CLUBS: Lansdowne (Dublin), Belfast College, Swansea, Glamorgan, Aberavon, Hull Kingston Rovers RLFC, East Melbourne (Victoria, Aus.), Victoria State Rugby Team,
Honours: Ireland 3 caps, Canada (sub, not capped).
Irish international A.E. (Albert Edward) Freear's career in rugby was a colourful one. Born in Salford Lancashire in 1878, son of an insurance assessor Charles T. W. Freear, by 1894-95 he was living in Dublin and at seventeen years old, he started at the position of centre for the Dublin based Landsdowne Rugby Club. From there he progressed to playing on the wing. He was first capped for Ireland in their 10 - 6 win against England in Dublin on 9th February 1901, being picked alongside his Lansdowne Club team mate, centre B R W Doran. He went on to play in the other Irish internationals of 1901 against Scotland and Wales, scoring a try against Wales on 16th March 1901 at the St Helens ground in Swansea. This was his final cap.
Albert Freear arrived back in Swansea again with the Belfast College team in April 1901. They were beaten at St Helen’s by four goals and a try to a single goal. Freear took the opportunity to offer his services to the “All Whites” when centre George Davies had to step down due to a family bereavement. The back line was rearranged and Albert Freear played on the wing against the touring Barbarian club on their first visit to St Helen’s. A win for Swansea resulted by a goal and two tries to nil. Freear had made a try for Fred Jowett in the second half and the Irish international was described as having played “a fine dashing game”.
Freear played for Swansea at centre and wing during 1902-03, his arrival being fortuitous for the club with rising star Billy Trew often injured and Freear filling his position. Albert Freear added to his CV by turning out for the touring Canadian national side when they were a man short against Mountain Ash on 12th January 1903. Five days later Freear was in the Swansea side that beat the Canadians, scoring the first try within five minutes while handing off two players. So he now had the distinction of having played both for and against the North American tourists!
Albert settled into Swansea life and from November 1902 ran the True Briton public house in the High Street, the first of several pubs he would manage. In February 1902 he married Kate Gwendoline Fitt, daughter of the owners of Swansea’s prestigious Grand Hotel. Whilst a favourite with the Swansea crowd and a lethal runner when properly supplied with possession in the right areas, Freear did suffer from frequent omission from the starting line-up of the first fifteen. With such talent as Billy Trew, Frank Gordon, George Davies and Fred Jowett, his opportunities were limited. Rumours abounded of his departure to other clubs or to ‘northern poachers’. Eventually it was his wife’s illness and the need to move to Port Talbot and its ‘relatively’ cleaner air at that time, that forced his transfer to Aberavon Rugby Club for the 1903-04 season. He became licensee in the Castle Hotel in Port Talbot. He played his last game for Aberavon in September 1904 before signing for Hull Kingston Rovers Rugby League club later that month with the promise of a pub and a regular wage from the club itself. The pub promised (The Waverley) fell through and Freear was employed as a clerk. Swansea's Joe Birchell was already a member of the Hull team and the two would soon be joined by Swansea's capped centre Dan Rees for a record fee. While with the Hull club Albert added further interest to his story by becoming the first Irish rugby Union international to win international honours in the league game when he played in the ‘Other Nations’ side against England in Bradford in 1905. Albert captained Hull K R during the 1906-07 season.
Little more is known of Freear’s whereabouts until he turned up in court for embezzlement from his employer the Gladiator Motor Company of Longacre, London in October of 1908. Gladiator manufactured early model French cars in England. Freear pleaded guilty to the charges, siting the responsibility to his ill wife and three children as his motive for taking £58 from the company. He served four months in prison.
But this was not the end of albert Freear’s nomadic sporting career. He emigrated to Fawkner, Victoria in Australia in 1909, probably having gone there directly on his release from prison, with a criminal record hindering employment opportunities in Britain. His wife was too ill to accompany him. Freear became a commercial traveller in New South Wales and Queensland. He played rugby for the East Melbourne Club and represented the state of Victoria in 1909-10. His acceptance by the Victoria rugby Union is somewhat surprising as they would have been aware of his professional career with Hull K R and were at least officially, staunchly against professionalism. Albert lived in New Zealand from about 1914 to 1919 where he appeared on the WW1 reserve list. Another brush with the law and fraud allegations prompted him to return to Australia, again working as a commercial traveller. He stayed in Australia for the rest of his life and died in Cheltenham (Melbourne) on 25th August 1960, with a colourful career behind him.
Sources: Cambrian newspaper 1901-1908, A History of Rugby in Victoria by Ron Grainger. With thanks also to John Griffiths, rugby historian.
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