Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Ron Lord

Ron Lord kept goal for Australia at the 1956 Olympics. Source: Picture supplied

The World Game resumes its tribute to Australia's stars of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Ron Lord was a member of the first national team to take part in a major tournament - long before they became known as the Socceroos - when he kept goal at the 1956 Olympics.

Australia's 1956 Olympic Games goalkeeper Ron Lord, who is one of the oldest surviving 'Socceroos', said he disagreed with the notion that modern keepers acting as 'extra defenders' was a new phenomenon.

Simply because he had seen it all more than half a century ago.

Lord, who will be 90 in July, said he is bemused by talk that today's goalkeepers had to be as adept with their feet as they were with their hands because he himself was playing this way in the 1950s.

Lord, who kept goal for Australia in the Melbourne Olympics, is one of Australia's most respected goalkeepers and regarded as one of the best of his generation.

He started his playing career as a fullback for Drummoyne in the NSW competition but after a set of freak circumstances he became a goalkeeper with a penchant for 'playing out'.

Hence his ability to be more than just a shot-stopper ... a third back, as he put it.

"In my debut first-grade game as a fullback for Drummoyne in 1949 I got kicked rather badly in my ankle and I had crutches for some time," Lord recalled.

"One day I went down to watch the reserves and their goalkeeper did not turn up so I was asked if I could go in goal.

"I reluctantly agreed and I must admit I was not too impressed with the position but having been an outfield player I was not loathe to leave my goal area. Since our defence was not particularly strong at the time I had to learn how to use the whole penalty area to cope with different match situations like starting our attacks or preventing the opposition from making the final attempt on goal. I saw myself as a third back, really.

"My attitude was to go out there and do my best. To play at that level you did not do only what the trainer told you to do but you had to do more. I used to get down to the field before all the others arrived to practise my footwork and other areas such as jumping and sprinting off either foot.

"We had this (style of goalkeeping) from a long, long time ago. It's not a new science like some people would have us believe. The problem is our football history is not very well known, unfortunately."

Lord was happy to reminisce on an era when football was a pure and different ball game.

So what are you doing now? I hear you're a keen golfer.

"I live in Oak Flats, south of Wollongong. And, yes, I still play golf socially off a handicap of 33. I cannot hit the ball too far but I enjoy playing once a week on the south coast and I hope I can continue to do so for as long as possible."

After a season with Drummoyne in 1949 you played for Auburn for seven years but your best time was with Sydney Prague. What was it like to play for such a successful club?

"It was just amazing. When Leo Baumgartner and Karl Jaros came out here in 1957 we became quite a cosmopolitan team. We played our home games at ES Marks Field in Darlinghurst. We had no rusted-on fans. We drew people from all walks of life who came to watch us because we had a strong team that could play good football. In 1959 we won the championship, the grand final and the Ampol Cup. We also won other championships later on. It was a privilege to play for Prague. It was so easy to play for such an attacking team."

How good were the Austrian stars Baumgartner and Herbert Ninaus?

"Herbert was a tearaway centre-forward. He was strong and ran hard. Leo played deeper and was master of the ball. He wanted it to feet and preferred other forwards to get on the end of crosses so he could pounce on loose balls or rebounds. He made sure his teammates knew this."

Who were Prague's fiercest rivals in the late 1950s and early 1960s?

"Our biggest matches were those against Sydney Hakoah. The were always great contests that drew the largest crowds and for which you always had to gee yourself up. Apia Leichhardt were also strong, particularly when Baumgartner left us after three years to join them."

You made your national team debut against a touring England selection in 1951 and ended up losing 1-4. What was it like to play against top professionals for the first time?

"Of course, we were outclassed. We were pulled together two days before the match and we never had any team talks or anything like that. I can still remember being introduced to one of the players in the team because we did not know each other."

Are you glad your debut did not come a match earlier when Australia lost 17-0 to the same England touring team?

"I certainly was glad I was not part of such a hammering. The English team had just come from a particularly wet season back home and the weather here was wet too. The Sydney Cricket Ground pitch was very heavy and In their wisdom local organisers put on an early game and the mud in the middle part of the pitch was churned up.

"The English players were accustomed to such poor conditions and used the mud to full advantage. I was sitting on the sidelines and hoping our goalkeeper Norman Conquest would finish the match otherwise I would have been asked to come on. I could have ended up in Siberia."

How much did you get paid for playing for Australia?

