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-- Obituary --
London
Oct. 30, 2001

Calm referee at the center of a World Cup storm 


Ken Aston

Calm referee at the centre of a World Cup storm

Brian Glanville
Guardian

Tuesday October 30, 2001

It was the great misfortune of the international football referee Ken Aston, who has died aged 86, that his name should always be associated with a World Cup finals match he afterwards described as "uncontrollable" - the 1962 Chile v Italy game in Santiago.

Aston had been made keenly aware of the vicissitudes awaiting a referee in that tournament when he officiated at the opening game, between Chile and Switzerland, in the Chilean national stadium, later to become notorious for the slaughter of opponents of General Pinochet's coup.

Before the kick-off, he asked to see the five footballs provided for the pre-game kick-in. All were in such a parlous peeling state that Aston sent off for a new ball, which only arrived 10 minutes into the second half. He also cautioned a Swiss player, remarking afterwards, "Six stud marks on a man's thigh is good enough for me." There would be much worse to come when Chile met Italy.

In Aston's defense, it must be said that the Chileans were spoiling for a battle. Great resentment had been engendered by Italian newspaper reports describing Santiago as a rundown city, redolent of "malnutrition, prostitution, illiteracy, alcoholism, wretchedness". For its part, the Chilean press had made much of accusations that Italian players had been taking drugs. There was also irritation at the Italians' use of South American players with Italian passports.

Predictably, the game ran riot in an orgy of violence. As early as the seventh minute, Aston sent off Italy's Ferrini for hacking down the Chilean centre-forward, Landa. Later, he expelled David for a retaliatory kick at the head of the Chilean outside-left, Lionel Sanchez, although Sanchez himself was allowed to stay on the pitch even after he broke the nose of Italy's Argentinean-born inside-right, Humberto Maschio, with a left hook. Despite it all, Italy held out till the last 15 minutes, eventually going down 2-0.

The press accused Aston of being "hostile and provocative". The respected French paper L'Equipe wrote: "The feebleness of the English referee Mr. Aston, who never succeeded in hiding his lack of authority beneath an imperturbable front, and who was too conscious of 'the voice of the people', succeeded in transforming a lively match into a street fight." Which was surely quite unfair.

Aston, who had strained an Achilles tendon, refereed no more games, but limped around Santiago for the rest of the tournament, tall, blond and sonorous as ever. As a respected committee man, however, his career never looked back. Elected to the referees committee, he was put in charge of the World Cup final's referees in 1966 and 1970.

Born in Colchester, Ken was educated at Ilford county high school and St Lakes' College, Exeter. Rejected by the RAF during the second world war because of an injured ankle, he joined the Royal Artillery, serving with distinction with the Indian army, where he was among the vanguard to enter Singapore, and where he later served on the Changi War Trials Commission, leaving the army as a lieutenant colonel.

A qualified referee since 1936, he worked his way up through the local leagues, then the Football Combination (a league for reserve sides of southern professional clubs), becoming a football league linesman in season 1949-50 and graduating to the status of a league referee.

When appointed MBE in 1997, it was for "services to US soccer", where he had vigorously encouraged and instructed American referees. It was typical of him and his mature concept of the game that he should inveigh against FIFA's decision to impugn the tackle from behind, correctly pointing out that the "laws of the game" provided perfectly adequate sanctions against any such foul.

He is survived by his wife Hilda, and their son Peter.

Ken Aston, football referee, born September 1 1915; died October 23 2001



Letter: Ken Aston

IL Baker
Saturday November 3, 2001

IL Baker writes: Brian Glanville's obituary of football referee Ken Aston (October 30) demands a memory of his time as head of Newbury Park junior school, Ilford. He was kindly and fair, firm and knowledgeable. When our daughter started there, and was upset to be left alone, Aston took her on his lap to placate her discomfort. He will be remembered as a good man by many parents.


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