Soccer Referee Resources
Ask a Question
Recent Questions

Previous You-Call-It's

VAR (Video Assistant Referee)

Q&A Quick Search
The Field of Play
The Ball
The Players
The Players Equipment
The Referee
The Other Match Officials
The Duration of the Match
The Start and Restart of Play
The Ball In and Out of Play
Determining the Outcome of a Match
Fouls and Misconduct
Free Kicks
Penalty kick
Throw In
Goal Kick
Corner Kick

Common Sense
Kicks - Penalty Mark
The Technical Area
The Fourth Official
Attitude and Control
League Specific
High School

Common Acronyms
Meet The Ref
Contact AskTheRef
Help Wanted
About AskTheRef

Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

Panel Login

Question Number: 35356

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 2/19/2024

RE: Rec Adult

Sal of Chicago, IL United States asks...

A player upset at an opponent screams at the referee “if he touches me again, I’m going to f..k him up. Yellow card or red card for violent conduct?

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Sal,
Well, let's just start by saying that while this could potentially be a red card, it couldn't be for violent conduct. VC requires the player to use or attempt to use excessive force or brutality against someone. It does not apply to verbal offences.

What it could be is what, in refereeing shorthand, is often referred to as OFFINABUS - the use of offensive, insulting or abusive language or gestures. Like many on-field scenarios or incidents, it's difficult to say without being there. Depending on the circumstances, I'd say this could be anything from a stern verbal warning to a red card. Was this just a "throwaway" remark in the heat of the moment after a bad foul was committed on them, or was it issued in a more cold, calculated manner without any kind of excuse and indicating a real intent to do physical harm to an opponent?

What was the overall tenor of the match at this point? What (if any) previous similar incidents had occurred - and did they involve the same player, or others?

In the end, this would be a judgement call for a referee. I think I'd be inclined to give at least a yellow card for this. Possibly a red but as I say, it would depend on the exact circumstances.

Read other questions answered by Referee Peter Grove

View Referee Peter Grove profile

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Sal
Thanks for the question.
Punishment for specifically using foul language was taken out of the Laws of the Game in 1997/1998, following the complete rewrite of the Laws at that time. The wording of the sending-off offence was changed from 'uses foul or abusive language', to 'uses offensive, insulting or abusive language'.

Due to the increase and tolerance levels of foul language in general society, it was accepted by IFAB that foul language alone, was no longer to be automatically punished with a dismissal, but that it now expected referees to judge when the words actually constituted an offence or not. Referees were voting by their non action on foul language alone hence the change.
So it is not the words alone that create an offence in the game but both the words used AND the ambience in which they are delivered and meant.

So in your situation a referee would take into account many factors not just the words alone.
If the player, as Referee Grove alludes to had a heavy challenge made on him / her or for that matter repeated poor challenges a referee would have to consider whether the player was being targeted or goaded leading to the outburst. Many players do not express their intent in this manner yet may take retribution on the player with perhaps a nasty challenge or off the ball contact. That needs to be dealt with.

Law 12 does not include a definitive listing of what constitutes offensive or insulting or abusive language or dissent. Some *bad language* used as part of conversation on the field of play is not necessarily illegal as far as the Laws are concerned. They only become illegal, if the context in which they are being used, steps over the tolerance level set by the referee as part of match control.
That varies from referee to referee and from game to game. I see some referees taking stern action on any verbal misconduct while others only deal with the most egregious where there is little choice such as a tirade from distance at the top of the players voice.

So it is not the words themselves taken in isolation that constitute an offence. The Laws allow the Referee to make a judgement call using common sense, which could result in no punishment being administered just a strong admonishment or the player may be sanctioned with a caution or a dismissal.
The one exception to this, are words of racial connotation. These should always be punished properly, irrespective of how they are delivered

The mood of the game is another factor to consider. If the temperature of the game has been rising and it is starting to show signs that it is becoming ugly and unruly a referee must take stern action.
Back in the day there was a great phrase used in the Law book. It was Fingerspitzengefühl a German term, literally meaning "finger tips feeling". It describes a great situational awareness, and the ability to respond most appropriately and tactfully.
As a referee I always paid close attention to what was happening in the game such as building frustration, repeated fouling, agitations etc. All these can lead to misconduct and need to be dealt with as they arise.
The analogy of each incident blowing up a balloon is made where unless the referee steps in to let air out of the ballon through sanctions, words, action the ballon will burst with consequences for the game.

So to answer your question it is first of all not violent conduct. It could be offensive, insulting and abusive words or gesture. It could also be a caution for unsporting behaviour or perhaps just a stern admonishment.
It could be considered unfair that the perpetrator of a poor challenges or repeated fouls goes unpunished while the resultant outburst from the fouled hurt player gets carded. My sense is that I may speak to both players putting them on notice that any further poor behavior will get sanctioned or I may caution both trying to limit any further misconduct as it will result in dismissal/s.
I cant see it as described as a red card alone although if it was loud enough, delivered in a nasty tone with venom and gestures then so be it.
Perhaps a way of looking at it is to consider what does the game expect. Is anyone going to question a stern admonishment or a caution while they might suggest that a sending off was harsh in the circumstances. I always gave the players the benefit on cards when it was questionable. The player is given the opportunity to accept the sanction and mend their ways for the remainder of the game with zero tolerance from that point on,

Read other questions answered by Referee Joe McHugh

View Referee Joe McHugh profile

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Sal,
well the comprehensive answers by my colleagues paint a pretty fair picture that such an action can NOT be ignored.

