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-= The Tributes of KEN ASTON MBE #27 =-
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Cards at Play

Article dated October 8, 2001

Grandpa is in the driver seat

Rivalry that often borders on cheating is difficult to control on the sports field. More so when referees and umpires are handicapped by the language barrier. R K Murthi tells us how one person, inspired by the way traffic lights work, evolved a plan to keep unruly players and cheats off the field

Grandpa is in the driver's seat. Sunita is seated nest to him. Ranjan and I are in the back seat. The car is heading toward a major intersection. Grandpa spots the amber of the signals. He takes his foot off the accelerator. The car slows down. Grandpa gently applies the brakes. The car stops before the white line. We look out and see the red signal.
"Green is for go," we shout.
"No. Red is for Go," says Grandpa.
He is like that. He loves to spar with us. When he does that, he forgets that he is old. We also forget his age. He becomes as much a child as anyone of us. How does he do that? We know how. Most people, when they grow old, let the child in them die. Not so Grandpa. The child in him is alive.
"You told us the other day that green is for go, that amber warns us to slow down. You also told us that at crossings, when we see red, we must bring our vehicles to a dead stop," I remind him.
"Can any stop be happy with the adjective dead?" Sunita butts in.
"Is not the road always dead as a a dodo?" Ranjan observes.
"Remember, red doesn't always mean, stop. Or does it?" Grandpa finds the signal has changed to green, changes gear, sets the car in motion. He drives at a leisurely pace while telling us, "Have you seen cards at football games?"
"We have seen them at hockey matches too," Sunita reacts.
"These cards are the referee’s deadly weapons," I add.
"He uses yellow and red cards to tame the players who break the rules of the game" Ranjan is not far behind us when it comes to offering a tit bit.
"Right, do you know who invented the powerful cards?" Grandpa asks.
"No." we chorus.
"I think it is time to tell you about Ken Aston. He was a referee. A great one! Know who is the greatest referee? God is the greatest referee. Ken Aston played God on the football field. On October 23, God sent him a red card. It said: You have been around for too long. You are now 86. You have grown old. You have played your part well. Now is the time or you to rest. Come to me. That is one invitation none declines. Not Ken. He died on October 23, 2001. But he still lives. We shall always remember him as the inventor of yellow and red cards," says Grandpa as he drives the car back home and parks it under the canopy of our house.
"Green is for go," Sunita draws our attention to the green dupatta that hangs around her neck. "So jump off the seats, on to the ground.." We do that.
Grandpa comes locks the car and leads us to the veranda and tells us more about the origin of red and yellow cards. Ken Aston got the bright idea of introducing the yellow and red cards into the game after watching a quarterfinal match of the 1966 World Cup Football tournament. Ken was in charge of the referees. Rudolf Kreitlein of Germany was the umpire at the quarterfinal match between England and Argentina played at Wembley.
Rudolf sounded the whistle every time the ball rolled off the field; or every time he caught a player violating one rule or another. One of those who received repeated warnings during the match was Antonio Rattin, the Argentine captain. “One more ti me you break the rules and you will be out," Rudolf warned Antonio who scowled back. The game was resumed. The referee ran with the players, keeping a hawk's eye on the game.
"A hawk's eye? Can any man keep a hawk's eye?" I ask.
"That is an idiom, you idiot." Sunita knocks me firmly on the head. "It means, One's eyes see everything. Nothing is missed."
Rudolf didn't miss the violation by Rettin, Grandpa continued, so he sounded the whistle, and directed Rattin to get of the field. Rattin didn’t understand. He said he didn't understand. The Ken Aston ran on to the pitch. He tried to explain in English. Rattin didn't get the message. So Ken spoke in Spanish. He had learnt it at school for a couple of years. What he knew of the language was elementary. Rattin was amused at Ken’s efforts to speak Spanish. He understood what Ken Aston was trying to tell him and tried to argue. Ken held his ground and persuaded Rattin to leave the field. The game started again.
After the day's match, Ken walked to the parking lot, got into his car and drove homewards. The car sped on. He steered it along, but his mind was not in the driving. One question nagged him. He knew some Spanish, So he could make Rattin understand. Suppose he hadn’t had that skill? Then it would have been difficult to make Rattin understand, hard to make Rattin yield. Language was a barrier. Could this barrier be broken?
Ken searched for an answer. He was still struggling with the problem when he neared a road junction. The signal was turning amber. Ken Aston eased the pressure on the accelerator, glided merrily and stopped the car behind other vehicles in the lane along which he was driving. The sight of the red signal gave him an idea. The traffic signal didn't speak any language, yet it made its meaning clear. It presented the green light and let traffic move on. It winked amber and vehicles slowed down. It turned red and all traffic from one direction came to a stop. Could not the referee keep colored cards? Could he not wave yellow cards to warn the players? Why should not he use red cards to tell the erring players to get out of the field? He chuckled to himself. He was sure he had found a way out.
The next day, he shared his thoughts with football managers and administrators. The debates continued for long. At last everyone agreed to give the idea a try At the 1970 World Cup Matches, at Mexico, red and yellow cards were first used by FIFA. It proved effective. Not a single player was sent out of the games. The red card was never used.
“Introduce colored cards,” said Ken Aston to the English leagues. They hedged and hawed. They argued that the players knew English So where lay the need for cards? But Ken kept pressure on the administrators. At last, in 1976, colored cards made their first appearance at the League matches. However, here still as resistance from some quarters. Players complained that referees were showing the cards too often. The cards were taken off between 1981 and 1987. The game became more messy. The referees and the administrators got together. Finally ground rules for use of the yellow and red cards were finalized. The cards returned to the field in 1988. They are now universally accepted. Give Ken Aston a big hand,"' says Grandpa.

We clap our hands and shout, "Three cheers to Ken Aston".

"The idea caught on. Cards were introduced in Hockey too. Referees at hockey matches have three cards. The green card warns the player. If the warning fails, the referee shows the yellow card. The player gets the message. He is to stay off the field temporarily. He walks off the ground till he is called back by the umpire. The red card means the player is out of the match."
"Why don't we find three colored cards at football matches?" I ask.
"Because football is not hockey," Grandpa dismisses us saying, "It's time for a nap!".

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