How Common Are Red Cards In The Premier League?

referee holding a red cardRed cards in football are seemingly very few and far between, especially in the Premier League, perhaps highlighted by a number of factors including management styles.

When it comes to betting, it can often be hard to predict players who might get a red card; especially a straight red card.

Repeat red card offenders would perhaps indicate to a manager that they either do not care about their team or are simply not good enough to play at the level of football.

Throughout this article, we look at many different examples of players who have received red cards in the Premier League, over the last couple of decades and split these into different scenarios.

Sometimes in football, there are characteristics in players who leave a clue as to perhaps whether they could be sent off and for many who are placing a bet, they may recognise these traits in modern-day players and be able to make decisions based on these.

Indicators such as player positions may lend aid to this, or even the age of some players – does being really young (inexperienced), or older (less pace) play a part for example? Is it perhaps the team that some players are a part of and as a result, their playing style provide some clues?

The table below, however, indicates a couple of notable players, who in actual fact may not have high numbers when it comes to yellow cards in one season, but who perhaps have been subject to certain factors getting the better of them, such as rivalries or level of intensity against certain teams and players.

PlayerPositionClub(s)No. of Red Cards
Richard DunneCentre BackEverton, Manchester City, Aston Villa, QPR8
Duncan FergusonStrikerEverton, Newcastle United8
Patrick VieiraCentral MidfieldArsenal, Manchester City8
Roy KeaneCentral MidfieldNottingham Forest, Manchester United7
Lee CattermoleCentral MidfieldMiddlesbrough, Wigan Athletic, Sunderland7
Vinne JonesCentral MidfieldChelsea, Wimbledon7
Alan SmithStriker/Central MidfieldLeeds United, Manchester United, Newcastle United7

*Data correct as of 01/09/21

The table above perhaps shows some ‘usual suspects’ who may not come as much of a surprise, such as [Patrick] Vieira and [Roy] Keane, given their rivalry, [Richard] Dunne is maybe a player that many may not have considered. More of a physically strong player than having any kind of ‘nasty’ streak in him, Dunne was an awkward centre back to come up against and many of his offences were often the subject of him not being fast enough instead of anything particularly malicious.

Clubs With Most Red Cards In Premier League History

ClubNo. of Red Cards
Newcastle United88
Blackburn Rovers77

*Data correct as of 01/09/21

referee showing red card 400Perhaps something that clubs may not want to be associated with, there are obviously some that are in possession of a vast number of red cards as illustrated by the table above.

While Arsenal may come as a surprise to many, the club did have somewhat of a reputation for being awarded red cards in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with Vieira (as mentioned) being a main protagonist, though centre back Martin Keown was also up there with six dismissals during his career, however, his yellow card count was surprisingly low, earning just 49 bookings. These stats also translated into an impressive 108 clean sheets.

It is also worth considering that Everton have had the likes of Duncan Ferguson, Thomas Gravesen and a young Wayne Rooney throughout their history; three players who were notorious for being awarded red cards, while Chelsea under manager Jose Mourinho played with as much passion as their boss had, which was often reflected. It wasn’t uncommon for then captain John Terry and his centre back partner Ricardo Carvalho to be sent off in games, while Didier Drogba could also be temperamental during this era.

Clubs With Most Red Cards In A Season

ClubPremier League CampaignNo. of red cards
Queens Park Rangers2011/129
Newcastle United2008/098
West Ham United1999/008
Blackburn Rovers1998/998
Leicester City1994/958

*Data correct as of 01/09/21

A record that may not be broken due to the introduction of VAR technology that allows referees to be assisted in their decision when it comes to awarding cards, the table above paints an interesting picture of teams who were dealt the most red cards in a Premier League season.

What is surprising is that over the last decade, club disciplinary record has seemingly improved in the Premier League substantially, however, some glaring factors make sense when digesting the above data. QPR for example had [Joey] Barton playing for them in the 2011/12 season who, by this point, had earned himself somewhat of a reputation for being a hothead.