"We got paid three pounds five shillings a game. At Prague I had a contract which was equivalent to what I was earning at my daytime job, where I made about 12 pounds a week."

At the end of the England tour in which you conceded a lot of goals while playing for different teams you were offered a trial in England but you did not take up the opportunity. Why?

"The touring goalkeeper Sam Bartram, who played for Charlton Athletic, asked me if I would go to England for a trial, probably with his club. I chose not to go however because I was still learning my trade as a fitter and turner and the timing just was not right. I did not regret it because I had a good career in the game in Australia and I was happy with the way my life turned out."

Tell us about the preparations for the 1956 Olympics and the football climate surrounding the event?

"As host nation we did not need to qualify so we went straight into the tournament. I was playing for Auburn at the time and after a few selection trials I got picked in the Olympic team.

"The Games started in late November and we flew down to Melbourne and stayed at the Olympic Village. The Japanese contingent were our neighbours. We were thrilled to be rubbing shoulders with some of the world's most famous athletes like Dawn Fraser, whom I knew quite well at the Drummoyne swimming club.

"The opening ceremony was a marvellous experience, something I will never forget. We were instructed by an army sergeant major on how to march into the stadium, chest out and head back and so on. As hosts we went in last, marched past a young Duke of Edinburgh and took our place on the pitch. It was very hot that day."

You were the number one goalkeeper in the tournament in which Australia defeated Japan in the first round and lost to India in the quarter-finals. What do you remember from those matches?

"We beat Japan 2-0 in our first match at Olympic Park but I remember very little of that occasion except for a rather difficult save I had to make. Of the match against India at the same venue my recollection is of our captain Bob Bignell complaining with the referee about two Indians who were playing bare-footed which of course was against the rules. But nothing came of it and we lost 2-4. Had we won that game we would have played Yugoslavia for a place in the final."

Are you still in contact with any of the original 'Olyroos'?

"We're all getting older and a few of the boys have died. I'm still good mates with goalkeeper Billy Henderson, whom I knew from well before the Olympics. We play golf together every week. I'm also in contact with forward Teddy Smith, who lives in Melbourne."

At the age of 35, with retirement very much on your mind, you were considered for selection for Australia's campaign to play in the 1966 FIFA World Cup. Why did you miss out?

"I was in the frame for the two games against North Korea in Cambodia and I was urged to get fit but I could not do it. My wife Kathleen, who died two years ago, was ill at the time and I had to look after her so I could not go to training as often as I had to. My thoughts were 'I need to be at my best to play for Australia and I am not up to it' so I had to decline the invitation."

You turned to coaching goalkeepers after quitting the game in 1965. Who were the best you worked with?

"Three stand out. When I went to Bankstown I coached 16-year-old Gary Meier, who went on to play for Australia's youths and Sydney Olympic. At Western Suburbs I worked with a chap called Terry Eaton, whom I thought would go on to big things for Australia but he was overlooked. I also worked with Greg Woodhouse who had a good career in the National Soccer League and played 11 times for the senior national team."

Guys like Maty Ryan, Danny Vukovic, Mitch Langerak and Brad Jones have forged successful careers abroad. Why are Aussie keepers so good?

"Well, it's eye-hand co-ordination which you work on at training. When I was a kid my best toy was a tennis ball, which I used to throw hard against a wall and try to catch it to improve my sharpness."

Are you jealous of today's goalkeepers who are given so much more protection from referees than you guys used to get?

"We never had it easy because, unlike today, you could be charged any time. In my days you had to bounce the ball if you had to move across the penalty area. Fortunately I was quite bulky - about 15 kgs heavier actually - so I could handle that sort of stuff. I actually used to enjoy the challenge."

How do you rate today's Socceroos and the game in Australia?

"It's a tough world out there yet the Socceroos have shown that they can hold their own against most teams but as far as winning the World Cup I don't think we'll get there.

"Club football does not seem to be getting ahead mainly because it is very defensive. It is so hard to score goals and people like to be entertained.

"Wellington recently beat Central Coast 8-2 and even though the game was not of the purest standard everybody got excited and was talking about it. Fans want to see goals yet teams pride themselves in keeping clean sheets."

Who were the best players you have played with and against?

"In short, centre-forward Reg Date stands out. I played with him and against him a few times. He had the hardest shot I can remember."

RON LORD FACTFILE

Club career
1949: Drummoyne
1950-1957 Auburn
1957-1965: Sydney Prague

International career
1951-1964: Australia (three matches)