Con Purser

A salute to Con Purser, our Olympic trail-blazer

WITH AUSTRALIA’S bid to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games football tournament in Japan on the line when they take part in the Asia Under-23 championship in Thailand in January, it’s time to remember WA’s first Olympic footballer – Collie-born Con Purser.
Con captained the WA State team in an Olympic Games trial against Australia at Bayswater Oval in July, 1956, which the national team won 4-1. After an impressive display in defence, he was the only WA player to be picked in the Aussie squad of 20 for the Olympic  Games, which were held in Melbourne in November, 1956.
He figured in three of the four warm-up matches – against Russia, Great Britain and India – at either centre half or right half before the competition proper got underway.

But the 25-year-old West Aussie wasn’t chosen in the starting line-up for the opening Olympic battle against Japan, which the Aussies won 2-0, or the quarter-final encounter against India, who triumphed 4-2 in a controversial contest in which the home side had two goals mysteriously disallowed by the Indonesian referee.
Con wrote of his ground-breaking experiences in the 1957 WA Yearbook.
“We had our first trial game against the strong Russia team (hot favourites for the gold medal). All members of the squad were given a run and I lined up at right half,” he said.
“The Russians showed tremendous speed, complete ball control and perfect teamwork and, although we were no means disgraced, our opponents led 7-1 at half-time. The Russians ran in another eight goals in the second half.’
Con was picked at centre half in the next warm-up against Great Britain, who won 3-1. “But a 2-2 draw would have been a fairer indication of the play,” he said.

He was again centre-half for the next run-out against India, with the Aussies winning 2-1, but wasn’t chosen for the final warm-up against Yugoslavia, who won 5-1.
“On Tuesday, November 27, Australia made its Olympic Games competition debut against Japan. The selectors announced myself as reserve right half, but I never got on the pitch,” Con wrote.
“Then came India in the quarter-finals. We had beaten them in a warm-up, but on this occasion their short triangular moves paid off and they won 4-2. We had lost a golden opportunity of making the semi-finals.”
Yugoslavia beat India 4-1 in the semis, with Russia overcoming Bulgaria 2-1 in the other semi before the Russians went on to down the Slavs 1-0 in the gold medal decider.
In Con’s day the Olympic football tournament was restricted mainly to semi-pros or amateurs (dominated by Soviet-Bloc countries whose players were regarded as non-professionals) as FIFA wanted to protect the World Cup with the best professional players taking part in that event.

Konica Minolta Digital Camera

Since then the format has changed several times and now is restricted to under-23 players, with three over-age players allowed per squad. There is no age restrictions in the women’s Olympic teams.
The Australian under-23 team, the Olyroos, must finish in the top three at the Asian championship (to be held in Thailand from January 8 to 26) in order to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Japan from July 24 to August 9.
The Olyroos, who last qualified for the Olympics in 2008, have been drawn in Group A of the Asian championship alongside the hosts, Thailand, as well as Iraq and Bahrain.
They play Iraq at Thammasat Stadium in Rangsit, on the outskirts of Bangkok, on 8 January, before facing the hosts at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok three days later on 11 January. They round off the group stage against Bahrain back at Thammasat Stadium on 14 January, with an eye on advancing to the quarter-Finals.
***After his Olympic experience, Con Purser went on to captain the WA State team several more times and led his club, North Perth, to three first division titles. He was also coach of North Perth for several seasons and was player-coach of the State team for two years.
Con, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996, had to wait 50 years before he was presented with his representative caps for his Australian appearances by the FFA’s chief of staff, Peter Friend, at the Hall of Fame’s 10th anniversary celebrations in 2006.
The now 88-year-old Con is still fit and healthy and living in a retirement village in Perth.
“I’m as fit as a mallee bull, as they say,” he joked. “I’ve always been a fitness fanatic since my playing days and I use the gym in the retirement village regularly, and I swim and play bowls.”
Although he never started in any of the Olympic contests, Con said it was an experience to be cherished. “I was first reserve for our contests, so overall it was a wonderful to be involved in the Olympics, and marching in the Opening Ceremony was a highlight,” he recalled.

PIC ONE: Con Purser in his Olympic Games track suit. PIC TWO: The 1956 Olympic poster. PIC THREE: The 1956 Opening Ceremony. PIC FOUR: Con is chaired off after captaining North Perth to the league title in 1955. PIC FIVE: Con is presented with his Australian cap by Peter Friend in 2006.

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