Monday, 28 February 2011

1966. The Year That Changed Modern Football Forever

Much happened in the year 1966. Eric Cantona was born, the Aberfan disaster occurred in South Wales, the Toyota Corolla was introduced to the world and, of course, England won the World Cup. None of these events, however, changed the modern footballing world forever. In 1966 something which changed the entire landscape of football forever was born; the humble yellow and red card.  
This being a good year to be English it was, naturally, an Englishman who had the brainwave. Our hero in question was Ken Aston (who sadly died in 2001). At the time of the 1966 World Cup in England he was the head of the FIFA referees committee and in charge of all the referees at the tournament. He had risen to this important job by, not only being an outstanding and experienced referee, but also because he refereed the infamous and ill tempered 'Battle of Santiago' and only sent off two players using all his powers of persuasion (and the police) to stop the match desending into an outright brawl as Chile went on to beat Italy 2-0 (here's a link to the farce This meant that the tournament wasn't delayed because of an abandoned game and could go ahead as planned.
Whilst this was probably the most high profile point of his career, the most important came during the 1966 World Cup. After the quarter-final match between England and Argentina, it became apparent in the next day’s newspaper that both Bobby and Jack Charlton had been booked by the referee in charge. However, according to the England manager Alf Ramsey the man in charge (Rudolf Kreitlein) had not publicly indicated booking the players. Ramsey then approached FIFA and Aston for clarification on the matter. On his drive home from the meeting with Ramsey and all the other parties involved, Aston thought of a solution that would solve any future confusion and was also brilliantly simple; the yellow and red card. He said later that he came up with the card system when he was stopped by a traffic light and thought, “yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you’re off”.
Aston’s solution was perfect. Not only could it be clearly seen by everyone in the ground but it also broke down language barriers that some referees experienced when refereeing at international tournaments. It could also be universally introduced at all levels of the game with very little cost (unlike goal line technology). The yellow and red card system was introduced at the 1970 Mexican World Cup and it has been used ever since.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this was Ken Aston’s only contribution to the game, but this man was an innovator. He also introduced a substitute referee (which later became the fourth official), created a rule determining the pressure of the ball, in 1974 created the number board system so that players could find out whether they were being substituted and, much earlier in his career, he became the first referee to wear black with a white trim, and also introduced yellow linesman flags in 1947 (which were previously in the home teams colours). Quite a man. Yet for all the other contributions to the game by far the most important in my eyes is the yellow and red card. So next time your team loses a man to a second bookable offence, instead of going mental at the ref, just think about how quickly and clearly you received the information, and raise a glass in memory to Mr. Ken Aston.
Neil Bellis

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