Players That Received Most Red Cards In A Season

PlayerSeasonPosition at the timeClub at the timeAge at the timeNo. of Red Cards
Victor Wanyama2015/16Central MidfieldSouthampton243
Wes Brown2013/14Centre BackSunderland333
Franck Queudrue2002/03Left BackMiddlesbrough243
Craig Short2001/02Centre BackBlackburn Rovers333
David Batty1997/98Central MidfieldNewcastle United283

*Data correct from 01/09/21

When looking at the dates, this is perhaps again where the introduction of VAR might have played a part, however, above, you can find an illustration of the players that were awarded the most amount of red cards in a Premier League campaign.

It is perhaps surprising that the most red cards ever awarded to a player in a Premier League season is three, especially when considering the temperament of some players. Arguably notable absentees could well be Vinnie Jones for his aggressive playing style and essentially taking on the role of ‘enforcer’ for his team, while Roy Keane could also perhaps count himself lucky that he isn’t included.

Most Red Cards Awarded In A Premier League Match

FixtureDatePlayers Dismissed
Southampton 0-3 West Brom27/04/13Gaston Ramirez, Danny Fox (Southampton) Marc-Antoine Fortune (West Brom)
Portsmouth 1-1 Sunderland09/02/10Ricardo Rocha (Porstmouth), Lee Cattermole, David Myler (both Sunderland)
Man City 1-2 Tottenham09/11/08Gelson Fernandes, Richard Dunne (both Man City), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham)
Chelsea 4-4 Aston Villa26/12/07Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole (both Chelsea), Zat Knight (Aston Villa)
Newcastle 0-3 Aston Villa02/04/05Steven Taylor, Keiron Dyer, Lee Bowyer (all Newcastle)
West Brom 1-1 Fulham18/09/04Neil Clement (West Brom), Papa Bouba Diop, Andy Cole (both Fulham)
Chelsea 2-1 Leicester23/08/03Geremi (Chelsea), Alan Rogers, Ricardo Scimeca (both Leicester)
Bolton 2-2 Leicester29/12/01Paul Warhurst, Dean Holsworth (both Bolton), Muzzy Izzet (Leicester)
Sunderland 0-1 Man Utd31/01/01Michael Gray, Alex Rae (both Sunderland), Andy Cole (Man Utd)
Tottenham 4-2 Newcastle02/01/01Neil Sullivan (Tottenham), Nolberto Solano, Keiron Dyer (both Newcastle)

*Data correct as of 01/09/21

There are perhaps some notable English top flight games that stick out, for a number of reasons, however, perhaps the most iconic are those that are remembered because of the number of players who were sent off in a game. The table above illustrates those fixtures that are remembered for exactly this reason over the last two decades.

While the above makes for some interesting reading, there are some interesting points that stand out. What perhaps most people will remember is the infamous match between Newcastle and Aston Villa when [Lee] Bowyer and [Keiron] Dyer came to the blows, with Bowyer arguably being the main protagonist. It is also interesting that during the month of January in 2001, there were two fixtures that resulted in three players being sent off.

Repeat Offenders

roy keane

In the Premier League, especially, there have been many examples of players who became almost infamous for being sent off during a season and often repeated similar tallies throughout their careers. Let’s take a look at some of these, in addition to a couple of wildcards that caught our attention and why they perhaps were perpetrators.

Lee Bowyer

Throughout his career, playing for both Leeds United and Newcastle United, the English midfielder earned a reputation for his tenacious, fiery nature, though as well as bookings, was also the scorer of some spectacular goals. His all-round game, especially while at Leeds was often overshadowed by the aggressive and competitive nature that appeared to come naturally. Indeed, Bowyer twice finished first for the most amount of bookings during a season, both of them occurring, while he was at Leeds.

During the 1999/2000 Premier League campaign, Bowyer received 13 bookings, however, this was not in vain and perhaps a sacrifice well made as Leeds finished third in the Premier League, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time. In the 2002/03 season, Bowyer again topped the list with 12 bookings, though Leeds finished sixth from bottom with the player moving to Newcastle the following season.

