Betting on bookings; the card markets & the impact of the referee

Updated: 5246 Football

Betting on bookingsWho doesn't love a good crunching tackle? It's regularly documentedthat tackling is a dying art in the modern game but the lowerleagues in particular are still full of hard hitters andtraditional big lumps at centre back that will

Betting on bookings; the card markets & the impact of the referee
James Banting Tipster Competition Assistant

James has worked for the jockey club and has 20 years sports betting experience he utilises his skills in our tipster competitions and writes sports betting content.

Betting on bookings

Pre-match and when watching a game and placing in running bets it's not just the score or goalscorers you should be focused on but look more deeply at team news, who is the ref? is either team desperate for points?

Once the game goes in running how is the demeanour of the players? the quality of the refereeing? and the overall temperature of the game?

Are there many crunching tackles? Does the ref look like he is losing control, is the crowd screaming and bawling at the decisions made.

The Premier League alongside other European leagues allows betting on bookings and the booking markets has seen a big increase.

Previously we had just red cards and a spread of booking points to bet on with most bookmakers but these days you can find a whole host of markets to bet on.  

Most popular are:

  • Time of the first card.
  • Player to be carded markets.
  • The number of cards.
  • The number of cards each half
  • The first player to be carded

 and some of the bigger online bookmakers have a host of more obscure bets available, such as betting on specific players to be booked/sent off OR will a player get two yellows?

 In this blog, I will discuss my opinions on the bookings markets and a few techniques I use with my bookings bets.

EPL Booking Statistics

Below you can see the number of bookings in a full EPL season (2108/19). 

With 38 games in a season, Watford and Burnley averaged 2 bookings per game. 

The team with the fewest bookings was Liverpool with just 38. 

Watford have an abysmal disciplinary record with them featuring at the top of the bookings table twice and in second place once in the last five seasons. 


EPL TEAM BOOKINGS
Watford 77
Burnley 75
Man Utd 73
Arsenal 72
Wolves 72
Southampton 71
Fulham 68
Cardiff 66
Bournemouth 60
Brighton 60

European Booking Statistics By Division

The difference between European divisions in the number of cards shown can be pretty astonishing.

In Portugal, it seems you can be carded for simply looking at your opponent! 

Games regularly see over 100 booking points and much more, some of the tackles and misdemeanors that would be ignored in one country can receive a red in another, I find this quite absurd. 

I think paying attention to disciplinary records can be quite a useful part of a punter's repertoire.

 In  the booking points market it is:

  • 10 Points for a yellow.
  • 25 Points for a red.
  • Maximum of 35 per player. 

At the time of writing, in Spain, Sevilla has picked up just over 33 booking points per game in this season's La Liga, 11 other sides also average 30 or more.

It doesn't surprise me to see that 3 of the top 6 in Real Madrid (24.2) Barcelona (20.3) and Villareal (26.5) occupy three of the four lowest average booking points per game.

Not one side in the Premier League averages 30; Sunderland is the highest with 27.6 and we all know how dirty they can be, Lee Cattermole I'm looking at you! 

It's a similar story in Italy with Sassuolo a stand-out, whopping 35.6 booking points per game. That's almost the equivalent of 4 yellows a game.

The following are the average booking points per game so far this season in Europe's big five. 

  • 64.06 in La Liga
  • 58.67 in the Serie A
  • 41.67 in the Premier League
  • 40.86 in the Ligue 1
  • 38.35 in the Bundesliga

I will put my neck on the line here and say that, categorically, this is not a reflection of extremely tough-tackling going on in Europe, far from it. 

The Premier League is a hard-hitting league, to hear that Stoke are the only side yet to have a red card in this season's Premier League is evidence if ever anyone wanted it.

Those booking points in Spain and Italy are just a reflection of the refereeing and perception of fouls in Latin countries. 

Brawls and unsportsmanlike conduct are quite frequent, with the Latin countries having a reputation for being ‘hotheads' they do regularly lose their cool and lash out at each other which, rightly, warrants a card.

The Referee and his role in booking points

There's a growing amount of information available on referees and their recent games and seasons. 

I've found that success can be had when correlating the spreads with how lenient or card happy refs have been. 

At the time of writing, there have been 327 Premier League games so far this season with a total of 1206 yellows and 63 reds. 

That's an average of 3.68 yellows per game and one red every 5.19 games. Both ratios are pretty low compared to some of the other divisions in Europe.

Identifying which official has been confirmed for which game can have a really big impact. Referees bring their own quirks to a match and the final decision on bookings lies in their judgment of the foul; so knowing what referee will give what kind of punishment for a particular foul can be really helpful. 

Say, Anthony Taylor, a Premier League official, is refereeing Manchester United v Liverpool. Taylor is well known to come down hard on diving and if you know that Ashley Young has a bit of history with the matter then that should come in handy when looking at the player to be carded market.

