Top 10 Most Red Cards: Premier League

Referees brandish about 60 red cards every Premier League season.
Referees brandish about 60 red cards every Premier League season. | Source

Who Gets the Most Red Cards in the Premier League?

The combative attitude of football players in the English Premier League has cultivated their reputation for physicality and roughness, one that both fascinates and repulses the watching public. This article will name and shame the players who have received the most red cards in Premier League history.

Referees brandish an average of 60 red cards in 380 matches every Premier League season (see table below). That comes out to about one red card every six games. With 22 players on the pitch, football players might expect to be sent off every 132 appearances (1/132). Unfortunately, some overshoot this number, amassing red cards, affecting results, causing injury, destroying the sporting spirit, and tarnishing the image of the beautiful game.

Videos and statistics will be provided for each player in the top 10 (where available). Unlike other lists, the number of appearances made by the players is taken into consideration. The important measure in this list is red cards per game or red card rate. Only players with more than 6 red cards in the Premier League are included.

Total Red Cards: Premier League

Red Cards (2 Yellow)
Straight Red Cards
With about 60 red cards handed out every season (380 matches), the average footballer should receive a red card every 132 matches. But as we shall see, it is a handful of players who do all the damage.

10. Alan Smith

  • Red Cards: 6
  • Appearances: 285
  • Red Card Rate: 1/48 (1 red card every 48 appearances)

If Alan Smith still played in the Premier League, he'd be sent off in every game. Smith consistently threw himself into reckless challenges with little regard for the damage he caused. He was a fairly gifted forward who played for Leeds, Manchester United, and Newcastle in his career, although Alex Ferguson deployed him as a midfield destroyer during his time in Manchester.

9. Joey Barton

  • Red Cards: 6
  • Appearances: 255
  • Red Card Rate: 1/43

Joey Barton is possibly the most hated football player of all time. His red cards rarely come from genuine attempts to get the ball or even reckless attempts to knock someone off the ball. Rather, Barton lashes out at other players when he thinks the officials aren't looking. He is a thug and a coward who should never be allowed on a football pitch.

Barton Kicking Aguero

8. Patrick Vieira

  • Red Cards: 8
  • Appearances: 307
  • Red Card Rate: 1/38

Patrick Vieira was a midfield enforcer for Arsenal between 1996 and 2005. He returned for Manchester City in the 2010-11 season. Vieira's size and willingness to get stuck into the tackle resulted in him being sent off 8 times. He also had numerous spats with Roy Keane (see video).

7. Lee Cattermole

  • Red Cards: 7
  • Appearances: 262
  • Red Card Rate: 1/37

Lee Cattermole is the master of dirty challenges. With 7 red cards by the age of 27, he stands to become the most red carded player in history (the shared record is 8). Remarkably, 6 of his red cards came in the space of 99 appearances for Sunderland. He even received a red card after the final whistle of a match in 2012 for confronting a referee.

6. Nemanja Vidic

  • Red Cards: 6
  • Appearances: 211
  • Red Card Rate: 1/35

Nemanja Vidic was one of the best defenders in the world during his time at Manchester United. Now that he's nearing retirement, he's finding the pace of the game a little too much to bear. His attempts to win the ball back from quicker players are increasingly resulting in desperate lunges and rash challenges (see video). Two of his six red cards came in the 2013-14 Premier League season; Vidic's last as a Manchester United player.

Vidic Red Card Vs Chelsea

5. Duncan Ferguson

  • Red Cards: 8
  • Appearances: 269
  • Red Card Rate: 1/34

Much like Joey Barton, Duncan Ferguson was a true thug. He terrorized defenders between 1994 and 2006. Many of his fouls came from dangerous tackles or off-the-ball incidents. In the video he can be seen headbutting another player.

4. Franck Queudrue

  • Red Cards: 6
  • Appearances: 201
  • Red Card Rate: 1/34

Franck Queudrue's Premier League career lasted from 2001 to 2010, playing for Middlesborough, Fulham, and Birmingham. During the 2002-2003 season he received 3 red cards for reckless challenges. On a lighter note, he scored one of the best own goals ever during his time in the French League (see video).

