|In the loving Memory & Spirit of the Game|
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-= The Tributes of KEN ASTON MBE
“Ken Aston..., Who Made the Rules?”
By… Andrew Castiglione
|Some set the limits, others establish what the limits should be. It
is rare for an official to make an important mark on the sport he
referees, but the British soccer official Ken Aston managed to make
His most salient contribution was the practice of displaying yellow and red cards to indicate that a player had been warned and sent off, respectively. The cards, based on an idea Aston had while waiting at a stop light after witnessing a brutal match in which the referee did not speak the players’ language, are now used universally in competitive soccer. He also introduced black uniforms for referees, and originated a long and ultimately successful campaign to specify in the rules the proper inflation of the ball (14.7 psi).
He was referee at a World Cup match in 1962 in Chile that has gone down in history for its brutality. It was Italy vs. Chile, and the home crowd was in an ugly mood over various insults from the Italian press. To quote the Guardian’s account:
“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 center-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 Argentinian-born inside-right, Humberto Maschio, with a left hook.”
Police were called to escort players off the field three times in a match that ended with a 2-0 victory for the Chileans. The game became a legend, having been described by a BBC commentator at the time as “the most stupid appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football possibly in the history of the game.” Classic British understatement. Aston never officiated another World Cup game, but his reputation survived having refereed the dust up, and he went on to supervise referees in the next two World Cups.
He campaigned on behalf of his fellow referees, who were often subject to abuse from players and fans alike. “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 of the laws. We are talking about a game.” His dedication to his profession was legendary. When he was awarded the MBE it was for “services to US soccer,” for he had vigorously encouraged and instructed American referees.
Where does a referee get the sangfroid to send a player off with a hundred thousand hooting hooligans in the stands? When Aston was asked to describe the most important event of his life, he reached back to WWII, when he had charge of 8,000 captured Japanese soldiers. It fell to Aston to inform eight of the Japanese that they had been sentenced to death for war crimes. “Most of them,” Aston said, “accepted it with a deep bow. One lieutenant general said, ‘As an officer and a gentleman for many generations in my family, I refuse to be hanged. I will consent to being shot. I will even consent to being shot in the back. But hanged I will not be.’ And I said, ‘I have no authority to vary the sentence at all. You will be hanged.” And so the general was.
Ken Aston, enforcer of the laws in soccer and in war, died at age 86, survived by his wife and their son.
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