|One cannot imagine modern football without the yellow and red card,
terms that are now even used in the proverbial sense. They were
"invented" 35 years ago by Ken Aston, an Englishman who sadly passed
away in October 2001, having made invaluable contributions to football
and to the art of refereeing in particular.
Teachers must perform many roles in their profession and not just within
the confines of the classroom. In England, where sport has always been
an important part of the school curriculum, teachers often assume the
role of the referee. Kenneth George Aston did just that in Essex in
1935. He had just turned 20 and was new to the world of teaching, when
he was asked to take charge of a football match. It is probably fair to
say that his pupils were more disciplined than the players at the FIFA
World Cup™ in Chile (1962) or in England (1966).
Aston clearly enjoyed his time in the middle, and in 1936, he
qualified as a referee. According to his obituary in the London
daily newspaper The Times, by the start of the 1960s, Aston had
worked his way up the referees' ladder, and was undoubtedly one
of the top officials in the country. His work was seldom tainted
But that was to change dramatically at the 1962 FIFA World Cup™
in Chile. Aston was given the honor of refereeing the opening
game between the host nation and Switzerland (3-1), a game that
he controlled impeccably. Impressed by his performance, FIFA
decided to name Aston in place of the original referee for the
match between Chile and Italy, as they saw the Englishman as an
experienced and reliable figure.
Aston himself was not exactly overjoyed by FIFA's decision, as
the build-up to the match suggested the game would be a volatile
one. Chilean newspapers claimed that Italian journalists had
penned articles that cast doubt upon the beauty and morals of
Chilean women. The emotionally charged game had now become a
matter of honor, and the football itself was only a secondary
issue in the now infamous "Battle of Santiago".
"I wasn't reffing a football match, I was acting as an umpire in
military maneuvers," he was to remark in later years. He was no
stranger to conflict, having served in the Second World War as a
lieutenant colonel in Asia. But the nature of the game in
Santiago merely confirmed everybody's worst fears. Armed police
had to enter the field of play on three separate occasions to
help the referee to restore order. Aston sent off two Italian
players, and had to break up a number of scuffles and fights on
the pitch. The host nation eventually ran out 2-0 winners.
In 1963, Aston refereed the FA Cup Final, and subsequently
retired from officiating matches. Three years later, FIFA came
calling, and invited him to join their Referees' Committee,
which he chaired from 1970 to 1972. His new role at FIFA would
see Aston involved yet again in one of the most controversial
moments in FIFA World Cup™ history. In 1966, hosts England met
Argentina in the quarter-final at Wembley, and Aston, who was in
charge of refereeing at the tournament, had to use all of his
diplomacy and powers of persuasion to calm down the Argentine
captain Rattín after his sending off, and to prevent the match
Referee Ken Aston
in action during the infamous FIFA World Cup™ match between
Chile and Italy (1962, Chile).
Referees need the yellow card in virtually every game. Here,
David Seaman of England is cautioned. Photo: FIFA Archives
|The controversial game also took on greater significance
when match reports in newspapers claimed that the referee had
booked both Charlton brothers, Bobby and Jack. Apparently, the
referee had not indicated this publicly, and England manager Alf
Ramsey approached FIFA for clarification. It started a train of
thought in Aston's head too. He began to think about ways to
avoid such problems in the future. "As I drove down Kensington
High Street, the traffic light turned red. I thought, 'Yellow,
take it easy; red, stop, you're off'."
A born teacher
Yellow and red cards were introduced at the 1970 FIFA World Cup™
in Mexico, and have since become part and parcel of the game.
But we would be doing Mr. Aston a great disservice if we limited
his influence on refereeing and football to his famous
Aston was a born teacher, and spent most of his career at
Newbury Park County Primary School in Essex. As an instructor
for FIFA and other organizations, he was also able to pass on
his knowledge and experience over the years. He was a respected
authority on the Laws of the Game, and he even appeared in court
to advise on the question of whether two players had had their
careers ended prematurely by reckless tackles.
Football remained his life though. "I know I'm a bloody old
fool," he once said when admitting that football was still in
his blood. Between 1980 and 2001, Aston held numerous referees'
courses in the USA, and was overjoyed to see that he had made a
significant contribution to the game in America. As a direct
result of his efforts in the USA, Aston was awarded the MBE
(Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1997.
But he did not approach football or refereeing in the style of a
headmaster determined to instill discipline. "The game should be
a two-act play with 22 players on stage and the referee as
director," he once said of his philosophy. "There is no script,
no plot, you don't know the ending, but the idea is to provide
Aston passed away on 23 October 2001 at the age of 86. But with
his "invention", he has ensured that the villains in today's
game are clearly identified and punished – for all to see.