Angry man with football

Can Football Players Be Sent Off Before Kick-Off?

Football is nicknamed the Beautiful Game for a reason. Not only boasting some of the greatest athletes of all time such as Cristiano Ronaldo, but the sport also lauds some true artists of the sporting world. The likes of Lionel Messi spring to mind when the phrase ‘true artist’ is mentioned. However, despite the wonderful flicks, mesmerising tricks, sublime goals and perfectly-timed tackles across the modern game, there has always been a darker side to the game we love.

This has come through play-acting, dissent, diving and needlessly aggressive tackling that has no place in the game itself. While most of these examples will lead to warnings, yellow cards and possibly even red cards, what would happen if a player broke the rules before a game? In this guide, we will take a look at whether football players can be sent off before the game has kicked off, why this might happen and famous examples of this.

Getting Sent Off Before a Game Has Even Started

It seems to have been a fairly new addition to the Laws of the Game, but a player can be shown a red card before the match has started, for infringements, such as fighting in the tunnel, for example.

The most important thing to know about this rule is that despite a player being red-carded before the start of the game, the team can replace them so that they start with 11 players. This is a far cry from a red card during a match, which would see a player sent off, reducing a team to 10 men (or less depending on the circumstances of the match).

If a player is sent off before the team list is submitted, then they are unable to be named in the side in any capacity. If they are sent off after the team list has been submitted but before kick-off itself, then the player can be replaced by a substitute, who cannot be replaced. This means that there will still be 11 players on the pitch at the start of the game, but the number of substitutes will have decreased as they cannot be replaced.

Has Any Player Ever Been Sent Off Before Kick-Off?

Incredibly, yes, a player has been sent off before kick-off.

Patrice Evra

Patrice Evra
Werner100359 /

Perhaps the most high-profile instance of this came as Patrice Evra saw red when playing for Marseille. Marseille were due to play Vitoria Guimaraes in the Europa League with Evra on the bench. Amazingly, the then 36-year-old left-back was involved in an altercation with fans of his own team and he reportedly tried to kick a fan at the side of the pitch.

Evra was sent off for this and did not feature in the match. He was reportedly reacting to taunts directed at him by fans of Marseille. Evra was charged with violent conduct by UEFA following the incident.

Jean Fernandes

Jean Fernandes
Orange County Sheriff Office /

Another major incident involving a pre-match red card came in the Supercopa Paraguay. In 2021, the Super Cup final saw Jean Fernandes sent off before the game had started. Fernandes, the goalkeeper for Cerro Porteno, had just made his way to his own goal line when he supposedly crossed his forearms in front of his own throat, directing this at the crowd. The action was deemed to be a ‘provocative’ on, and he was subsequently sent off.

Fernandes was ordered to make his way to the middle of the pitch as VAR looked at the footage. Referee Eber Aquino then made the decision to send Fernandes off before the first kick-off had even taken place.

As mentioned earlier, due to the fact the red card had taken place before kick-off, Cerro Porteno were able to put their substitute goalkeeper, Rodrigo Munoz, in goal in his place. However, Munoz taking the place of his teammate did not end well as his side went down 3-1 in the match.

Why Is Being Sent Off Before Kick-Off So Bad?

Being sent off in a game is sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes out of stupidity. For the former, a player may decide that taking a foul and a card is the best thing to do to cynically stop a player that is through on goal.

For example, if England were 1-0 up against Germany in a World Cup semi-final, one of their players may decide they need to haul down the opposition to stop a counter-attack, thus taking a second yellow and receiving their marching orders. While this is hardly in the spirit of the game, sometimes it happens.

When it comes to stupidity, a red card can be given for moments of madness on and off the ball, aggressive tackles, brawling, a second yellow and more. While footballers can so often show the skills and talent that has made them so successful, they can also be petulant and foolish on and off the pitch.

While making a rash challenge in the middle of the game in the heat of the moment, being sent off before the match is unforgivable. Players need to control their emotions before the game begins otherwise what chance do they have of keeping their emotions in check during the game.

On the flip side of this, being sent off before a game would at least afford a player’s team with the opportunity to replace them. As is stated in the rules, a player that is sent off before the match can be replaced by a sub so that the side can start with 11 players on the pitch. Ultimately, if a player is sent off before a game, then they will quite often have done something very foolish that fully warrants a red card before the ball has been kicked.