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Is it acceptable (or even permissible) to award more than one yellow card to encroaching players on a free kick?

My memory from 15 years ago is that we were told only the first encroaching player gets the card. Are there circumstances where multiple cards would be appropriate?

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There are two possible interpretations of your question. Nij's answer refers to repeated offences by different players; I will deal with the simultaneous offending interpretation.

There is no answer to this in the Laws of the Game. The exact wording of the caution offence described in Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct, Section 3 - Disciplinary Action (as you are probably already aware) is:

  • failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick or throw-in

By the letter of the law, if a three-player wall breaks before a free kick is taken, all should be cautioned (if advantage cannot be played). Of course, this is not what happens in practice.

  • If the ball strikes one of the offending players, normally that player will be cautioned.
  • If the ball does not strike any of offending players, the referee will do their best to find an advantage and warn the players concerned at the next stoppage. If advantage cannot be played, normally the most obvious failure to respect the distance will get a caution.
  • If all players move a similar amount towards the ball, the referee will simply pick a player (most likely one who is not already on a caution) and caution them.

It is extremely rare that a properly set and supervised wall will have one player break, let alone multiple players break. The above suggestions are based on what I've seen other referees do - I've never had it happen to me in over 10 years of refereeing yet!

  • Thank you both for your answers. It was the 2nd situation I was trying to describe. Basically there was a hard foul resulting in a yellow and DFK. After the referee had backed two players to the required distance, as the kicker approached the ball, first one, then the second broke toward the ball. The second one who broke was the one who had just received the yellow....He was then earned his 2nd yellow (failing to respect the required distance) and thus the red. I originally fully supported the Ref because I thought it was for dissent, and as he was my son I "knew" he deserved it. Thanks again – Aggrieved Parent Sep 6 '18 at 10:24
  • @AggrievedParent While the referee was right by law (hence preventing the sending-off from being appealed or the match protested), this sounds like it was a strange way to handle it, when cautioning the player who broke first then giving a retake probably would have sufficed rather than cautioning both. I can't say I would have necessarily done the same thing, but I wasn't there, so I can't really judge. – studro Sep 9 '18 at 7:56
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It's entirely permissible and, if multiple players continue to encroach, not only acceptable but encouraged.

Consider a team that sets up a wall. Player 2 encroaches on the free kick and is cautioned. Player 2 then goes off to another area of the field and the kick is reset. Player 3 then does the same thing to interfere with the kick. They should also be cautioned. Now suppose they were, and left the wall, and Player 4 encroaches on the reset kick as well.

It would make no sense to simply warn the players again in the same kick for the same offence having already cautioned at least one of them.

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