It is hard to believe West Australian football came close to losing one of our all-time greats, Ron Adair, to another sport soon after his arrival from Northern Ireland in 1949. “Everyone was so sport mad here I just had to play something and I picked soccer,” Ron told ‘the Sunday Times’ newspaper in 1954.
In the year after stepping off the boat in Fremantle, the then teenage Ron – who today celebrates his 90th birthday – had showed sufficient talent on the football field with Victoria Park that he was selected to don the black and gold of Western Australia in a friendly with Australia at Subiaco Oval.
The national team were on their way home from a tour of South Africa and the match day programme was glowing with praise for the utility player. “A grand ball worker with unlimited stamina. Versatility personified. Equally at home as a back, half-back or a forward.”
Born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on 2 June 1931, Ron emigrated to Western Australian in 1949. He initially made his mark with Victoria Park where he established a reputation for being a clean tackler and powerful header of the ball.
It was as an 18-year old that Ron gained his West Australian team debut against Australia in August 1950. He would go on to play every State game of the following decade, earning selection on twenty-three occasions with eleven of those as team captain.
By 1952 Ron was with North Perth, who he helped top First Division before winning the clubs’ best player award, the Ager Cup. Named club captain the following year, he collected a second Ager Cup and was acknowledged as the First Divisions’ most outstanding player when presented the Ledger Medal.
Ron’s star was now well and truly on the rise. So it came as no surprise when, in September 1953, he was called-up to play for Australia in a ‘B’ international against China. A fine performance in the 5-0 win in Adelaide was made complete when Ron was named the ‘Find of the Match’.
Nine best on ground performances for Maccabeans were rewarded with the 1954 Ledger Medal. Ron captained Western Australia to second place at that years’ Inter-States carnival in Adelaide, where he was named the tournaments’ ‘Best Player’, and in August he made his ‘A’ international debut against New Zealand.
The following month Ron was approached to join Victorian powerhouse club Hakoah. “I have decided not to accept the offer,” Ron told ‘the West Australian’ newspaper of 23 September 1954. “My family is settled in Perth and I already have a good job here.” It was a decision that would pay rich dividends.
Ron made it a hat-trick of Ledger Medals by winning the coveted prize in 1955 with Azzurri, where he also collected an Association Cup winners medal. In August he became the first player from Western Australia to captain Australia when he lead the side out against Vienna Rapid. The following month he wore the green and gold against South Africa.
“One of the proudest moments of my soccer career came in the foyer of an Adelaide hotel,” Ron recalled of learning he would captain Australia in the 1956 ‘Soccer Annual’. “For several moments I was speechless … I was the first West Australian to receive such an honour!”
A trio of seasons with Swan Athletic was highlighted by the clubs’ 1957 First Division title success. He featured seven times on Australia’s 1958 tour of New Zealand, with his 70th minute winner in a 3-2 defeat of the host nation rating amongst his most treasured footballing memories.
Following his return to North Perth for the 1959 campaign Ron picked up a third Ager Cup. The last of his thirteen appearances for Australia arrived that August when he donned the captain’s armband against Scottish club Hearts in Perth.
A serious knee injury brought Ron’s playing days to an unexpected halt in mid-1960. Aged just 29 and at the peak of his career, there is little doubt he was denied the opportunity of further glory at club, State and quite probably international levels.
Ron entered the Hall of Champions in 1996 and nine years later he was one of the first four players elevated to Hall of Legends status. he was presented the Award of Distinction by the National Hall of Fame in 1999. The Hall of Fame WA made a special presentation to Ron in 2019 in honour of him winning three top flight best player awards in three consecutive years and with three different clubs.