IN THE SUMMER OF 1962, during the FIFA World Cup in Chile, the English referee Ken Aston officiates one of the most violent football matches ever—now often called the “Battle of Santiago.” The match, which was between Chile and Italy, saw some players aiming to break each other’s necks, and required police intervention on three separate instances. Chile won the match 2-0. Aston later said that he “wasn’t reffing a football match” that day, but rather acting as “an umpire in military manoeuvres.”
Born in 1915, Aston became a referee in 1936 and officiated matches until the Second World War broke out. Then, he joined the Royal Artillery and was seconded to the Indian Army, where he was part of the vanguard that entered Singapore. He served on the Changi War Trials Commission and left the army as a lieutenant colonel.
Aston returned to refereeing after the war. In 1946, he became the first to wear the now standard referee uniform—black with white trim—in English League Football. He changed the colour of linesman’s flags the following year, making them bright yellow and easier to spot. Aston never officiated at a World Cup following the Battle of Santiago, but was put in charge of World Cup referees in 1966, 1970 and 1974.
But Aston’s greatest contribution to football was perhaps the introduction of red and yellow cards, which are used to penalise players for offensive conduct. The card system, which was first implemented at the 1970 World Cup, revolutionised football, making it more fluid and reducing the incidence of violent spectacles like the Battle of Santiago. “The game should be a two-act play with 22 players on stage and the referee as director,” Aston once said. “There is no script, no plot, you don’t know the ending, but the idea is to provide enjoyment.”