The comment could certainly be stretched and interpreted as foul and abusive thus red card and send off but feel such a dramatic action is unwise! Unless this player has been a constant thorn I even think a caution for USB is not necessary but it clearly highlights there is a problem created by the management of that particular match and possibly your inattention or unawareness may have contributed .

Pro active referees should ALWAYS be on the look out for contentious situations and seek ways to dissipate the problems, if they can, before players' take matters into their own hands.

Cards are certainly a TOOL to show your displeasure and punish irrelevant violent or unsporting behaviour but one should note when animosity and irritation of connected struggles and challenges and confront such directly warning the behaviour to stop or to ensure those involved you are aware, watching and concerned.

For a player to use such an outburst, he is indicating to the referee his displeasure! Why are you not protecting me, are you not watching? The back of my ankle is scraped raw or my ear is still ringing from the unnoticed elbow? It matters little if he is exaggerating or exacerbating his misery, this is a clear challenge to YOUR authority on the pitch, it would be unwise not to heed and deal with it. The key is use effective tools not just the sledge hammer of a red card or the threat with another yellow!

I very much support the considerations Ref McHugh suggests in the evaluation stage of just how bad is this and what solves it now that it is front and center of your attention radar In a men's open tournament a more skilled visiting team with, 70% ball possession, up 2 to zero over the home team, who, although played their hearts out, were a step or two behind. The visiting team had a very talented sweeper with excellent dribbling skills and it was nearly impossible to get the ball away. His distribution and command of the FOP was both exhilarating to watch but probably pretty frustrating for the defenders in trying to tackle and come away with the ball. Yet on one such occasion, a defender going to a knee dropped a leg back and stripped the cocky visitor who was used to being fouled rather than being fairly stripped of ball possession . His teammates had moved far up the pitch in expectation of him racing through the home team with ease. The home player starts out moving quickly being chased by the sweeper into an attack position with supporting team members

Now in this pursuit the visiting players cracked a good ankle swipe on the attacker who stumbled but recovered and as there was a very good attacking possibility as they had a ckear 3 on 2 situation with a great opportunity to score! I cried out "Advantage! and began signalling , intent on speaking to the player as I was passing by "I will be seeing you shortly!" as in my opinion it was a reckless action. But the attacker instead of continuing just started to slow still moving forward turned and glared saying something along the lines of "You better grow eyes in the back of your head you expletive%^&#*(#@! The reaction to this by the pursuing visiting player was that of a puffed up banty roster and a come get some retort and attitude! with payback etc.. and he continued his pursuit

So I HAMMERED the whistle.
Advantage in my mind was achieved but I had not yet yelled Play on! I was steamed because he threw away a really good attacking opportunity as they were 3 on 2 so technically he GAVE the advantage away by the reaction to the foul itself and choosing to stop and uselessly engage in a crowing contest.

No you will NOT!
I did the directional two finger inverted peace sign on them, eye contact head swivel then pointing back at me .
You two here NOW!
I headed directly into the middle of where they would have clashed!

This stops right here, right now!

You, I said, pointing to the local player, "It was a cheap shot I get it, but you know I saw the foul because I bellowed ADVANTAGE! to allow you the opportunity to continue the attack which you then gave up to confront this guy rather then follow through with a chance to score? You have now made my decision to caution him for that tackle into a decision to now include you in as well for USB

You, I said, pointing to the visiting player, have shown yourself up until this point to be a very fair and skilled player. and that challenge and remark is not what I expected given what you have shown throughout! That tackle was reckless late, ineffective and served no real purpose than frustration at losing out in a fair challenge given that does not seem to happen to you very often. You are going to be cautioned for it!

Now you two have a choice, shake hands and lets get on with the game provide a proper spectacle for the kids watching or I will retire you both to the parking lot.

Given I applied advantage ,which was in fact realized, but the home player stopped to get into a needless discourse, I really felt given he remained caution free, he did not deserve the free kick for that original foul due to how this unfolded. At that time the LOTG for a DB were diffrent both teams could participate .
The visiting player said they would return the ball to the home team if allowed to do so which was the case. They shook hands , I cautioned the visiting player, showing a yellow card pointing to the ankle clip spot so not to confuse it with USB I restarted with a DB to the visiting team which promptly returned the ball back to the home team

Does it always work out like that ?
But it makes this referee feel like a million every time it does!

Read other questions answered by Referee Richard Dawson

View Referee Richard Dawson profile

Ask a Follow Up Question to Q# 35356
Read other Q & A regarding Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct

Soccer Referee Extras

Did you Ask the Ref? Find your answer here.

Enter Question Number

If you received a response regarding a submitted question enter your question number above to find the answer

Offside Question?

Offside Explained by Chuck Fleischer & Richard Dawson, Former & Current Editor of AskTheRef

This web site and the answers to these questions are not sanctioned by or affiliated with any governing body of soccer. The free opinions expressed on this site should not be considered official interpretations of the Laws of the Game and are merely opinions of AskTheRef and our panel members. If you need an official ruling you should contact your state or local representative through your club or league. On AskTheRef your questions are answered by a panel of licensed referees. See Meet The Ref for details about our panel members. While there is no charge for asking the questions, donation to maintain the site are welcomed! <>