3. Vinnie Jones

  • Red Cards: 6
  • Appearances: 184
  • Red Card Rate: 1/31

Vinnie Jones's Premier League career lasted from 1992-1998. Before the Premier League emerged, he had already been sent off 6 times, bringing his career total to 12. He holds the record for the quickest ever yellow card, at 3 seconds. After retiring from football, Vinnie brought his hard-man persona to the silver screen.

2. Younes Kaboul

  • Red Cards: 6
  • Appearances: 172
  • Red Card Rate: 1/29

Younès Kaboul is a French central defender who currently plays for Sunderland. He previously played for Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur. One of Kaboul's red cards came from a headbutt in 2010. Another came from getting a second yellow card after removing his shirt during a goal celebration. After moving to Sunderland, he received his first red card for the Black Cats after only 5 games.

Younes Kaboul playing for Tottenham Hotspur.
Younes Kaboul playing for Tottenham Hotspur. | Source

1. John Hartson

  • Red Cards: 6
  • Appearances: 155
  • Red Card Rate: 1/26

Between 1995 and 2001, John Hartson left a trail of destruction in the Premier League. After being sent off in 1997, Hartson accused the referee of being "a homer" and "an absolute joke". In 1998 he was red carded for striking another player and was sent off again 7 matches later. In 1999 he was red carded for elbowing another player and in 1999 and 2000, Hartson was sent off twice for using foul and abusive language towards referees.

Off the field, he was given a conditional discharge for breaking a basket outside of a pub. Most shocking of all, he kicked a team-mate in the face during a training session (see video). For this incident he was fined 20 thousand pounds and banned for 3 matches. He has also had bust-ups with managers Bruce Rioch and Bobby Gould. Despite all this, his reputation appears to be largely undamaged, and he regularly appears as a TV pundit.

Notable Red Card Recipients

An obvious omission from this list is Roy Keane. However, Keane's 7 red cards were received in 366 appearances, giving him a red card rate of 1/52. Other notable absentees are Martin Keown (1/54), Dennis Wise (1/56), and Lee Bowyer (1/79). Richard Dunne's record 8 red cards were received in 397 appearances (1/50), and Steven Gerrard's 6 red cards came in 507 appearances (1/85).

As well as Lee Cattermole, Joey Barton, and Younès Kaboul, there are some other players moving swiftly up the red card rankings. One familiar name is Mario Balotelli, who has 3 red cards in 70 appearances (1/23). With two more red cards, Balotelli will undoubtedly enter this list at number one. Another is Victor Wanyama, who has been sent off 3 times in 85 games (1/28).

It's worth naming and shaming the players who ruin our enjoyment of the beautiful game. So thanks for reading and watching this stats and video compilation!

© 2012 Thomas Swan

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Comments 27 comments

Richard-Murray 3 years ago

Balotelli is far more talented than all these players. And some of his reds are for his youthful exuberance. He is still a kid. If you use an age gap then Balotelli isn't in the list.

But, it must be said, there was a time, football was a little rougher. A lot of yellows and red cards today wouldn't have been given when most of these players started on their path. The Premier league era has changed the money and the officiating of the game to be more softer, toward skills and not letting strong players rough up others.

It is a cultural change as well. Also,

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting Richard. I agree that Balotelli is more of an immature dummy than a malicious thug. However, when he was sent off against Arsenal, he made enough horrendous tackles to be sent off twice. His high foot on Song could have broken the guy's leg easily. I can't remember his other reds so clearly, but the Arsenal match told me that Balotelli could quite easily end a player's career.

Yea, imagine Vinnie Jones in today's matches. He's be sent off every game! It's better that it's softer. For one, it means we can compete in Europe without our players being sent off all the time. Although, having said that, players like Quedrue and Leboeuf found it difficult in England because their tackles were seen as red card offenses, so I'm not sure it's so simple. Perhaps there was some subtle racism from refs in the 90's.

Richard-Murray 3 years ago


The Arsenal match was particular to Balotelli. He never was as incensed.

Vinnie Jones would have went straight to acting today:)

Well, look at Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Hard defenders, find it tough everywhere today, regardless. I think this is why Ashley Cole is so great a defender, he is a hard defender but tends to do it with skill most of the time.

FootballisABeauty profile image

FootballisABeauty 3 years ago

I guess Pepe tops the table in La Liga.

