Last updated on March 14th, 2022
In 2011, Eric Hassli scored a crucial penalty. To celebrate, he took off his shirt to reveal that he has yet another shirt.
However, he was still booked for taking off his shirt.
Since this was his second yellow card, he was sent off!
You may be wondering why FIFA is so strict about players taking off their shirts. They have not made a clear statement on the real reason for this rule, so we can only speculate the real reason why.
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Can you get a yellow card for taking your shirt off?
When a player takes off his shirt, he will receive a yellow card by the referee, irregardless of the player’s motive. This is according to Law 12 set by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The IFAB believes that goal celebrations should not be excessive, and taking off your shirt is considered as an excessive celebration.
If you cover your head with your jersey, you will be booked as well!
What’s more, the player will still be booked even if the goal has been disallowed.
Why do footballers take off their shirts?
Most footballers take off their shirts during an emotional celebration after scoring an important goal for their team. Other footballers may take off their shirts to reveal an undershirt with a message that they wish to spread.
Why can’t footballers take off their shirts?
There is no official rationale by FIFA on why footballers cannot take off their shirts. However, one of the possible reasons could be that the referee may be confused when he is trying to identify a player on the pitch, so not having a shirt on would be considered to be illegal.
Why do players get booked for taking their shirts off?
Here are 6 possible reasons why players may get booked for taking their shirts off:
- Players should not be celebrating excessively
- Unable to identify the player
- Players may send political messages
- Players may send personal messages
- Sponsors want their brands to be captured all the time
- Certain cultures, countries or religions may be offended
#1 Players should not be celebrating excessively
You may agree that taking off your shirt is not needed in football. However, when you score a crucial goal like Aguero to seal the 2011/12 Premier League trophy,
or Iniesta who won Spain’s first World Cup in 2010, can you really blame them?
Cristiano Ronaldo recently took off his shirt after breaking the world record for the most number of international goals scored. From the video below, you can see that the referee was waiting to give him a yellow card after the entire celebration.
If you are in the same position as them, you would be overwhelmed with emotion as well!
#2 Unable to identify the player
This is a more practical reason why taking off your shirt should be booked.
In a match against Aston Villa in 2002, Diego Forlan scored his first goal for Manchester United. He took off his shirt during his celebration.
However, he had some issues wearing back his shirt, even after play had continued! Forlan was running around half naked for a minute, with his shirt in hand.
When the ball finally went out of play, he needed 3 backroom staff to help him put his shirt back on.
It may have been a hilarious moment, but FIFA thought otherwise. Squad numbers on a player’s jersey are meant to identify and distinguish each player on the pitch.
If every player started to take off their shirt, the referee will definitely be confused!
It was rumoured that Forlan’s incident led to the implementation of this rule in 2004.
#3 Players may send political messages
Some players may take off their shirt to reveal an undershirt with a certain message. Some may be personal, but others may be political as well.
So far, there have not been many undershirts that have extremely provocative messages.
However, a recent celebration that sparked a lot of controversy was Shaqiri’s eagle celebration when Switzerland played against Serbia.
The eagle celebration represented Albania, as the flag has a double headed eagle on it. This was seen as provocative by Serbians and many people were enraged over it.
If players’ undershirts had such provocative messages, it may spark lots of controversy. As such, it may be logical for FIFA to curb such messages.
IFAB can’t control what can be put on players’ undershirts
A player’s jersey is fixed throughout the team. The only things that change between players are their numbers and names.
However, there is no control on what a player’s undershirt looks like. Usually, a player will only reveal his undershirt when he scores a goal.
There could be many other undershirts that weren’t revealed, just because the player did not score a goal!
#4 Players may send personal messages
In a Euro 2012 match between Denmark and Portugal, Nicklas Bendtner lifted his shirt and pulled his pants. He revealed a Paddy Power underpants which was seen as a marketing ploy.
Bendtner was fined €100,000 and banned for one match.
This stunt that Bendtner pulled off had commercial intent. However, messages by other players are usually light-hearted or a tribute to a special person.
Here are some examples where players took off their shirt to reveal a personal message:
1. Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli was a divisive figure when he played for Manchester City. He was an extremely talented striker. However, he has had a lot of issues off the pitch.
During the Manchester derby in the 2011/12 season, Balotelli scored a goal in City’s 6-1 trashing. He lifted his jersey over his head to show an undershirt that said ‘Why Always Me?’
It’s definitely one of the more iconic goals in the Premier League history!
2. Demarai Gray
In the next Premier League match against Cardiff City, Demarai Gray scored the only goal of the match. He took off his shirt to reveal a tribute to Khun Vichai.
Gray was booked after scoring this emotional goal.
3. Lionel Messi
Diego Maradona passed away in November 2020 due to a heart failure. In the match the next weekend when Barcelona played Osasuna, Messi scored a goal in the 4-0 win.
He took off his shirt to reveal a Newell’s Old Boys shirt, which was previously worn by Maradona.
Even though this tribute was very moving, Messi was still booked and fined.
4. Raheem Sterling
During England’s World Cup Qualifier match with Hungary, Raheem Sterling took off his shirt to pay tribute to his friend who passed away a few days ago.
He was still booked for this ‘offence’.
5. Leon Bailey
After scoring his first league goal for Aston Villa, Leon Bailey took off his shirt to pay tribute to Steffi Gregg, which was similar to what Sterling did above.
He was booked for this offence too.
6. Matty Cash
Tomasz is Cash’s Polish teammate, and he was playing for Dynamo Kyiv during the invasion of Russia.
Even though this message was heartwarming, Cash was still booked for taking his shirt off.
Personal messages do not mean any harm
Most messages by players do not have malicious intent. However, IFAB cannot control what players can put on their undershirt.
As such, they may want to discourage players from showing messages by giving them a yellow card.
#5 Sponsors want their brands to be captured all the time
While this has not been proven, there are some rumours on how sponsors may have had a say in this matter.
When a player scores a goal, all the cameras will be focused on him. The goal celebration pictures are the main highlights of any news article.
If the player is shirtless when the pictures are taken, the sponsor’s logo will not be seen. As such, the sponsor may lose a lot of potential eyeballs!
No one has backed this claim, however it does make sense. Companies would want their brand to gain as much exposure as possible. This may lead to them ‘influencing’ FIFA to punish players who take off their shirts!
#6 Certain cultures, countries or religions may be offended
Certain cultures, countries or religions may be more conservative. Usually these are Islamic countries in the Middle East, where seeing shirtless men on TV may be considered to be offensive.
Even so, some of these players have an undershirt below. Their bare chest would not be exposed.
Moreover, some players may exchange jerseys at the end of the match. This usually involves them taking off their shirts while on the pitch. In this scenario, the players will not be booked!
As such, this reason is not as convincing compared to the others!
Female football players will be booked too
One of the most iconic moments was when Brandi Chastain took off her shirt after scoring the winning penalty in the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final.
This was in 1999, before the IFAB made taking off your shirt to be bookable in 2004.
In a FA Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa, Sam Kerr scored a last-minute winner, and she took off her shirt during the celebration.
Kerr was subsequently given a yellow card for her celebration.
The IFAB has not given a clear reason why they have deemed taking off your shirt as a bookable offence. As such, we can only speculate the real reason why they came up with this unique rule!
This contentious rule may also result in players arguing with the referee over his decision to give them a yellow card.
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