What accessories are not allowed in a match?
At a time when all the cameras are focused on footballers, many of them take the opportunity to show themselves with accessories on the football pitch that are sometimes… banned! Focus on the accessories banned in matches.
While the basic footballer’s equipment, consisting of a shirt, shorts, socks, shin pads, and boots, is well known, it is not uncommon to see players wearing branded headbands or arm sleeves like NBA players. Cristiano Ronaldo’s fans will also remember his diamond earrings at Manchester United. Yet unlike in American football, for example, where Odell Beckham Jr played with a €300,000+ Richard Mille watch on his wrist, there is less freedom in football to wear accessories. The question arises as to what is and is not allowed.
Since June 2, 1886, the IFAB (International Football Association Board) has dictated the rules of football and made them evolve. The prohibited accessories that will be discussed in this article are taken directly from the IFAB’s Law 4 of the Rules of the Game 2020/2021.
Jewelry can have significant sentimental value, for example, a wedding ring. Zinédine Zidane, Rivaldo and Raúl all wore them when they were still allowed. Since then, the accessory has been banned for being dangerous on the pitch during scuffles or if the finger swells after contact. To avoid the IFAB regulations, some players like Sergio Ramos used to cover their rings with plasters to hide them. Today, Lionel Messi, for example, wears his ring in the warm-up before removing it for the kick-off of the match. However, silicone rings are allowed.
Earrings are also banned for much more obvious reasons as they can be dangerous if hit in the air, for example. Diego Maradona wore one on his left ear at the time. Cristiano Ronaldo also played with earrings at Manchester United. David Beckham, a true star of the 2000s, always wore earrings… except in matches! Other players like Angel Di Maria, Neymar, or Paul Pogba regularly warmed up with them.
The chain around the neck is one of the most popular fashion accessories and some stars are ready to pay astronomical sums to get the most beautiful ones. So popular were the Brazilians Ronaldinho, Robinho, and Adriano, who often wore them outside of matches, that chains were banned from football pitches altogether as being too dangerous. Neck injuries and strangulation are possible at every set-piece and aerial duel. In 2018, Chinese defender Wang Shenchao was banned for 12 months for wearing a chain hidden in his sock during a match against the Myanmar team. That’s enough to make chain lovers cold feet. They have no place on a football pitch!
Watches and bracelets – even plastic ones – are also banned to avoid blows that can happen at any time during the action, even if they are unintentional. Only referees are allowed to wear a watch as it is useful for the smooth running of the match. Specifically, IFAB Law 4 states that if a player is wearing or using an unauthorized or dangerous item of jewelry, the referee must: 1) order the player to remove the item, 2) leave the field of play at the next stoppage of play if the player is unable or unwilling to comply. A player refusing to comply or hand over the item must be cautioned.
Tights or shorts: During the winter months, many players wear a long-sleeved or short-sleeved undershirt to keep the cold out. The condition for wearing these shorts is that the sleeves must be the same color as the club shirt.
This rule also applies to the lower body with shorts and over shorts which must be the same color as the club shorts and socks. Before the 2009/2010 season, oversocks were allowed regardless of their color.
Caps: Used in everyday life, caps can also be worn on football pitches but only by goalkeepers! Not allowed for outfield players who tend to play a lot of aerial duels and could get injured, caps are still allowed for goalkeepers in case of strong light which could obstruct their view. However, caps have tended to become less and less common over the years. Oliver Kahn, one of the best goalkeepers in history, or Samir Handanovič, more recently, regularly wore caps.
Headbands: Like in the NBA, headbands are very popular with players, including Allan Saint-Maximin and Neymar. Worn by players with long hair – such as Antoine Griezmann – to avoid playing with their hair in their eyes, headbands have become a good way to put brands forward over the years. Allan Saint-Maximin and Neymar have taken advantage of the opportunity to wear Gucci, Balmain, or Nike headbands. The Frenchman even got a special song from the Newcastle fans, referring to his Gucci headband. Since then, brands must not be visible on headbands or they will be in breach of the rules. Players must therefore wear standard headbands, with branding banned.
