THE 50th anniversary of when yellow and red cards were introduced in football matches takes place next month, writes SIR BOB RUSSELL.

But did you know that the person who came up with this idea was born in Colchester?

He was the late Ken Aston, one of the all-time great international referees and the man in charge of referees at the 1966 World Cup in England and also the one in 1970 in Mexico where the disciplinary cards were used for the first time when the tournament started at the end of May.

Mr Aston’s connection with Colchester, however, is simply that he was born here. This was on 1st September 1915.

His parents had moved to Colchester because his father was in the Army. His older brother Alfred was also born in Colchester, in March 1913.

At the time of the birth of Kenneth George Aston his father had been discharged (in April 1915) because he had become medically unfit having served in France at the outbreak of The Great War in the autumn of 1914.

The precise place of birth is not known, but is unlikely to have been the Military Hospital because by then it was full of wounded soldiers from the Western Front in France and Belgium. Nor is the family’s address known.

The Aston family later moved to Ilford where Ken Aston was educated.

Colchester United statistician Graeson Laitt, at my request, searched the archives to see if Mr Aston had ever refereed a match at Layer Road – and while records are not as complete as they are nowadays he was able to identify one match where the man in the middle was indeed the person who years later was to head the referee organisation at three World Cups, that in West Germany in 1974 following those in England and Mexico.

That match was between Colchester United and Ipswich Town on Boxing Day 1955 when 13,176 packed into Layer Road to witness a 3-3 draw in a Third Division (South) fixture, with a disputed penalty for handball near the end helping the visitors share the points.

The next day, a Tuesday, the two sides met again at Portman Road – with Mr Aston once more the referee – but on this occasion Ipswich won 3-1.

Town’s Manager was Alf Ramsey who a decade later master-minded England’s World Cup triumph

On Christmas Eve Colchester had played Southend United, away at Roots Hall, making it three games in four days!

I am indebted to local history enthusiast Nick Smee for sharing with me his research and describing how Mr Aston proposed the visual display of coloured cards showing either a “booking” or a “sending off” so that players and spectators were fully aware of what was happening.

This stemmed from a fracas which occurred during the 1966 World Cup quarter-final at Wembley between England and Argentina which resulted in the Argentinian captain Rattin being sent off…….and after the match England footballing brothers Bobby and Jack Charlton finding out that they had been “booked” although they were not aware this had happened!

Nick Smee told me: “Word of mouth affirms that later that same evening, Ken Aston drove home from Wembley Stadium in his sports car, with Jackie Charlton's confusion and all the mouldering controversies at the forefront in his mind.

“As he was waiting for a red light to change at Kensington High Street, it suddenly dawned on Ken that a colour-coding scheme based on the same amber/yellow (steady) - red (stop) principle as used on traffic lights would traverse language barriers and make it obvious to players and spectators alike what disciplinary decision the referee had just taken.

“So the system whereby referees show a yellow card for a caution, and a red card for an expulsion, was processed by the authorities in time to be introduced for the 1970 World Cup tournament in Mexico. The best innovations always look so obvious in hindsight. It is a good job the lights were against him on that homeward journey.”

It is said that the first prototype cards were made by Mr Aston’s wife Hilda at their home, cut to fit into a pocket in his referee’s shirt.

But it is not just in football that “yellow” and “red” cards became commonplace. They have been adopted for use in other sports and aspects of life away from sport. Regrettably, Mr Aston has not been given the public acclamation for this innovation – nor some others in football.

He was the first referee, in 1946, to wear what became the distinctive all black referee’s strip with white trim.

It was Mr Aston who, the following year, introduced bright yellow and red flags for linesmen instead of the colours of the home team as was previously the case.

He also introduced, in 1974, the display boards for substitutions so that both players and spectators were aware of which players were involved.

Another of his suggestions, however, was not successful.

This was that to determine who had won a knock-out match which had ended with the scores level. He proposed that the side with the fewest “red” and “yellow” cards and fewest freekicks conceded should be declared the winner. Instead, football’s decision makers opted for a penalty shoot-out.

Mr Aston trained to become a schoolteacher, and in 1935 taught at Newbury Park Primary School, Ilford, where he ran the school football team. At the time of his marriage in 1939 he was teaching at Stowmarket, Suffolk. He was appointed Headmaster of Newbury Park School in 1953.

He served in the Army during the Second World War (1939-45), leaving with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian Army having previously served in the Royal Artillery until 1944.

Mr Aston qualified as a referee in 1936. He progressed through the leagues with highlights being refereeing the 1961 European Nations Final, at the 1962 World Cup in Chile and the FA Cup Final in 1963. He served on the FIFA Referees Committee for eight years, four of them as Chairman. He was made an MBE in 1997.

The Referees’ Association honoured Ken Aston in 1969 with the Long and Meritorious Service Award, in 1986 with the 50 Years Membership Award, and in 1990 Life Membership.

He spent the latter years of his life living in the USA where he contributed greatly to the development of football there. He died aged 86 in October 2001.