In the loving Memory & Spirit of the Game
Enjoy, your journey here on...
-= The Tributes of KEN ASTON MBE #22 =-
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Letters & Comments posted on

Late November 2001

Dear Hilda:

I only actually met Ken twice. Of course, if you know anything about football, you really did not have to meet him. His contributions to the sport, and particularly to AYSO, are legend. But, I did have the good fortune to meet him.

The first time I met Ken was at the opening ceremonies of the 1998 AYSO National Games in California. He gave a very nice speech, which I enjoyed immensely. I shook his hand and was honored to have done so.

The second time I met Ken was at the 2001 National Games in West Point. It was then that I got to know for the first time the man behind the legend. As AYSO President, I got to sit on the dais, and my seat was next to Ken's. His quips and comments kept me smiling and interested for the entire procession. There seemed to be no topic that he could not speak about knowledgeably and with a sense of humor. Then, when the AYSO referees marched into the stadium, Ken turned to me and said: "You know, Joel, AYSO has the best trained amateur referees in the World." What pride I felt, not just because I was the National President of AYSO, but because I was one of those referees. I also felt gratitude because I knew that, whatever AYSO referees have accomplished, Ken Aston was a major contributor.

Further evidence of Ken's impact on AYSO refereeing came later that same evening, as Ken sat on the front steps of the Hotel Thayer late into the evening, answering every question the assembled referees put to him, never losing his patience or his sense of humor.

And then, when it was my privilege to escort you and Ken back to the airport the next day, I clearly could see that his love for the Game -- as huge as it was -- could not hold a candle to the love he had for you. In the little things you did for each other and in the little words you exchanged, I could see how beautiful time and attention had made your love grow.

Yes, from Ken I learned about refereeing, but that day I also learned something about life -- about the kind of life we all should aspire to live.

As AYSO National President, it would be my duty to write to commemorate Ken the legend and to thank him for what he has done for AYSO. Having spent that time with you and Ken this past summer, I now also have the extreme pleasure to write to celebrate the life of the man, a man who touched so many of us in so many ways. Thank you, Hilda, for sharing him with us. We will never forget him.

Joel Mark,
AYSO National President

My fondest memories of Ken are not as the great referee or referee instructor, but as a friend.

The first time I met him was in June of 1981 when Bill Mason, who was responsible for bringing him to AYSO in the first place, and I went to meet him at the LA Airport. I had spoken to him several times on the telephone, as he made a U.S-wide tour for AYSO that first year, but never in person. I was quite nervous, as you might understand, meeting this great man for the first time, but Bill said to me, "don't worry, you will be making a new friend." That turned out to be more true than I could have ever imagined.

In the years that followed he and Hilda became like favorite Aunt and Uncle; Joan and I saw more of them than we did our own families.

We always visited when we were in England and spoke on the telephone constantly. He had only recently acquired e-mail so that also became a way of keeping in touch.

He called almost every day before and after my bypass surgery and was a constant source of support.

I will miss especially the telephone calls when he would start with, "Well, how are you doing my old lad?" and then tell me a funny or interesting story.

It is hard to imagine that we have lost such a great friend, but his memory will live on for as long as we have minds and hearts.

Needless to say, Hilda is always in our thoughts and we will stay in close touch with our favorite Aunt.

Brian Davies,
AYSO National Referee Commission Chairman

There has never been anyone who understood the Spirit of the Laws and had the love of the game as Ken, no one who could give the clear, incisive interpretations that reflected that Spirit and left us without questions. I seriously doubt that there ever will be.

Ken has touched so many lives, not only in AYSO but around the world -- I know he will long be remembered.

Bill Mason

Twenty years ago, having never refereed a game in my life, I attended a Ken Aston training session where Ken changed my life. Because of the fire Ken lit in my belly during that training session, I devoted the bulk of the last twenty years of my life to AYSO and to efforts to help others understand the benefits and beauty of the game Ken knew and loved so much. Ken crystallized for me the beauty and simplicity of the FIFA Laws of the Game and the spirit with which they were intended to be applied. Ken was a master at many things not the least of which was his ability to hold an audience spellbound.