Olivier Dacourt

Part of the same midfield as Bowyer while Leeds, Frenchman Dacourt had a similar impact and earned the respect of Leeds fans for his similar passionate style. This was, of course, reflected in the number of bookings that he received and in the 2000/01 season, he followed Bowyer as the second consecutive Leeds player to top the Premier League bookings chart with 13 blotting his copybook.

Similar to Bowyer, this was again not in vain as Leeds finished in fourth place, qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Dacourt gradually developed his game and while his aggressive nature was still there, his challenges became more well-timed and less impetuous, something which earned him a regular place in the France national squad.

Robbie Savage

A player who earned a reputation for his passionate and aggressive performances, this was also reflected in the number of bookings that he picked up. Throughout his career, he was awarded 89 yellow cards and surprisingly, one red, with the Welsh midfielder peaking in 2001/02 season, topping the charts with 14 bookings – three ahead of English midfielder Paul Ince in second place.

His disciplinary record was called into question once again, two years later when he finished second on 13 only on a technicality. Ince also finished on 13, though came in first place having accumulated them quicker. During the 2005/06 campaign, he finished with the second most amount bookings being awarded 10, though had company with the likes of Phil Neville [Lucas] Neil and Dean Whitehead also collecting that amount.

Wayne Rooney

A player who was known for his temperamentality and being easily baited, Rooney actually only really made an impression for receiving bookings during the 2003/04 season, when he finished third with 11 bookings at a time when he had exploded onto the scene as a 17-year-old with Everton. When he moved to Manchester United a year later, Rooney learned to channel his aggression more productively, under the guidance of esteemed manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Despite this, in a career spanning 18 seasons, the player still accumulated a staggering 102 yellow cards and three red cards – the most notable perhaps coming in the 2006 World Cup when Manchester United teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo famously engineered the entire situation.

Patrick Vieira

Perhaps surprisingly, the ex-Arsenal and (briefly), Man City central midfielder avoided topping the list of players who collected the most bookings in a season, however, the combative nature of his play meant that he still ranks highly for bookings.

During his career, he received 76 yellow cards and eight red cards, some of these being caused by intense rivalries with opposition players at rival teams such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Roy Keane

Another player, who like Vieira, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is a season where he might top the list of players on bookings, he actually didn’t. However, similarly to his Man Utd counterpart, the Irishman was still awarded a significant amount of cards throughout his career.

He finished with 69 yellow cards and seven red cards, most of these again coming in games against major rivals, or where the stakes were high. Keane famously missed out on appearing in United’s dramatic 1999/2000 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich, due to his poor disciplinary record, having taken a bullet for his teammates in the semi-final second leg victory over Juventus.

What Can We Learn About Red Cards In Football?

yellow and red cards bookings footballMost of the time, when a player receives a red card, it has more to do with their playing mentality and temperament than being unlucky. While being booked is fairly common and an event that in most circumstances can be forgiven, players who get sent off, especially repeatedly can become a problem for clubs and in some cases, supporters.

Of course, the nature of a game can be a factor when it comes to red cards, particularly high-stakes matches such as finals and this can often get the better of some players who are perhaps either overly passionate or for a split second, let their emotions get the better of them and do something that they know is wrong.

There are also instances where opponents know just how to provoke a player enough so that they will react in a certain way – often violent conduct which will result in them being sent off.

A classic example that we haven’t mentioned, who perhaps is an isolated case is striker Luis Suarez, who on two separate occasions was sent off in extraordinary circumstances – biting incidents. While he has since tempered his actions on the pitch as he has got older, there is no doubt that these have left their mark on modern-day football history for the wrong reasons.

In the future, such factors as VAR might help to make a referee’s decision easier when it comes to potential straight red card incidents, though players being awarded red cards for two bookings is still likely to be a common occurrence – especially if they are playing against a tricky player who can repeatedly draw a foul.