What Does A Green Card Mean In Soccer?

Table of Contents

For many people, ‘Green Card’ refers to the permanent residency card of the US. It’s a hot topic as many people dream of gaining citizenship here. But that’s not the only green card you should know about, especially if you’re a soccer fan.

If you’ve played soccer, I am sure you know about the yellow card’ and the ‘red card.’ They are used to caution players and coaches when they commit a foul. The main point of their existence is to deter or discourage unsportsmanlike behavior. 

The ‘green card’ is something that was first used in the CONIFA World Cup. It has also found a place in the Italian Serie B league.

So, what does the green card mean? How do you get a green card in soccer? When is it awarded?

I’ll answer all these questions in this article, so read on.

Here’s What You Should Know About Green Cards

Green cards don’t actually exist in soccer.

Yes, you did not read anything wrong. There are only yellow and red cards in soccer, officially as per FIFA. For those who are not aware, FIFA is the governing body in world soccer. I am sure you’ve heard of the FIFA World Cup. (if not, please tell me how?)

So, now if you’re wondering, “If there’s nothing called the green card, what is the fuss all about?”

Well, if I am being frank, there is no fuss. The green card has only ever been used twice. Yes, only two instances in history. And what stands out the most is the use case for the green card was different in both situations. One was used to mildly punish a player whereas, the other was to reward a player

Let’s go over what happened in those incidents.

Green Card in Soccer - The First Occurrence

In 2016, Italy’s Serie B announced plans to reward ‘fair play’ shown by the players. They said that the player with the most Green cards will be duly felicitated at the end of the season.

Subsequently, in October 2016, Cristian Galano of Vicenza Calcio was awarded the first-ever green card in soccer history. The referee, Marco Mainardi, became the first one to award this honor.

What did Galano do to deserve it? During the game, Vicenza was awarded a corner kick by the referee. But Galano told the ref that no Virtus Entella defender made contact with the ball. As a result, the decision was overturned, and a goal-kick was awarded to Virtus Entella.

Just because the green cards are being awarded, don’t assume that the referees are dishing out physical cards like the other ones. They are not. The green card is symbolic, at least in the Italian Serie B, as clarified by the Serie B president Andrea Abodi.Abodi further said that the green card will only be awarded when the players perform an ‘extraordinary act.’ Additionally, he said it is essential that we recognize good plays on the field.

Other Useful Soccer Articles

Green Card in Soccer - The Second Occurrence

This second incident happened in 2018 in the third edition of the CONIFA World Cup.

I know not a lot of you reading this must have heard about CONIFA. All you need to know is that the Confederation of Independent Football Associations is the governing body for soccer teams that are not affiliated with FIFA. It was formed in 2013 and, as of 2021, has 63 members from all over the world.

Let’s go back to our original incident. It was the 2nd day of the 2018 CONIFA World Cup on June 2. The match was contested between Padania and Tuvalu and ended 8-0 in Padania’s favor. 

During the second half, the referee Raymond Mashamba brought out the green card for a Tuvalu midfielder. But he wasn’t the only one who got it. The referee also awarded the green card to a Padania player in the same game. 

The problem here was dissent and lack of respect for the officials. Yes, this was no award for ‘fair play’ as it is in Serie B. This is a cautionary card like the yellow and the red card.

So, what happens to the player who gets a green card? According to CONIFA rules, the player receiving a green card has to leave the field of play immediately. If the team has substitutions available, they can bring on a different player to replace the cautioned player.

Moreover, the player can be included in the next game’s squad. There is no suspension in effect as is with a red card or double yellow cards. That makes the green card a cautionary card that sits right between the yellow and the red cards. 

Also, unlike Serie B’s virtual card, CONIFA utilizes a physical green card. 


From the two incidents, it is clear that there is no single-use case or a worldwide rule. The more prominent institutions like FIFA, UEFA, etc., don’t recognize it and neither do they use it. We can only speak about the two particular use cases I talked about above in such a case.

Serie B uses it to recognize ‘fair play’ exhibited by the players and promise a reward at the end of the playing season. This way, sportsmanlike behavior is promoted, and the spirit of the game is uplifted.

On the other hand, the CONIFA  uses the green card to take action against unsportsmanlike behavior in the game. Sometimes, a red card is too harsh as it punishes the player and the team. Subsequently, the entire game is affected as a team is left one man down. The game gets ruined and lopsided, even for the audience.

It will be interesting to see if major competitions and leagues start adopting the green card. What are your thoughts? Comment below!

James Cunningham
James Cunningham
James lives in Chicago with his wife and three daughters. Originally from the UK, soccer has allowed him to travel the world. Now a youth coach, he fully enjoys teaching others about the game that he loves so much. His favorite team is Manchester United.