Mike Dean is averaging significantly more than the league on booking points; 50.2 per game compared to a divisional average of just 41.7. 

There are also some very lenient referees like Robert Madley who has yet to dish out a red card in 25 officiating outings and is averaging just 27.8 booking points per game.

As with any bet, research can be the deciding factor between a winning and losing bet. 

A game might well have an air about it being feisty but if the referee is fairly timid then that could scupper all of your bookings bets. Derby matches are the real ones to look out for with regards to who's been appointed for the game. Some referees purposely don't book blatant yellow cards early in matches in order to keep a lid on things whilst others will happily stamp their authority.

Red Cards

Despite averaging less booking points per game, the Italian league has considerably more red cards than La Liga. One red every 3.26 games compared to 3.66 in the Spanish top flight. 

Red cards are quite hard to judge as they often come from a pretty unpredictable source. How can you tell that a red card is likely when more often than not a sending off derives from a series of unforeseen events leading up to a bad challenge. 

Well, you can never know for certain but you can be more confident of a red pre-game and there are a number of ways you can come to that conclusion;

  • The magnitude of the fixture, i.e. if the fixture has a lot riding on it like promotion or relegation or a knock-out match.
  • A history between two players, an example of a current one would be the recent skirmishes between Martin Skrtel and Diego Costa.
  • Local derbies; certain fixtures are especially feisty when involved players are fans or long-term residents of the city their club is based in.
  • The referee's recent form with brandishing red cards and historic record in the fixture, if he has reffed that game previously.


Some fixtures have a history of red cards despite not being derbies. This is a phenomenon similar to the strangely dominant head to head records that some sides hold over others. I would suggest that a lot of this is psychology with players knowing the fixture has a history of something then perhaps they latch on to that and approach the game in a different, more fired up, fashion. 

Nevertheless, blindly backing cards because a fixture has a history of them or lack of, is not necessarily advisable unless other factors point towards a particularly low or high booking points game.

A few people I know also like to think that Live TV fixtures have the tendency to go over on the card indexes and they can usually back that up with statistics. 

Knowing the nations eye's are on you and you are under more scrutiny than usual must play on some player's minds so I can see where this theory comes from but I would not be inclined to invest heavily without doing the research myself.

A Player To Be Carded Market

I find this market to be particularly enjoyable. It's just like betting on a player to score a goal so does involve a degree of luck but it also provides a fair thrill when you call it right. 

Many consider it to be a ‘fun bet' type of market that doesn't offer much opportunity for profit in the long term but with the right research, I think it's better than it first appears.

There are first to be carded markets and anytime card markets and both can provide pretty good value. 

The favourite in the first to be carded market usually sits at around 10/1. As with scoring goals going mostly to strikers, yellow or red cards are far more likely to go to defenders or central midfielders. 

Therefore the favourite at 10/1 is a pretty big price compared to first to score usually being around 5/1. 

Some players receive almost as many yellow cards as strikers score goals.

The Player to be Carded market is my personal favourite as it offers a bet that lasts for the whole 90 minutes, or as long as your chosen player stays on the pitch. 

The players shortest in the betting tend to be around Evens to be carded in the average game but shop around and you can find some real variation in the prices.

It's always good to understand the rules and regulations in each division. A player on the verge of suspension will have that in the back of his mind when going into tackles so could be a bad bet in the to be carded markets.

The English divisions give out suspensions based on 5, 10 and 15 yellow card accumulations but these suspensions also have cut off dates. At the time of writing we have passed the deadline for 10 yellow match bans so only players receiving a 15th yellow of the season will be able to pick up another suspension. 

Now might be the right time to back yellow cards with that in mind as not a single player in the Premier League or Football League is on the verge of suspension at the 15 card mark. 

Jack Colback leads the way with 12 yellow cards in the PL, 2 players are on 13 in the Championship, 1 on 13 in League One and 1 on 12 in League Two. 

In time I expect the lower divisions card markets to be expanded to the degree of the Premier League but the bookies are a little behind with this.

Booking Specials

A few bookmakers offer specials on card markets in the big games. They range from certain players to be sent off to doubles and trebles of players to be carded. 

The regular player to be carded markets doesn't offer combination bets so these special offers can offer the chance for big priced wins on the bookings markets. A typical bookings treble is around 15/1.

I quite like a little wager on the specific players to be red-carded markets. Often the bookmakers select the players that will be under the spotlight, for example; Sergio Ramos was 25/1 to be sent off against Atletico Madrid earlier this week. 

Personally I think that was way overpriced given the magnitude of the fixture and Ramos' history of red cards. Play that game 25 times and I'm sure he would have been taking an early shower more than once.

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