VALE – Ron Lord

a man smiling for the camera

Australia’s oldest Olyroo, the “Prince of Keepers” has made his last save & seen his last game.

Ron Lord, the second eldest of 5 siblings, was born in Rozelle on July 25, 1929 and passed away yesterday following a short battle with illness and after giving a lifetime to the game he loved.

Widely regarded as one of, if not the best goalkeeper Australia has produced, Ron, like so many others, came to be a custodian after starting his playing career on the field & only stepping in to replace a missing colleague during his early days with the Drummoyne club.

When I first met Ron & his wife Kathleen at their Illawarra home many years ago I found a humble man keen to talk about football in all its forms but a man keener to talk about the myriad of fine players he’d played with and against during his lengthy career.

Ron began playing in a scratch club of local youths nicknamed the ‘Rozelle Waratahs’ at King George Park on the shores of Iron Cove in Sydney’s inner west. He grew up in an area steeped in football history and not far from fellow Socceroo legend Joe Marston.

Attending Drummoyne Boys High School, Ron excelled at cricket, hockey and waterpolo before focussing on soccer. He made his 1st grade debut as a teenager with Drummoyne as a full back, playing in a game where strength, speed and fitness were paramount and the silky skills of the modern day players were yet to be seen. He clearly recalled the day he was called into the reserves team after their keeper was a no show. Ron was recovering from injury that restricted his movement but was still capable, and more importantly, willing to stand between the sticks. Anything for the team. From that day he was hooked.

Lord’s playing career lasted almost 20 years at the top level starting with Drummoyne and ending with Sydney Prague in 1964. It included a long stint with Auburn but with the split in NSW football in 1958 between the old Soccer Association and the new Federation of Soccer Clubs Ron sided with the progressive Federation and waved goodbye to his blossoming representative career.

Lord’s tenure in goal at both club and representative level was highlighted by his strength, bravery and athleticism and by his desire to take the game on, often being seen outside his area reverting to his days as a fullback. He once told me of a game in which he actually scored from one such foray upfield.

Ron’s bravery and willingness to dive at the feet of onrushing opposition forwards in an effort to secure the ball, lead to injuries a plenty and multiple concussions, which surprisingly didn’t affect him greatly in later life. His desire to embrace modern technology has been a boon to those of us embedded in the history of soccer in Australia as he was able to still able to remember players clearly in photographs and in later years was keen to share these with all for posterity.

Lord first pulled on an Australian jersey against the touring Englishmen in 1951 making thirteen appearances in all at a time when full international matches were few and far between.

Selected as the main goalkeeper for Australia’s soccer team competing at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, Lord became the squad’s unofficial chronicler writing daily to his beloved Kathleen and recording his experiences both in writing and with his trusty camera around the Olympic athlete’s village. He maintained a close friendship with fellow Olympians Bill Henderson & Queensland striker Graham McMillan to the end, catching up annually at Jamberoo Golf Club for a round & reminiscences.

A fitter & turner by trade from the age of 15, Ron turned his hand to coaching Sydney young keepers once his playing days had ended, even utilising his trade skills to fashionn his own set of full sized posts to take to training sessions with the likes of future Socceroos Garry Meier & Greg Woodhouse. In essence Ron became Australia’s first true goalkeeper coach, a baton he handed over to the likes of Ron Corry & Jim Fraser in later years.

After leaving the Auburn club & the Federation, Lord joined the star studded Prague club where he, Kevin O’Neill & Ken Hiron added the Aussie defensive steel to the team featuring the attacking prowess of the legendary Austrian Leo Baumgartner, the Ninaus brothers & others who formed the first wave of high profile European immigrants who changed Australian soccer forever.

Even after retiring from the game such was the regard in which Lord was held that Australian coach Tiko Jelisavcic urged him to keep training in the hope he may still be a part of our first tilt at the World Cup, but family life was more important to Ron after a life on the road with football.

He and Kathleen moved to the Illawarra where Ron took on a role with the Shellharbour council as Lifeguard at the local pool, a role he held for decades. Ron was honoured for his contribution to football and the local community by running the Olympic torch on day 98 of the 2000 Olympics torch relay, an honour that brought this humble man to tears when being reminded of it. Ron was earlier honoured by Football Australia becoming one of the inaugural inductees into the Hall of Fame.

After Kathleen passed away Ron threw himself into documenting his life, his soccer collection spanning the 1940s, 50s & 60s from all levels of the game and in 2022 he was reunited with old teammate O’Neill at Parliament House for the launch of The Great Save & to mark the 140th anniversary of organised football in NSW. To be present to see the Ron & Kev together again for the first time in almost 60 years was an honour I will always treasure.

Ron followed the game to the end and was thrilled, along with his mate Billy Henderson, to meet current Socceroo captain Mat Ryan after Australia qualified for the 2018 World Cup, having followed his goalkeeping career closely since it began at the Mariners.

Ron will be missed by all those who knew him whether they be fellow Jamberoo golfers, longtime football friends like Billy & Graham or those of us who came to know him later in life, but he will be missed most by his family daughter Jennifer and sons Brian & especially John  who devoted the last few years of his life to caring for Ron.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Ron play but I trust the opinions of those who did and feel safe in saying that we have lost one of the best. I know Joe, Reg and Dougie will be glad to see you. Let the stories flow. Vale Ron, it was a pleasure to know you and thank you for everything you have given our beautiful game.

-By Greg Werner