I will always remember inviting Ken to come to West Virginia for a training session. Ken arrived a day early and I offered him two options. One was to relax by the pool for the day and the other was to come with me as I finished my last day of instruction at a soccer camp for approximately 100 young players (mostly 10-12 year olds). His choice, of course, was to attend the camp. We arrived at the camp and I invited Ken to say a few words to the young players. As Ken waited outside, I attempted to quiet the rambunctious group who were impatient to get to the field and play. The noise level in the room of concrete block and metal chairs was deafening and I could do nothing to quiet them. I went outside and apologized to Ken for the condition of the room and the rowdiness of the young players. Ken said, "Not to worry Joe" and entered the room with hands clasped behind his back and slowly, oh so slowly, walked to the front of the room.

It was as if a spell was being cast upon the room. By the time Ken reached the front of the room, it was completely quiet with all eyes fixed on Ken. He then proceeded with a wonderful narrative illustrating the spirit of the game, during which time he had the undivided attention of every single person in the room. He then thanked the young players for their attention, clasped his hands behind his back again, and slowly, oh so slowly, walked to the door and exited. For a few seconds the room remained completely quiet, as if Ken's spell was not yet broken. When I spoke, it broke the spell and the noise level immediately went back as before.

Farewell and Godspeed, Ken. Your time here was well spent and we are all better for having known you. You continue to be my inspiration.

Joe Eldridge
AYSO National Referee Administrator

In 1983 I had been officiating for 10 years and I was at the end of my officiating career, or so I thought. I had been to several referee camps in years past, but none of them seemed to help me grow as a referee. I felt I was not challenged. I was bored. I was not having fun. My Regional commissioner, Carlos Guerra, had just returned from the AYSO referee camp at UCI and told me I needed to go to the camp. I told Carlos, "No." I thought it would be a waste of the region's money. He said to me, "John, there is a man, a teacher, at the camp that you need to hear. He is a former World Cup Referee and I think you will get a lot out of his lectures." I asked Carlos who this referee was and he said, "Ken Aston."

The next year I went to the camp and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. I am now in my 28th year of officiating soccer and I owe it all to Ken Aston. He lit a fire under me that burns as brightly as that summer in 1984. He helped me focus on the meaning of the game and what a referee's real role is in this "two-act" play. Ken taught AYSO referees how to apply the laws as they were meant to be. He helped us look into the soul of a referee and see the difficult task each referee has to prepare for the match. He taught us how to read the game, understand game tactics, protect skilled players from the not-so-skilled. He gently reminded us that we have a responsibility to apply the spirit as well as the letter of the laws in a way that would preserve the integrity of the game, yet maintain its enjoyment. Ken taught us that officiating is fun. We can laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes, but we must be the guardian of the sanctity of what the game means to our children.

Ken Aston was a man of principle. He would not let anything interfere with preserving the game's integrity. Ken cared nothing for fame or position. He would not compromise the purpose of the laws nor weaken the foundation of its contribution to the youth of the world.

We shall be eternally grateful for having known Ken Aston and for his belief in AYSO. As long as my whistle is in my hand, he will be with me.

John Enroth, AYSO Coordinator of Referee Assessment

I met Ken in 1984 at a referee camp in Lake Forest, IL. I was attending as an instructor camper, and remember being awed at his ability to teach, to motivate, and to articulate his passion for officiating. He was the consummate role model for all of us who instruct or referee. We are, to be sure, diminished by his loss, but all of us who had the privilege of working with Ken are better for having done so.

Bill Cooper,
AYSO Section Six Director

I have read many of the outstanding tributes to Ken Aston that have been written over the past several days. It is clearly evident that Ken touched many of us in AYSO. His stories and relating experiences have made each of us better referees and better AYSO volunteers. Like many of us I had the pleasure of listening and learning from our dear friend Ken over the years. He always had time to teach and tell us stories that we could relate to becoming better referees. This is clearly evidenced by a recent e-mail I exchanged with Ken on September 3, 2001 "Don't ask me why I'm downstairs at 2:50 a.m. -- but I am!" With which he proceeded to give me advice about an upcoming difficult game.

I don't know if he realized how great and how far his sphere of influence was, especially upon all of us in AYSO. A true example of this is the many pictures that were taken with AYSO volunteers and Ken over the years. The volunteers and Ken are smiling -- happy to be together.

