, as prompted by Trevor Brooking, after the national team lost out on qualifying for the Euro 2008 Championship.
At the time, there was much criticism, that the English style of football relied a lot on the over-aggressive nature from an early age and that it should look to emulate the Spanish style whereby players were taught to pass and move with an emphasis on aesthetics.
06/07 Premier League Bookings
|Player||Club||Position||Age at the time||Nationality||No. of bookings|
|Nigel Reo-Coker||West Ham United||Central Midfield||22||English||13|
|Joey Barton||Manchester City||Central Midfield||24||English||10|
|Michael Brown||Fulham||Central Midfield||29||English||10|
|Ivan Campo||Bolton Wanderers||Centre Back||32||Spanish||10|
|Lee Cattermole||Middlesbrough||Central Midfield||17||English||10|
|Kevin Davies||Bolton Wanderers||Striker||29||English||10|
Perhaps the most interesting observation from this season, besides the fact that five of the top six are English, is that there was a great range in terms of age. Lee Cattermole, who could have been forgiven, with being only 17 at the time, went on to develop this style of play and earn a reputation for being aggressive in nature, while Joey Barton and Nigel Reo-Coker, were similarly combative throughout their career.
Furthermore, this is another example that illustrates how central midfielders, in particular, were the main culprits when it came to picking up bookings. Some players, just below these on nine, were Middlesbrough left-back Emmanuel Pogatetz, centre back Lucas Neil and centre forward Didier Drogba who earned a reputation for his physical nature of play.
2007/08 Premier League Bookings
|Player||Club||Position||Age at the time||Nationality||No. of bookings|
|Nicky Butt||Newcastle United||Central Midfield||32||English||13|
|Michael Brown||Wigan Athletic||Central Midfield||30||English||11|
|El Hadgi Diouf||Bolton Wanderers||Winger/Striker||26||Senegalese||11|
|Kevin Davies||Bolton Wanderers||Striker||30||English||10|
|Kevin Nolan||Bolton Wanderers||Central Midfield||25||English||10|
|Liam Ridgewell||Birmingham City||Left Back/Centre Back||23||English||10|
What is interesting here, is that while five of the top six offenders were English, three of the top six (two English), played for Bolton, who at the time, were under the command of pragmatist boss, Sam Allardyce, who built his reputation, setting his teams up so that they were hard to beat, with an aggressive, physical style. This tenacious style though did pay off, as he kept the Lancashire club in the Premier League, finishing fifth from bottom.
The 1995/96 season yielded a number of astonishing statistics, firstly the fact that the top 21 offenders were all British, with striker Mark Hughes topping the charts with 11 bookings; Man City midfielder, Garry Flitcroft on 10, while Dennis Wise was also on the same number.
Impact Of VAR On Booking Points & Betting Decisions
One aspect that may have become noticeable (and touched on in places above), is the impact that VAR has perhaps had on the number of booking points during a game, due to the fact that referees can refer this to a video referee in order to make sure that the decision is correct.
As we can see in various tables above, the frequency of bookings and especially red cards – certainly over the last five years, has become a lot less and VAR could well have played a part in this.
Many punters perhaps overlook the impact that VAR has when they come to place a bet; not just on the booking points market, but others as well due to the fact that it can influence offside decisions which may prevent goals.
The fact is that referees know that there is no point in taking a risk in today’s game if they are not sure about a challenge that a player makes because they know that they would face a backlash, not just from the public but also even the media, which could negatively impact their reputation.
Betting On Booking Points
Having looked at many of the different aspects that can affect the booking points market and knowing how the points system work, we can now better understand the risks that are involved when it comes to placing a bet.
Certainly, VAR may have an influence on decision-making, but also the evolution of football over the years, the different nationalities now playing in the Premier League and perhaps whether they are more susceptible to being fouled, due to how they play.
Rivalries between certain clubs are no doubt, of major consideration when it comes to making bets in this market and how individuals handle themselves in these certain situations.
Whether any of these factors, though perhaps, more pertinently the impact of VAR, has maybe influenced odds for booking points over the last few years, or will do so over the next few years, is something that the wider industry will watch with interest.