Stoplights, School, & Summer of ’70: Origins Of The Red Card

Did you know that there is a connection between Garrett Morgan, an inventor, and Ken Aston, a beloved British school teacher, that had a profound effect on the current state of soccer?

Garrett Morgan was an inventor in the early 1900’s who created one of the some of the first editions of the stoplight, and his work and the work of others would lead to the modern stoplights that we have today. What in the world do stoplights have to do with soccer? This is the part where Ken Aston comes in.

Ken Aston was only 20 when he first started teaching in Essex, England during the peaceful years preceding World War II. One day he officiated a friendly of sorts between the students, and found the task to be incredibly enjoyable; with that, he caught the refereeing bug, and within a year, he was officially an… official.

Being a referee isn’t as exotic a life as footballers enjoy, but over the years Ken worked diligently and built up a solid reputation, slowly climbing the ladder of the referring world.

In 1962, he received the honor of a lifetime and was in charge of refereeing the opening match of the Chile hosted World Cup. He was known in the UK at that point, but that match put him in front of the world; surprisingly, Aston had enough time on the pitch at that point though, and retired the following year.

So, you’re asking, what’s up with this guy and stoplights and the current state of soccer? Well, it wasn’t until he retired that Ken Aston put his stamp on the beautiful game.

England was hosting the World Cup in 1966, and having reached the quarter final, they were pitted against bitter rivals Argentina. This turned out to be an incredibly intense and physical match, but England managed to grab a goal (which the Argentinian side believed was offside) and won 1-0. During the match Argentina’s captain Rattín was sent off after a second booking from a German referee, and both Charlton brothers committed a foul which were each subsequently recorded, although those two bookings were not made known to England’s manager. After the match, manager Alf Ramsey brought up the issue with the FIFA, as it is important to know who is booked in order to be able to make substitutions or other tactical changes.

Some time after the match, Ken Aston was driving along and was pondering the issue that the manager Alf Ramsey had brought up; it made sense that everyone should know when a player is booked, not just the official in charge of the match. Stopping at a red light, Aston had an epiphany: “Yellow for caution; red, stop, you’re off”.

With the spawning of an absolutely brilliant idea, Aston was quick to get to work installing the new system into the game, but it wasn’t until the 1970 World Cup in Mexico that the card system was officially put into place. In the summer of 1970, football was changed forever.

Inspiration comes at the oddest of times, but when it does, you should always act upon it, as you never know what it can bring forth. Ken Aston received a moment of inspiration, and he saw it for what it was, for what it could be.

Referees may get a lot of hate, but in this case, one deserves all the credit.



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