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Gallery and feature: Local hero Ken Aston a ‘giant in the football world’

PUBLISHED: 15:00 11 October 2014

Referee Ken Aston in 1962. [Picture: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport]

Referee Ken Aston in 1962. [Picture: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport]

S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

Some of the most inspirational figures in history have been known for their multitude of talents.

Take prime minister and Woodford MP Winston Churchill, who was not only a politician in his lifetime, but also an Army officer, war correspondent, historian, writer and artist.

Redbridge’s Ken Aston may not have had Churchill’s fame, but he too carved out a career of many paths which led him to almost single-handedly steer football refereeing into the modern era.

And now the inventor of red and yellow cards has been remembered, through Barkingside naming its new town square after him.

Roger Backhouse, a member of the Ilford Historical Society, was one of two people to originally suggest commemorating the referee through the square’s name.

He said: “I thought he would be an excellent choice. He introduced changes that made it easier and better to referee games and left a real impact on the world of football.”

Kenneth George Aston was born in Colchester, Essex, on September 1 1915 and moved to Redbridge at a young age.

He attended Ilford County High School before becoming a member of staff at Newbury Park School - now known as Newbury Park Primary School - in 1935, where he ran the football team.

The same year, Ken qualified as a referee and took part in local league games until the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he served with the Royal Artillery.

The Barkingside man took a step up in his teaching career when he was appointed headteacher at Newbury Park School in 1953, but it was his refereeing success which turned him into a local icon.

Ken progressed to officiating at FA league matches and in 1960 he refereed the first club Intercontinental Cup, which saw Real Madrid beat Uruguayan club Penarol 5-1.

The competition was an annual match between the winners of the European Cup and the South American Copa Libertadores.

Ken also refereed the first-round World Cup match between Chile and Italy in 1962, which was marred by violence and became known as the Battle of Santiago.

At the 1966, 1970 and 1974 World Cups, he was put in charge of all of the referees.

But it was Ken’s innovations which set him apart from other sports figures.

Arguably his most successful creation was that of red and yellow cards. A spark is said to have set off in his mind one day in 1966 when he was driving home.

Looking at a set of traffic lights, he realised that the colour system could be used in matches to clarify which players had been given warnings or sent off.

Ken’s other contributions included being the first referee to wear the black uniform with white trim (1946) and suggesting the use of bright linesmen’s flags (1947).

The flags had previously been in the home team’s colours, but sometimes they were in shades which were difficult to see.

Ken went on to be a member of the FIFA Referees’ Committee for eight years and chaired it for four. He was also chief referee instructor for the American Youth Soccer Organisation.

The referee, who was awarded an MBE in 1997, died on October 23 2001, aged 86.

But he is still remembered by the community.

The Recorder’s senior editorial assistant, Maxine Leckerman, 47, was a pupil at Newbury Park School when Ken was headteacher.

She said: “I just have very fond memories. He was strict, but in a nice way, and even when people left he still had time for them.

“Everyone loved him and we were very privileged to have him as our head. He was the most amazing and inspiring man.”


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