CCahill profile image

CCahill 3 years ago from England

To be fair, at least the cards totals for each of the last seasons has been consistent, actually i dunno if that is a good or a bad thing, makes me wonder now whether its like the conspiracy that Driving test instructors have to pass and fail a certain quota of people a day/week orso.

Keane and Vierra played unmistakably important roles, their brutality on the pitch allowed the others to play gracefull Football. I think to be fair a lot of these players sure, they arent as technically gifted as Mario but they have a better understanding of the game and in a lot of instance, they picked up their cards, performing their function on the pitch rather than petty petulance like Balotelli

Richard-Murray 3 years ago

good point @CCahill

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Richard, if Balotelli can do that against Arsenal, he can do it against others. I've seen him make horrendous tackles in other games for sure. I can't remember the specific instances though.

That's why Ashley Cole is so good. Winning the ball skillfully rather than going to ground is what the best Spanish players do. It's what makes Mikel Arteta such a great defensive midfielder for Arsenal. He has the best stats for that position in the league (last I checked).

I guess you could say players like Lebouef came to England because they thought they could get away with more. Or maybe they were bought for their toughness. Pepe and Ramos would have probably come to England back then.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for the comments FIAB and CCahill.

FIAB, Pepe would probably be top, but I don't follow La Liga as closely. I doubt I could give any more than the stats for those players, if those can even be found.

CCahill, I had the same thought about the total red card numbers. I would have thought that with Cattermole and Barton kicking the league to pieces we might have had more reds, yet it was almost exactly the same.

You're right about the "DM" role back then. Every team had their enforcer, so they were bound to get more cards. Nowadays it's a bit more of a collective effort.

CCahill profile image

CCahill 3 years ago from England

Yeah i thought it'd increase simply cos a lot more offenses are considered a Red card now compared to before.

True, i'd still prefer an absolute out and out dirty bastard on the pitch, to put fear into the opposition ;)

adambarker97 profile image

adambarker97 3 years ago

I'm a Sunderland fan and its no surprise to see Cattermole in there!! Although I do like having him in the team as he gets the best out of our other players, great commitment!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Yea, as an Arsenal fan I can see your point. I wish we had a proper combative midfielder to break up the opposition play and captain the team properly. Still, I wouldn't want Cattermole at my club. Someone more in the Makelele or Essien mould please!

adambarker97 profile image

adambarker97 3 years ago

I love watching arsenal play but a powerful modfielder is something you miss. Diaby has shown he has the potential to fill that role but hes far too injury prone

tastiger04 profile image

tastiger04 3 years ago

Interesting read! Those red cards surely make the game exciting (when the OTHER team gets them...) :)

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Wow - You did a lot of research here! Very interesting. Must share this with my two sons who breathe the beautiful game.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting and sharing Kathleen! Also, thanks to tastiger and adam! I used a couple of stat sites to do the research, but as far as I can tell, the red card rate is a unique interpretation. It certainly took a while to input the necessary stats to calculate it.

Neil 3 years ago

How come Richard Dunne is not on the list? I believe he has 8 Premier red cards.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

It's red card rate :) Dunne has played a lot more games, so 8 red cards doesn't look like a lot when considering that.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Updated the list now that Lee "Thug" Cattermole has chuntered into another horror tackle. He's pushing for that 2nd spot! lol.

tmheffernan profile image

tmheffernan 2 years ago from Middle East

Brilliant and very interesting. thanks

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks tmheffernan

Adam 2 years ago

Duncan Ferguson's red cards were for punching, not one of them was for a 'horrendous, injury causing tackle'.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting. I didn't say his red cards were for that.

royhere profile image

royhere 2 years ago from Kolkata

Nice piece

soufian 2 years ago





Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Indeed!... thanks for commenting :)

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 20 months ago from New Zealand Author

Updated after Joey Barton's ridiculous red card. Still at #10 for red card rate on the all time list though. He's quite consistent in his games/dismissals ratio. Expect another one in 43 games!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 13 months ago from New Zealand Author

Updated to include Younes Kaboul at #2 (wow) and to increase the minimum red cards to be on the list to 6. This means Alan Smith makes it in, while Frank Leboeuf and Nikos Dabizas get away with their terrible crimes (5 reds)!

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