Farewell Johnny Warren (1943-2004) – republished from BOTN 2004
Farewell Johnny Warren: The Man Behind ‘The Beautiful Game’
Australian soccer has suffered a tragic loss this year, and no I’m not talking about the demise of the NSL, rather the death of one of the countries greatest sporting legends, in the passing of Australian soccer pioneer, Johnny Warren.
After losing a two year battle with lung cancer at age 61, Warren’s death has hit followers of the ‘world game’ as hard as Australia’s 2-2 draw against Iran in 1997. The game that saw Australia knocked out of the France ’98 World Cup campaign, and cemented Warren’s reputation as a man who wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to soccer, after he famously broke down in front of news cameras following the game.
“That’s how much Australian soccer meant to him. He unashamedly cried on national television.” Remarked former Socceroo skipper Paul Wade, who saw Warren as “the benchmark of Australian soccer, both in the way he lived it and the way he played it.”
Known to many as ‘Captain Socceroo’ for his role in coaching videos for aspiring young soccer players, combined with his unique passion for the game, Johnny Warren captained the Socceroo’s for eight years, and led Australia to its only World Cup finals appearance thus far, in the former West Germany ’74.
Between 1965 – 1974 Warren played in over 40 Internationals, but his commitment to soccer didn’t stop there. Warren dedicated nearly 45 years of his life to the game, highlighted by the words of Jim Fraser, his 1974 Australian World Cup teammate, who described Warren as “a player, coach, administrator, marketer, author [and] soccer commentator… [who] gave so much to the sport.” His coach of the same year, Rale Rasic, hails Warren as one of the greatest sporting heroes this country has ever produced. “I think he’s been the greatest contributor to Australian sport. Warren is a national hero by any measure.”
In 1973 Johnny Warren became one of the first Australian soccer identities to be presented with an MBE, and in 1988 he was inducted into the Australian Sports Hall of Fame, accompanying fellow soccer greats Rale Rasic and John Kosmina. This year, Warren joined the likes of Brazilian soccer hero Pele, Portugal’s Eusebio, the Netherlands’s Johan Cruyff and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, after being presented with FIFA’s Centennial Medal of Honour. “I want Australia to embrace this fabulous game,” Warren stated after receiving the medal. “It’s not ‘wog-ball’. This is the game of the world.
Warren also received a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2002 after being included in the Queen’s birthday honours list, a year which also saw him release his book ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters’, a detailed account of his experience with soccer in Australia, and one which went on to become a best seller.
Despite his health deteriorating rapidly, Warren fought on against the two major battles that plagued his life. His fight against cancer and his fight for soccer to reach its potential in Australia. He fought on to publish his second book, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Soccer’, the story of his friendship with Les Murray, and was an integral part in the establishment of Australia’s new national competition, the A-League. The new competition, set to kick off next August, was created as a result of the major role Warren played in the Crawford inquiry into Australian soccer.
The launch of the A-League came only days before Warren’s death. His attendance, despite his crippling health, illustrates the determination Warren had to see Australian soccer succeed. A battle he fought till the very end.
Australian Soccer Association chairman, Frank Lowy, was another to comment on the persistence and determination that Warren held for the game, and on his legacy that will carry Australian soccer into the future. “Mr. Warren’s passion and support of the game never wavered and despite his illness he still managed to show his support by attending the launch of our new national league earlier this week.” “Although he has passed away he has left a legacy that will never be forgotten.”
According to NSW Premier Bob Carr, The Johnny Warren Soccer Academy launched last month, “is a permanent legacy to both Johnny and his desire to develop the sport of soccer in Australia.” Mr. Carr also recently announced that a state funeral will be held for Johnny Warren on Monday November the 15th, the first ever to be awarded to a sportsperson by the NSW government.
In addition, Australian Soccer Association chief executive, John O’Neil, has suggested naming the new A-League’s competition trophy after him. “He was a reformer, a man for his time, a man who only ever wanted the best for this game, and I think that sort of change would be very appropriate.” Just days before his death, Warren was still fighting soccer’s battle for succession in Australia, claiming that “we are on the verge of doing big things. I’m sure it will happen”! And when it does, he wants us to remember him looking down on us and saying, “I told you so”!
I don’t think he will have to wait too long. It was only yesterday that the latest FIFA World Rankings were announced, with Australia moving up 15 places to equal 49th alongside China PR. More interestingly, Australia announced that it will use the international against Norway next week to debut their new Nike designed kit, boasting new colours reminiscent of those worn by the Australian team that played in the 1974 World Cup, the same team that was captained by Johnny Warren.
Well, one thing that’s more certain then the future of Australian soccer, is this; whether you remember him as ‘Captain Socceroo’, as soccer’s version of ‘Don Bradman’, or as the ‘Mr. Soccer’, in his infamous ‘Mr. and Mrs. Soccer’ partnership with Les Murray, Johnny Warren, will be remembered!
Two more articles and photos here: Link