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-= The Tributes of KEN ASTON MBE #11 =-
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-- Obituary --

Ken Aston, 86; Soccer Inventor

October 27, 2001

Ken Aston, 86; Soccer Innovator


Ken Aston, the former World Cup referee who invented the now universally used system of colored cards to caution or expel soccer players for misconduct, has died. He was 86.

Ken Aston died Tuesday in his hometown of Ilford in Essex, England. He had undergone hip-replacement surgery Friday and suffered cardiac arrest the following day.

Born in Colchester, England, and educated at Ilford County High School and St. Luke's College, Exeter, Kenneth George Aston was first and foremost a teacher. It was at Newbury Park County Primary School in Essex that he first became involved in soccer in 1935, when he was asked to take charge of a schoolboy match. Qualifying as a referee the following year, he spent the next 55 years working for the good of the game.

"There has never been anyone who understood the spirit of the laws and had the love of the game that Ken had," American colleague and friend Bill Mason of Rancho Palos Verdes said Friday. "No one [else] could give the clear, incisive interpretations that reflected that spirit and left us without questions. I seriously doubt that there ever will be."

While remaining a teacher and later a headmaster, Aston served as a soccer referee for 28 years. He rose through the ranks to become one of the most respected figures in the sport and was selected to be one of the referees at the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

After refereeing the opening game without incident, Aston was "the man in the middle" in one of the most controversial matches in World Cup history, the so-called "Battle of Santiago" between host Chile and former world champion Italy.

Tensions were high even before the match, with Chilean fans and players believing that Italian journalists had written articles insulting Chilean women.

The game itself quickly degenerated into a brawl, with armed police having to intervene three times and help Aston separate fighting players.

"I wasn't reffing a football match," the Times of London later quoted Aston as saying. "I was acting as an umpire in military maneuvers."

Aston was familiar with such maneuvers. During World War II, he served in the Royal Artillery, was assigned to the Indian Army and was among the first Allied troops into Singapore, where he served on the Changi War Trials Commission, after the Japanese surrender. He returned to England as a lieutenant colonel.

After officiating the 1963 Football Assn. Cup Final at Wembley, England, Aston retired as a referee in 1964, the same year in which he became chairman of the refereeing committee for FIFA, world soccer's governing body.

It was in this position that he became involved in another famous World Cup dispute, this time during a quarterfinal game between England and Argentina in 1966. During the ill-tempered game, German referee Rudolf Kreitlein expelled Argentine captain Antonio Rattin, who refused to leave the field until persuaded to do so by Aston.

Kreitlein also warned English brothers Jack and Bobby Charlton, but there was confusion afterward whether either had, in fact, been cautioned. It was this confusion that led Aston to his idea of having referees use colored cards to indicate when a player had been warned or expelled.

A traffic signal on London's Kensington High Street was the inspiration for the idea. Thus was born the yellow card for a caution and the red card for expulsion.

"Yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you're off," Aston explained. The system is now used throughout the world and at all levels of the game.

More than 20 years ago, Aston brought his philosophy of how the sport should be played and officiated to the United States, coming to California at the invitation of the American Youth Soccer Organization.

"A referee is not a book with a pair of legs," he said. "It's a man with a book and a heart and feelings and understanding of the game. An understanding not just of the laws but of the spirit behind the laws. . . . We are talking about a game."

Aston had visited the U.S. almost every summer since that first trip, giving clinics and lectures and helping the sport grow. He attended a U.S. Open Cup semifinal game at Cal State Fullerton in August, commenting on the high standard of play.

Fifteen years ago, AYSO created a tournament in his honor, and the first Ken Aston Cup was played in 1986 in Mission Viejo.

"Ken Aston was a man of integrity, and this quality was constant throughout his career," Cherie Tucker, AYSO's national executive director, said Friday. "AYSO volunteers and players will not forget his excellent sense of humor, passion or his dedication to soccer."

Aston is survived by his wife, Hilda, and a son, Peter. Services will be held Nov. 6 in England.

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