Ken truly cared about the people in AYSO. In a recent conversation we had Ken said, "The great thing about AYSO is the number of great people one meets." How very true are these words of wisdom!

I do want to share what I consider the most important thing that I believe Ken shared. It's not a quote or a story about how to handle a match. It's not about the history of the game, it's more important then that. What Ken shared with us was LOVE. A love for the game of soccer, a love for officiating the game of soccer, and a love for each other in AYSO. As Ken once said, "Soccer is not a matter of life or death; it's more important than that." To take it a step further, I believe Ken felt that the friendships he made in AYSO were equally as important as the game of soccer.

Ken loved sharing stories with us. In a recent e-mail I received from him he related the following story:

"A little soccer story in these days of sadness to hopefully bring a smile to your lips. An English tourist visits an Indian Reservation. He sees a wigwam with a notice saying, ‘Chief Black Hawk can answer any question at all that you ask him. Five dollars.' He went in and asked, 'Who scored the winning goal in the 1926 English Cup Final at Wembley?''Charles Hughes' came the answer and he was right! Five years later the tourist repeats his visit and again visits Chief Black Hawk. He enters the wigwam and gives the traditional Indian greeting 'How. Diving header in the top right-hand corner,' came the instant reply! Kindest regards!"

Ken touched my life personally and for that I am ever grateful. In an exchange of questions and answers Ken and I had, I will always remember his words to me when I answered a difficult situation correctly: "Well done my good and faithful servant, well done."

To summarize my feelings about Ken -- How? A friend, a teacher, a leader, a mentor, a father figure, a kind and wonderful man who changed my life personally and -- I know -- who changed the lives of many. It was with Ken's inspiration that I arrived upon the motto for the AYSO Instructor program, "EVERYONE LEARNS." He made each of us learners -- students and teachers alike.

With tears in my eyes, I truly believe that as Ken now goes to the big game in eternity he is greeted with the words, WELL DONE MY GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT, WELL DONE.

Jim Gregory, AYSO

In the summer of 1989, with one short season of AYSO refereeing under my belt, my region decided I should attend the Ken Aston Camp. What I took away from that weekend was an experience that every referee should have been lucky enough to have: to be in the presence of the great Ken Aston.

My overwhelming impression was of a great orator, capable of spellbinding the audience with his wit and his wisdom and his timing. I wanted to be like him -- the thinking referee who believes in the Spirit of the Law and of the Game; the storyteller who commands an audience with unending knowledge subtly emphasized by a well-placed pause; a caring person capable of capturing the heart of soccer and of AYSO and proffering it with passion to both the uninitiated and the veteran.

At Advantage '95, I was asked to keep company with Ken's wife, Hilda -- who like Ken was blessed with the gift of gab. Other years of Advantage and National Games afforded me the opportunity to hear many more of Ken's tales from the pitch. I once told him that if he had not been a top-level referee that he should have been a Shakespearean actor. He got a laugh out of that, and told me of his first experience with a television crew interviewing him -- and his difficulty learning the lines they wanted him to say. He never was at a loss for his own words, but rehearsed, prepared lines came hard.

This past July, Ken and Hilda made their last AYSO appearance together at the National Games in West Point, and Ken exhorted the referees there to make it a “card-free” Game -- his ideal for soccer matches. I was honored to escort Ken and Hilda to the playing fields at West Point and took pleasure in hearing again, as he watched AYSO teams play and AYSO referees officiate, of his pride in his affiliation with AYSO and its outstanding referee program.

Ken Aston never lacked for a story -- and each one offered a lesson and a moral. There is a particular one that I use now when mentoring new instructors. I ask if they are nervous to do presentations in front of the group. Invariably, the answer is "yes." I tell them of the famous Ken Aston, who once shared that his nervousness before officiating a match was equal to his desire to do a good job. He said he realized that when the butterflies went away, that he no longer cared enough, was not passionate enough, and that it was time to hang up his whistle. I tell the instructor candidates that their nervousness is a good thing, because it is a sure sign that they care.

I think Ken knows that his stories and what they say about his life and his character will play on and on -- and I think that he likes it a lot.

Margie Close,
AYSO National Support & Training Center

A wise and wondrous gentleman
once lectured unto me,

And told me of the problems
of a soccer referee.

