A truly unique piece of sporting history – the first red card in the State – was recently gifted to the Football Hall of Fame Western Australia. The generous donation was made by former referee and administrator Brian Haffenden, who was issued with what must have been one of the first red and yellow card sets in the world while in Hong Kong in 1970.
English referee Ken Aston came up with the idea of language neutral coloured cards to communicate a referee’s intentions while stuck in his car at traffic lights in London. Aston realised that a colour-coding scheme based on the same principle as used on traffic lights would make it clear that a player had been cautioned or expelled.
Match officials first carried yellow and red cards at the 1970 World Cup finals tournament in Mexico and in the years that followed the penalty system was adopted across the globe. “Hong Kong was one of the first associations in the world to introduce red and yellow cards in 1970,” explained London-born Brian, who was in Hong Kong serving in the British Army.
“I completed my First Class referee qualifications while there and was refereeing military games as well as civilian games with the Hong Kong Football Referees Association. When I moved to Australia I brought my referees kit, including the two cards, with me. On one side the red card reads ‘Send Off’ in English and on the other side it’s in Chinese.”
“The first game I carried it here in Perth was the 1971 D’Orsogna Cup fixture between Gosnells City and North Perth Croatia, I didn’t need either card that day as there were no cautions and no sendings off … I used to have the first yellow card too but I don’t know where that has disappeared to, hopefully it will turn up one day.”
Little did Brian know that his first referee appointment in Western Australia would be tinged with controversy. The Australian Soccer Referee’s Association (WA Division) were in conflict with the Soccer Federation of WA over the late payment of game fees and, just two days before the opening round of the Cup, the match officials withdrew their services from all weekend fixtures.
“I saw an advert in ‘the Sunday Times – Soccer Referees Required’. I met with (Federation secretary) Fred Axon, he didn’t say anything about what was going on inside the Federation at the time but he said ‘yeah, we’re desperate for referee’s at the moment’. I explained I had my ticket from Hong Kong and he came back with ‘I have two linesman – can you referee tomorrow?’”
“So I turn up on the day and the Velodrome is absolutely packed. We go through the first half and everything was fine then at the break there’s a ‘knock, knock, knock’ on the door to the officials room. We open the door and there are about eight blokes there and they started asking questions and making accusations – ‘Why are you refereeing this game?’ and ‘You’re a black leg.'”
“I looked at the linesmen and surprise, surprise they looked a bit sheepish. I explained to the boys that I did not know anything about the Federation situation and said I’m going to do the second half, I’m not stopping now. There’s a crowd out there and two teams that want to play, it goes ahead but I’ll talk with you afterwards. And they said ‘Okay’ and went back to the stands.”
True to his word, Brian met with the referee’s that evening in the city. “We caught up and had a few together at a pub that was down the end of Adelaide Terrace near the river,” Brian recalls. “We hit it off and became very good friends … two weeks later, guess who became secretary of the referees association?”
Brian remained with the referee’s body for just over 12 months before a work opportunity took him to the landlocked Pilbara town of Newman. As President of the sports and recreation club he organised a two-game visit by East Fremantle Tricolore, who played Newman and a composite local team, in 1975. On returning to Perth he became general manager of the East Perth Football Club.
But Brians’ heart belonged to the world game. After a couple of years as a referee assessor for the amateurs, he served as President of the Perth Amateur Social Soccer Association for three years from 1983. He also played a key role English clubs Queens Park Rangers (1983) and Nottingham Forest (1984) playing the State team as well as Perth Azzurri’s participation in the 1987 Espon Cup in Singapore.