Gary Lineker never received a yellow or red card.
It’s one of those amazing statistics in football that you struggle to believe is real, but alas, the legendary England striker managed to stay out of the referee’s book across a professional career spanning 1978 to 1994.
Yes, bookings were dished out far less frequently back in Lineker’s day, but it’s still a mind-blowing statistic when you consider just how easy it can be for a player to lose their composure for a split-second and bag themselves a cautioning as a result.
Lineker’s perfect disciplinary record
However, for Lineker, staying out of trouble was simply engrained in his attitude on the football pitch since he was a young boy with his father ensuring that he showed referees the upmost respect.
In fact, Lineker’s remarkable record of zero yellow and red cards becomes far more understandable when you bear in mind how his dad, Barry, once pulled up a young Gary for swearing at the referee.
During an unmissable appearance on the High Performance Podcast, Lineker retold the story of being physically removed from the pitch by his father as part of a lesson about respect that has stuck with him ’til this very day.
The Match of the Day presenter reflected in conversation with Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes: “Well, people often talk about the fact that I never got booked, I never got a yellow card or a red card in my whole career.
“And I go back to, I remember one incident that I remember really well. I was playing again. I must have been about 14 at the time, and I was scoring a lot of goals by that stage. And I think the referee gave two or three decisions that I didn’t agree with.
“And I swore at the ref, and my dad walked onto the pitch, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and said: ‘Right, you ever do that again, you will not play football.’ And he took me off the pitch.
“In front of all my mates. It was like: ‘Whoa.’ He said: ‘You don’t talk, you don’t talk to referees. You don’t talk to anybody like that.’ And just: scruff of the neck, boom, in the van, home.”
It’s funny how certain experiences when you’re younger can so strongly inform the way you behave as an adult and it’s clear that it played a key role in Lineker’s impeccable disciplinary record as a professional.
Players who never received a red card
And while his perfect run of zero yellow and red cards is almost entirely unique for a footballer of his standing, Lineker isn’t alone when it comes to legends in the men’s game who were never sent off.
It’s almost impossible not to get a single booking in the modern game, but there is an exclusive club of players who stand out as brilliant role models for having gone their entire careers without a red card.
As such, as a tip of our cap to Lineker’s timeless stat, we decided to comb through the UEFA records and walk you though nine high-profile footballers who also managed to avoid being sent for an early bath – check them out down below:
1. Philipp Lahm
Ah, the classic example of modern times. The master technician at left-back, right back and even defensive midfield, Lahm maintained an unblemished record despite loving a good old-fashioned slide-tackle. He just happened to nail them pretty much every time.
2. Karim Benzema
Perhaps surprising for a man not averse to roughing up defenders and leaning into football’s dark arts from time to time, Benzema has now gone 18 seasons without being sent for an early bath.
The Mirror reported as recently as March that Benzema had only actually amassed 16 yellow cards in the professional game, which is an astonishing record.
3. Andres Iniesta
There’s just something about this that’s thoroughly unsurprising, isn’t there? The ever-humble and unassuming Iniesta has always let his feet do the talking across more than 900 red card-less games for Barcelona, Vissel Kobe and Spain.
4. Gaetano Scirea
Scirea wasn’t widely heralded as a gentleman of the Italian game for no reason with the 1982 World Cup winner and Juventus legend priding himself on ‘honesty and elegance’ on the pitch to the tune of zero red cards.
5. Dominique Rocheteau
A Euro 1984 winner for France and prolific goalscorer for Paris Saint-Germain, Rocheteau came agonisingly close to challenging Lineker’s legendary record by picking up just three yellow cards across 571 games.
6. Damien Duff
Duff was actually slapped with his first ever red card earlier this year as manager of Shelbourne, but we’re only interested in playing careers here with the former Chelsea and Ireland winger having consistently kept his cool on the pitch.
7. Michel Platini
Nothing to see here, just a three-time Ballon d’Or winner. Despite being chopped down on the regular by opponents across his 655 games for club and country, the legendary Platini would often stay calm to keep himself out of the referee’s book.
Again, this just feels so, so right. Raul might have scored 432 goals, played in 1,044 games, won three Champions League titles and bagging six Spanish titles, but his career tally of red cards reads as a big fat zero.
9. Marco Bode
A 2002 World Cup finalist and 1992 European Cup Winners’ Cup winner, the one-club man of Werder Bremen picked up zero red cards and just 13 bookings across more than 500 games at the highest level.
An exclusive club of stars
It just goes to show that you don’t need to be wiping out players and giving the referee a piece of your mind to battle your way into the highest level of the beautiful game.
Sometimes getting your head down, letting your feet do the talking and just focusing on winning the game fair and square is the best way to rise to the top without the baggage of reducing your team to 10 men.
And while picking up red cards by no means makes you some sort of terrible human being, there’s no denying that keeping a disciplinary record like Lineker’s still says a lot about you as a person.
“RONALDO Quits UNITED! THIS IS RIDICULOUS!” (Football Terrace)
Though, even the England icon himself would probably admit that the age of VAR, where sometimes simply having arms can get you in trouble, would have caught him out at some point!