He spoke of many aspects
from which he's gained his fame,

Philosophy, psychology,
the spirit of the Game.

He shared with all adventurous tales
of problems old and new,

That he has seen throughout the years
and all of them were "true!"

He told of problem areas
we'd like "but not too much."

He answered questions one on one
with such a caring touch.

His never ending knowledge
has taught me how to be,

A "Fast, Fair and Fearless"
soccer referee.

Becky K. Kochell,
Ken Aston Instructor's Camp Attendee

A few years ago while at the Ken Aston Camp, I was attending a presentation Ken was giving regarding the beauty of The Game. It was rather hot outside and the crowd of about 150 campers and instructors were listening to his story about a match he was officiating on a battlefield during WWII. He was making a point about how "football" took over as the preoccupation of the soldiers on that particular day and his attention to detail was painstaking, yet effortless as he had each of us imagining the muddy pitch and the laughing and cheering of soldiers acting as players and spectators.

While describing the match, he went on to tell of the interruption of the game by a German bomber who had spotted them and was heading their way. He spoke of the sound of the engines becoming louder and louder as those on the ground broke off the match and took to their defensive positions.

Just as he said this, a 747 from the Long Beach Airport flew directly overhead from its take-off, interrupting his oratory with its noise.

After the fly-by, ever so calmly, he turned to the now awed crowd and said something to the effect, "A referee is always prepared...I paid him to interrupt this discussion just as the bomber interrupted our match."

Never have I been so captivated by anyone making a point in soccer like Ken Aston. He will be missed.

Juan Ossa,
National 1 Referee

Mrs. Aston,

My condolences to you and your family. I never met your husband, but he has always been a part of my philosophy of what a referee is. When I first learned how to referee over 10 years ago, someone gave me a copy of "Referee is Thinking" and it has guided me all these years. I am a youth referee instructor and when I teach my classes, it still guides me as I lead our young players into the fun of adding to The Spirit of The Game.

Me ke aloha menemene -- with sympathy.

Connie Young
Honolulu, Hawaii 

I first met Ken Aston in 1996 when taking the course for upgrade to a Section badge. He was already over 80 but spry, full of wit and wisdom, the great raconteur everyone remembers, and he spoke a lot more fondly of Goodstein, the Israeli American assistant referee at the Battle of Santiago, than the London Times obituary would suggest.

One week before, I had taken a Beverly Hills girls U-12 team to the National Games at Kalamazoo. For many who attended the opening ceremony, a memorable moment was provided by Ken, who opened the proceedings by "showing the red card" to bad sportsmanship. And indeed the AYSO National Games consistently validate Ken's commitment to AYSO and youth soccer in America, which he did so much to develop.

I think I have to retell, in what can only be a pale and distant reflection of Ken's inimitable style, my favorite story that I heard at the camp. Ken always preached the importance of The Spirit of The Game. He told how, many years ago, a goalkeeper flying to one side plucked a thunderous shot out of the air and proceeded to collide with the goalpost. He crumpled with the ball firmly in his grasp and lay, unconscious, on the ground. The referee blew his whistle to stop play. Out came the trainer with smelling salts and revived the keeper, who could not be replaced because there were no substitutes allowed in those days. What was to be the restart? The referee not having stopped play for a foul, the restart was a drop ball. And where?

The ball was to be dropped not on the six yard line, as it would be under today's rules, but where the ball was when the whistle blew, i.e., right on the goal line. The convention had not then developed of one team ceding uncontested possession to the other team in such circumstances. Thus the keeper's reward for his bravery and skill was a very dangerous drop ball. The goalkeeper and an opposing forward stood on the line. The referee dropped the ball between them and instantly blew his whistle. "Dangerous play," he cried, awarding the ball and an indirect free kick to the defending team. "The Spirit of The Game," Ken said. "The Spirit of The Game."

Hail and farewell, Ken, and thank you for the inspiration you gave to a transplanted Englishman who has seen on both sides of the pond how much good work and good feeling you gave to so many.

Michael Karlin
AYSO Region 76

I attended the Aston Camp in Long Beach as an observer in 1997, shortly after the rewrite of the Laws of the Game had been published. Naturally, there was much discussion of the "new Laws" at the camp, with Ken weighing in at various points. During a break, I had an opportunity to chat with Ken and expressed the view that, while the newly clarified wording of the Laws doubtedly had merit, a lot had been lost from the "real Laws" -- and I held up the 1996 Law book. He looked me straight in the eye, then took the book from my hand, took out his pen, and on the cover page wrote: "R.I.P.! Ken Aston."