The glasses: Edgar Davids and his legendary glasses are a form exception to the rule. Classic glasses are not allowed on football pitches because they can harm the player wearing them and his opponents. Only in cases of medical necessity are players allowed to wear glasses that are suitable for the sport. That is why Edgar Davids wore glasses. In 1999, the Dutch midfielder was diagnosed with glaucoma, a degenerative disease of the optic nerve, which leads to a progressive loss of vision. As a result, he had to wear glasses to continue his career.
Beanie: An essential accessory during the winter and present at all football training sessions as well as in everyday life, the beanie is nevertheless forbidden in matches. Unlike the cap, the bonnet is banned. Even goalkeepers are not allowed to wear them. In his Real Madrid days, David Beckham would have liked to play with a beanie after having been “Z-balled” like his teammate Zinedine Zidane, who was mocked by the Merengue squad as soon as he took off his cap!
Protective equipment such as helmets, masks, knee pads, and elbow pads are only allowed if they are padded and made of soft, lightweight materials. No player can wear a mask or helmet for fun and style, there must be a medical reason. Petr Cech or Christian Chivu, former Inter Milan defender, for example, suffered serious head injuries before wearing their helmets for the rest of their careers.
Introduced by Allen Iverson in the 2000s in the NBA, the compression sleeve on the arms has become a fashion in the United States. A fashion now followed by Paul Pogba who wears them regularly. Just like shorts or tights, the sleeves must be the same color as the jersey according to the IFAB rules. If the color is different, the sleeve is not allowed.
T-shirts under the jersey
Although everyone remembers Mario Balotelli’s “WHY ALWAYS ME” during the Manchester derby or Frank Ribéry’s message to his friend Thierry Gilardi following his death and more recently Lionel Messi’s tribute to Diego Maradona, these gestures are prohibited in football.
The IFAB does not allow the removal of a shirt, let alone a T-shirt with a message. A yellow card is automatically shown to a player who takes off his shirt. And there’s no point in trying to get around the rules. Frenchman Eric Hassli tried it once in MLS when he took off his shirt and threw it into the crowd after a goal, even though he was wearing the same shirt underneath, and the referee still gave him a second yellow card, which meant he was sent off.
On 1 March 2014, the IFAB definitively validated the possibility for women to wear a veil during official competitions, whereas the hijab had been banned since 2007. In 2007, 11-year-old Asamahan Mansour from Ottawa was banned by the Quebec Football Federation for wearing a head covering. The federation said at the time that they were dangerous, as they could lead to choking or even strangulation. The veil is now partly authorized thanks to the Iranian authorities who pushed for its return with the support of the Asian Football Confederation through the intermediary of the FIFA vice-president, Prince Al Bin Al Hussein, considering that it was unfair for Muslim women not to be able to play because it was banned.
To be allowed, all players must wear a headscarf of the same color and it must not be attached to the shirt.
The neck warmer
The IFAB has banned the wearing of neck warmers in matches since 2011 – when they were first becoming fashionable – as they can be dangerous to the wearer. It can easily be caught by the opponent at the neck. This accessory is banned for reasons similar to chains. Often worn by Neymar in training, the neck warmer is allowed during match warm-ups, but like headbands and other accessories, the brand must not be visible. In the Champions League, Valencia players warmed up with Adidas neck warmers and the 3-stripes brand appeared, which led to a UEFA warning to the Spanish club. In the same vein, the ear muffler is banned at matches, although it is sometimes worn during warm-ups in winter in countries with the lowest temperatures.
Overall, the IFAB’s rules on the wearing of accessories are intended to protect players from the dangers of certain accessories, but also to prevent players from promoting certain brands with their headbands or muffs!