Can A Red Card REALLY Be Overturned? (Deep Dive)

There’s a certain dread that fills us when a player on our team gets a yellow card, or even worse, a red card. In both amateur and professional football, the red card gives an instant advantage to the opposition team. Referees can sanction players with a straight red card or two yellows, which means immediate expulsions of said player.  

Can a red card be overturned during a football match?

However, the official’s judgment can be called into question. In a situation where the referee made a mistake in his calls, he can correct his mistake and overturn the red card. 

The only condition is that the overturning must take place before the game restarts, not after.

There are no clauses in the rules of the game that dictate the ability of the referee to overturn cards. However, the allegorical “Law 18” is known as common sense, which means the referee has to use his discretion in all judgements. 

Overturning a red card during the match is quite rare as referees carefully deliberate before expelling players from the pitch. The weight of the red card or second yellow could upturn a whole game. 

Thus, referees rarely retract their red cards. However, if the referee has made a poor judgment in his booking, he can quickly rectify the error by overturning the card. 

Can VAR overturn a red card?

The Video Assistant Referee technology has become an important part of modern football since it was introduced in 2016. The system is operated by three referees who work in a technical room to pour over direct feed from the match. The VAR team helps the referee make more informed decisions with their input and analysis of in-game incidents. 

They are sidekicks of some sort who can assist the referee in his decisions but can never outrightly make decisions of theirs. As such, the VAR team cannot solely overturn decisions like red cards or any other. However, they can advise the referee to rethink their decisions.

Hakim Ziyech benefitted from this situation earlier this year. During a league match between London rivals, Chelsea and Tottenham, the referee initially penalised Emerson Royal and Kai Havertz for an incident on the pitch. Shortly after he received feedback from VAR officials, he showed Ziyech a red card. 

Ziyech had accepted his fate as he retreated from the pitch, but he soon stopped as the stadium monitors showed a VAR review in progress. 

The referee, Stuart Atwell, went through a short replay of the scuffle and decided to rescind his whole decision. It was quite a controversial moment, but the referee was lauded for accepting his mistakes and the immediate rectification.

Can a red card be overturned after the football match ends?

As we have seen many times in football, referees do make mistakes and some of them are quite costly. They might make judgment errors when penalizing players with a red card. However, if the mistake is not rectified during the match, it can be appealed by the player’s club after the match. 

In the Premier League, a club can appeal the case of a straight red card under the category of ‘wrongful dismissal’ with the FA. The FA will review the evidence from the game and decide whether to uphold or potentially overturn the decision, thereby cancelling the mandatory three-game ban. However, second yellows cannot be appealed and players must serve the suspension sentence.  

Furthermore, these appeals must be lodged within two days of the incident or they are considered irrelevant. However, there is a catch for clubs that appeal red card decisions. If the FA deems the appeal as weak and silly, they reserve the right to extend the player’s ban from three games to four.

A potential overturn has no bearing on the game’s result, which is considered a bygone. However, it ensures the player’s record is not dislodged by unfair decisions and wipes away imminent suspensions.  

Yellows cannot usually be appealed. But clubs can appeal the decision in the case of mistaken identity for a double booking expulsion. 

There have been several instances of overturned red cards after the club appealed to the FA. Some of them include:

John Terry vs. Manchester City

In 2008, John Terry received marching orders after the referee, Mark Halsley, expelled him with a straight red card. The punished foul was for hauling down Jo close to the halfway line. However, John Terry was not the last man since both Jose Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho were ahead of the Englishman.

This was way before the VAR technology was introduced, so the referee had no alternate sources to consult others than his own judgment.

The match ended in a 3-1 away win for the Blues at the Etihad but John Terry was due to miss three upcoming matches. Among them was a crucial clash with Manchester City and a cup tie against Portsmouth. Chelsea promptly appealed to the FA, who duly rescinded the red card and the impending suspensions.  

Heung-Min Son vs. Everton

 At the beginning of the 2019/20 season, Tottenham made a visit to Everton where the score was settled at 1-1. However, the most impactful period of the game was in the 79th minute when Son’s tackle on Andre Gomes went all wrong. The Portuguese suffered an immediate dislocation after Son’s tackle.

The referee, Martin Atkinson, initially reached for a yellow card but showed Heung-Min Son a straight red card instead. Son was overly distraught over the damage his tackle caused and retreated from the pitch in tears. However, Tottenham would appeal the decision and it was subsequently rescinded.  


Referees are the alpha and omega on the pitch. Their word is law, but they are still fallible enough to make the silliest of mistakes. In some cases, they might recognize their error in judgment and overturn their red card.

In other cases, the club might have to appeal to the FA to overturn the red card and suspensions. However, there must be a strong case for overturning the card because the FA reserves the right to extend the already given suspension.

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