CLUBS: Lansdowne (Dublin), Belfast College, Swansea, Glamorgan, Cardiff, Llanelli, London Welsh, Aberavon, Hull 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 on 15th November 1877, 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 became landlord of the White Rose public house in Walters Road in February 1902 moving to from November 1902 ran the True Briton public house in the High Street. They were 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. His father in law J. E. Fitt was instrumental in getting him licensed for the White Rose following his marriage.
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. Comments on his play at this time, while admiring his pace and strength, sometimes allude to a lack of awareness of others around him. Against Watsonians in December 1902 he was chastised in a match report that said he had not yet: "tumbled to the Welsh game, and allowed himself to be tackled frequently when he ought to have got rid of the ball." Other reports describe him as a "universal favourite with all sections of the spectators at St Helen's." But with Swansea in the middle of their 'Golden Era', Freear was always up for selection against established and well known welsh players. In fact Freear had begun his Welsh club wanderings at the end of 1901-02 when he turned out for Llanelli against Bristol in their last match of the season on 19th April. By the beginning of 1902-03 Albert was in demand by several clubs, all knowing that such a skilful player was struggling to get regular games with Swansea’s first fifteen. He did not help his own cause when he and Billy Trew played a game of ping-pong a couple of hours before a home match with Newport in which he was to have played on the wing. Shaping to make a powerful strike, he brought on a back spasm and missed a match he was picked to play in. With Billy Bancroft and Dick Jones also absent, Newport broke Swansea’s unbeaten record.
Good performances during the early part of 1902-03 saw Freear selected to play for Glamorgan against Yorkshire on 11th October 1902. In this match he was fortunate to have Gwyn Nicholls at centre supplying him with plenty of good ball and the wing scored three of Glamorgan’s four tries, giving a classy performance and reminding the Welsh sporting public of his potency as a try scoring wing three-quarter. Yorkshire were well beaten.
Still Albert’s appearances for Swansea were irregular as the St Helen’s club enjoyed a glut of talent behind the scrum. Freear expressed a desire to play for Neath if he couldn’t get a first team game for Swansea. He was promptly selected by them for their match against Llanelli, but Welsh international Willie Llewellyn, currently studying in London, persuaded Freear to turn out for London Welsh that day away at Midland Champions Leicester. So he added another Welsh team to his portfolio, albeit an ‘exiles’ one. Cardiff also hankered after his services, with injury problems of their own. He declined to play for them against Swansea on 25th October 1902 but did play for Cardiff in a lost match against Devon on 5th November. By then he had notched up another two games for Llanelli, both away, against Northampton (won) and London Welsh (lost) on 27th and 28th October.
Rumours abounded of his permanent 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 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. There was rumour of his being refused the license on the advice of Swansea and Aberavon police about his fitness to hold a license. Nothing was proven and Freear insisted he had simply missed the licence and was promised another. Neath's Joe Birchell (a Swansea boy) was already a member of the Hull F.C. and may have been instrumental in Freear's move there. Swansea's capped centre Dan Rees would shortly afterwards join Hull F.C.'s rivals across the river, Hull Kingston Rovers, for a record fee. While with the Hull F.C. 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 F.C. during the 1905-05 and 1906-07 seasons. While at Hull F.C. Albert made 61 first team appearances, scoring 19 tries.
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, citing 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 and colourful 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. He is recorded as playing at three-quarter for Victoria against a touring Maoris side on 2 July 1910, where he had a hand in Victoria's only score of the game, being part of the move that led to the try and converting it himself. he apparently continued to play well though some of his team mates became demoralised as the Maoris finished the match winning 32 - 5. It was one of two matches played in Melbourne at the end of the Maoris first officially sanctioned tour. All Blacks Billy Stead and bill Cunningham were in the Maoris side as well as one of the Warbrick brothers.
Freear's acceptance by the Victoria Rugby Union is somewhat surprising as they would have been aware of his professional career with Hull F.C. and were at least officially, staunchly against professionalism. Albert next appears in New Zealand where he lived from about 1914 to 1919 and 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, Evening Express and Daily Telegraph (Sydney) newspapers 1901-1908, A History of Rugby in Victoria by Ron Grainger. With thanks also to John Griffiths, rugby historian and Colin Booth (Hull F.C.)
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