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Farewell Johnny Warren (1943-2004)

By Talia Cerritelli, Ray Gatt and Chris Dunkerley

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.

“His contribution to the game, right up until the last day he lived, was beyond human belief,” Recalls former Socceroo and media colleague, Andy Harper.

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.

Could this be a sign of things to come? Could the man who told us to stop focusing on qualifying for World Cups and start focusing on winning them, have predicted the future of soccer in Australia?

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!

By Talia Cerritelli


State Funeral for Johnny Warren
A View From inside the Cathedral - 15 November 2004

THEY came from all walks of life yesterday to farewell Johnny Warren - the heart and soul of Australian soccer - from politicians to the rich and powerful, to the media and to those associated with sports outside of the world game. While the former Socceroo great, who passed away 10 days ago after a long battle with cancer, deserved the pomp and ceremony associated with his moving state funeral at St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney, he would have been the first to cringe at all the fuss. And, despite the Who's Who list, few at the ceremony had no doubt where he would have been most comfortable...among the rank and file and especially the kids who turned out in force in their club jerseys to pay homage on behalf of the grass roots of the game. `If he was here now, he'd be over there with the kids and the fans talking about soccer,'' his close mate John Economos said pointing to the large gathering of people outside the specially erected fences.

As in line with the wishes of Warren's family, hundreds turned out displaying banners, scarves and jerseys from all parts of the football world. And what better way to top it off than the troupe of traditional Brazilian drummers, who provided a prolonged, passionate and thunderous rhythm as Warren's casket was carried out of the Cathedral by former Socceroos teammates Harry Williams, George Harris, Doug Utjesenovic, Ray Baartz, Jim Fraser and John Watkiss. The extraordinary scenes outside the church were like a football match - just the way Johnny, a passionate disciple of South American football, would have wanted it.

Not surprisingly, it was impossible to fit everyone into the over-crowded Cathedral for what was a truly moving and inspirational ceremony. Those who stood patiently outside under the sort of magical day only a Sydney Spring can produce, silently hung on every word during the tributes broadcast on outside speakers. Inside, the emotion and feeling was no less palpable as dignitaries including AOC president John Coates, former NSW premier Neville Wran, NSW state government minister Frank Sartor, NRL chief executive David Gallop, rugby league legends Reg Gasnier and John Raper, Australian Soccer Association and Westfields boss Frank Lowy and high profile businessman and ASA board member John Singleton looked on. Naturally, soccer - or, as John always called it, football - people provided the essence of the ceremony with his former teammates at club and international level there in force.

Rale Rasic, the man who took Warren and the 1974 Socceroos to our only ever appearance at the World Cup finals, was still very much the father figure as many of that squad _ Ray Richards, John Watkiss, Ray Baartz, Adrian Alston, Allan Maher, Jim Fraser, Ron Corry, Harry Williams, Col Curran, Manfred Schaefer, Atti Abonyi, Doug Utjesenovic and Jim Rooney - assembled in mourning for a great mate.

> Later, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, they shed more tears, they laughed, they told many, many stories and they remembered long into the night. The tributes, and there were many, were led by Warren's very close mate, Les Murray, head of sport for SBS TV, his nephew Jamie, former teammate George Harris and Singleton.

Struggling to keep his emotions in check, Murray delivered a stirring and heart-felt eulogy. He described Warren as his soul mate and wondered, at first, how the game could carry on without him before promising to carry on the fight.
"John, there are thousands here at your funeral and the whole nation (via live coverage on SBS) is watching,'' Murray said. "We all thought football and the passing of a footballer would never have such an impact in your country. But, we were wrong. And you told us so. We would never have thought that a million would play the beautiful game in a country that jilted you. But we were wrong and you told us so. We all thought that your country, the one that shunned you as a wog and sheila, would never embrace your faith. But we were wrong again and you told us so. So what happens now my friend, my soul mate? What do we do now? How do we do what still has to be done without you? Please John, this is not easy for us. It's hard if you are not here to guide us. Your gift to us in the football brotherhood was a candle of hope, perpetually burning and keeping us warm. But now the candle has gone out and we shiver, we are cold and we are lost. But John, we will pick up the fight. We will pull together and we will win > this thing. We will emerge strengthened by your legacies, empowered by your memories, our heads raised, smiling in the face of the blowing winds of hostility and resistance.''

As the funeral procession left the Cathedral to Warren's final resting place with the Brazilian drummers beating louder and louder, the final word was left to former soccer journalist, Stephen Dettre. "The best legacy John could leave us is if all the people who were here > today, turned up for Sydney FC's first game in the new A-League next year,'' Dettre said. John Warren would love that.

By Ray Gatt - The Australian - with special thanks


State Funeral for Johnny Warren
Fans View - outside St Andrews Cathedral, Sydney - 15 November 2004

A crowd crammed into St Andrew's Cathedral by 12 noon today to remember their family member, friend, team-mate, colleague, hero. Outside nearly 1,000 fans and well wishers spread out in every shady nook of Town Hall square, or risked sunburn to farewell 'the conscience of Australian football', Johnny Warren. Here is a photo tribute to the fans, young and old, male and female, who were Johnny's mates-in-football! They came from as far away as Newcastle for the day. The ex team-mates, media colleagues, football, club administrators, coaches - all with club differences put aside - came from all over Australia!

Lack of shade did not deter hundreds from remaining for the full service.

Many sang along with the video tribute to Johnny .... with 'You'll Never Walk Alone' ....


The coffin was carried by 1974 team-mates of Johnny Warren, along with his family.

Ordinary fans, in their hundreds farewelled the hearse containing his coffin, to the sounds of Brasilian drums, and an almost celebratory atmosphere mixed with reflection.

By Chris Dunkerley

 

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