Con Purser, the first West Australian to be selected for an Australian Olympic Games football squad, reaches another milestone today – his 90th birthday! A towering right-half, Con was one of the stand-out players of the 1950s, gaining representative honours for both state and country.
Collie-born Con was selected in Australia’s squad for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where the Olympic team defeated Japan 2-0 before bowing out in the quarter-finals to India. Being the days before substitutes were allowed, Con unfortunately didn’t manage to get on the pitch in either game.
“I played in three of the four warm-up games before the Olympics began – mainly at right half or centre-half – and the selectors picked me as reserve right half, but I never got the opportunity to run out on the pitch,” recalled Con, an inaugural Hall of Champions inductee in 1996.
“I thought Australia did well, getting to the quarter-finals. We had beaten our opponents India in a warm-up game, but they prevailed 4-2 in the quarter-finals. I thought we missed a great opportunity to make the semi-finals.”
Although he didn’t feature 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 commented.
Con had caught the eye of the national selectors when he captained the State team in a trial game against Australia at Bayswater Oval in July 1956. The national team triumphed 4-1 that day when Con’s defensive efforts lead to him being the only West Australian to make Australia’s squad of 20 for the Games.
Con moved from Collie to Perth as a child and burst onto the football scene with North Perth in 1949. He remained with the club for 13 seasons, winning three league flags (1952, 1955, 1956), a State (Association) Cup (1954) and the best player award – the Ager Cup – on four occasions (1954, 1955, 1958 and 1960).
It was at the April 1954 Interstate Carnival in Adelaide that Con made his State team debut against South Australia. He was one of the star performers for a West Australian side that won three and drew one of their five games to place second behind New South Wales.
Over the next six years Con wore the gold and black 18 times, a tally that included outings against Rapid Vienna (Austria), South Africa, Ferencvaros (Hungary), Eastern Athletic (Hong Kong) and Blackpool (England). During that period he was State captain on nine occasions and player-coach for two years.
Con was handed his international debut in September 1955 when Australia played South Africa in Adelaide. After being a non-playing member of the Olympic squad, he did gain a second outing for the national team in July 1957 against visiting Hungarian team Ferencvaros in Adelaide.
Con had to wait 50 years before receiving his representative caps for his Australian appearances. Football Federation Australia representative Peter Friend made the presentation at the Hall of Fame’s 10th anniversary celebrations in 2006. Con’s former North Perth and State team colleague Ron Adair was also presented with his caps on the night.
Con and Ron are now members of another exclusive outfit – the Nonagenarian club!!! Ron celebrated his 90th birthday in June this year. Other Hall of Fame inductees who are also Nonagenarians are former international referee Roy Stedman, former football administrator Bob Brown and former State team coach Doug Stewart.