When I heard of his passing, I went to my bookshelf and found that treasured Law book. Rest in Peace, Ken.

Roy Levin

My memories of Ken Aston begin with his teaching me the difference between a penalty and a foul, a distinction I overlooked in a conversation with him many years ago at the Long Beach Camp. That instance, among several other tutorial encounters throughout the years, introduced me to the academic side of Ken Aston.

However, one day, sitting on the grass along side a soccer field in Burlingame, CA during the San Jose National Games, Ken discussed his belief in the Spirit of the Game and how it ran through all aspects of The Game manifesting itself in the Laws and the participants' conduct.

He described the Spirit as a Golden Thread. In many ways, Ken embodied the Golden Thread in his teaching, his all-encompassing knowledge of the Game, and for the fellowship he created with all who were fortunate enough to associate with him. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. His legacy is deeply embedded in his sport and those of us who had the honor of knowing him.

Sandy Towle

Our first memory of the Legend, Ken Aston, was in 1986 at a Super Camp at Lake Forest College. Both of our sons were impressed by what Mr. Aston said, but also how he worked with them and talked with them. We all loved his never-ending stories. Our last visit with Ken was at the hotel, during the National Games, always willing to share a story with those who wished to listen. We can never thank him enough for all he has done for AYSO soccer, but we can remember what he has taught us, and teach others.

Teri and Wells Frice

As far as Ken Aston , I can only add that without him, probably 20,000... yes, 20,000 kids in Hawaii would not be out getting healthy, physically and mentally fit through soccer. A true spirit in the Islands, his name will continue to surface.

From the Section Ref Administrator, THANK YOU, KEN! We love your spirit, we love your philosophy, and WE LOVE YOUR GAME!

Beverly Whitaker

I have been one of the privileged instructors for the Ken Aston Youth Referee Camp for the last five years. I have seen Ken give his all to those Referee Camps year after year. I was always fascinated by Ken's ability to captivate an audience -- especially those rambunctious, energetic teenagers. Every year they would sit in rapt attention to Ken's Tales From the Pitch, Questions From the Audience, or out on the field explaining the various restarts. As he conversed with these PRO Referees, you could see his enjoyment was pure and completely selfless.

This year the PRO Referees gave back. After one of his final sessions with the pros, the usual applause of appreciation by all occurred. Then, one brave youth stood up, came to the podium, and announced that he had a gift to present to Ken. All of the PRO Referees had signed a Camp Tee-Shirt to present to Mr. Aston in appreciation of his time spent with them. This noble man of universal acclaim, who was part of soccer history, who had shaken the hands of famous statesmen and was honored by the Queen of England, was moved to tears -- as so were we all.

Mike Perine,
Ken Aston Referee Camp Instructor

To Mr. Aston, You will always be remembered as the Gentleman you are. The generosity you share with the AYSO family will be carried in our hearts forever. Peace be with you in eternity. To Mrs. Aston, May the Lord guide you with the strength and compassion you have provided to Mr. Aston during your journey together. May Peace be also with you as you continue the journey till you meet again. Our prayers and thoughts are with you both.

With Deepest Sympathy,
The Akiona Family
AYSO Hawaii, Mililani

I have read the various outpourings of respect and love for Ken. Ken, through some special alchemy, was one of those rare people where the whole was somehow greater than the sum of the parts. Before I met Ken for the first time, "football" was basically two dimensional. Afterwards it was never the same. "I had been shown the thread."

God Bless.
Tony Buckett

I share in the pain and sorrow of thousands of AYSO referees, and referees throughout the world, young and old, for having lost a magnificent mentor, a shining example, an icon and a dear, dear friend. I have a few pictures of my son, Patrick, and Ken during last year's Pro Camp. Needless to say, my son is devastated.

May these little mementos bear witness for Ken's love for soccer and his kindness to mankind.

Godspeed, Sir Knight Ken Aston!
Viktor Uehlinger

We welcome any photo's or stories of Ken Aston you would like to share here in this section of the website
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