To set the scene, I’ll give you the description as given by BBC television newsreader David Coleman who introduced ‘highlights’ of the game by stating: “Good evening. The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.” - A tremendous display of pompous British sensitivities, maybe, but it was nothing short of chaos.
The first foul came approximately 10 seconds after kick off and things escalated from there. Two red cards, one broken nose and three armed military interventions later, the game was over. A 2-0 Chile win, if that mattered.
The following year would see the now 48 year old Aston refereeing the 1963 FA cup final, the highest honour a British referee could receive in the domestic game. The match, watched by 100,000 people at Wembley stadium, passed without incident and Aston promptly retired from the game. He would not be away for long.
In 1966, he joined FIFA’s refereeing committee. It was in this role that he took charge of overseeing the refereeing at the 1966 World Cup on home soil, a tournament that would inadvertently bring about the creation of his most significant and lasting innovation.
It was during an infamously ill tempered quarter final between England and Argentina that it would fall to Aston to attempt to calm an irate Antonio Rattin, the Argentine captain who was threatening to take his team off the field following his controversial sending off. He was ultimately successful in removing Rattin and the game would ultimately end in an English victory but the controversy did not stop at the final whistle.
It was in subsequent newspaper reports that brothers Jack and Bobby Charlton learned that they had both been booked during the course of the game. Indeed, no one in the English camp new of, or had noticed, the decisions being made. Aston knew that a clearer system needed to be devised and it would be while out driving that the idea came to him. As he sat in his car watching the lights changing from green to yellow to red that he thought, “yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you’re off.”
Upon arriving home, he relayed this thought to his wife who promptly disappeared before returning with two pieces of cut up construction paper in red and yellow. The red and yellow card had been born.
It was also in 1966 that Aston introduced the practice of having a back up referee on stand by, a position now widely referred to as the fourth official. His final innovation would come in 1974 with the introduction of a board that would be held up by the standby referee to clarify the number of the players entering and exiting the field.
Aston’s retirement years were spent overseeing refereeing courses in the USA. It was for these efforts, along with his remarkably influential career, that Aston was awarded an MBE in 1997. He passed away four years later at the age of 86.
Tactical innovations come and go and football’s protagonists change, but Ken Astons legacy endures. Every time a card is given, an assistant referee raises their flag or heads crane to see the numbers displayed on a substitutes board, his influence reverberates. An amazing achievement for a mon who, for the entirety of his career in football, remained working as a primary school headmaster in Essex.
They may be the pantomime villains of football but in the world of refereeing Ken Astons is a figure who undoubtably deserves celebrating.
Written by Andy Gallagher