Warren statue to provide new fans with 'history lesson'

The bronze statue of Johnny Warren that was unveiled outside Allianz stadium on Easter Sunday is a history lesson of the era that is responsible for Australian football’s recent success say members of the Warren family. 

For years football fans have recognised the contribution made by one of Australia’s football pioneers. 

At the first ever A-League game that was held at the Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney FC’s active supporter group the Cove held a banner that read “I told you so”, which is one of Warren’s most famous sayings. 

There was also a sign erected above Bay 23 that read ‘the Johnny Warren Bay’. 

But now the former Socceroo will have a permanent presence after being the first footballer to be commemorated amongst 11 other Australian sporting legends and his image will be forever immortalised in the area that he graced as a player.

Johnny Warren’s daughter Shannon Warren says Sundays’s unveiling of the 12th statue erected by the SCG Trust was an important day for her father’s legacy.

“I know Dad would’ve been honoured and very humbled about it,” she said. 

“It’s just another recognition of the contribution Dad gave to the game of football on and off the field and what it can do for this country.”

“The knowledge still needs to be promoted of the past football players not just Dad. I’m talking about Adrian Alston, Atti Abonyi, Jimmy Fraser and the '74 squad. 

“He would’ve been very proud of where the A-League has come so far. As well with regards to the Matildas and Socceroos. But he still wouldn’t be happy about it, he would still be wanting more and he’d still be wanting blood. He’d still be pushing and saying it’s still not good enough.”

Many significant football matches have been played in the area where the Warren statute was erected. 

Football historian Roy Hay revealed that football had an early presence in the precinct with the earliest game involving the Australian national team in a full international being played at the SCG on June 16, 1923 against New Zealand.

While Australia played England at the Showground on July 18 1925 and in 1935 the NSW State Cup final was played at the Sports Ground between Metters and St George. 

Johnny Warren’s nephew Jamie who also runs the Warren Foundation says it is also worth noting that the statue marks the space where his Uncle played his last ever game.

“It’s hard to put into words what Sunday meant to the family having John immortalised in such a way,” he said.

 “That last ball that John kicked in professional football after 400 first division games was at the old Sydney Sports Ground. John scored the winning goal. He’d been away playing at the World Cup for Australia and came back took and over as captain/coach of St George. They had a 12 game unbeaten streak and made the Grand Final against Hakoah. St George won the Grand Final 4-2. 

“John got the ball inside his own half and scored a magnificent goal. He fell over exhausted. His teammates jumped on top of him and there were huge celebrations. At that very moment he substituted himself and sitting in the change room he thought this is it - this is my time.”

Meanwhile veteran Australian sports presenter Les Murray who worked with Warren for many years at SBS and was a close friend says that the statute is a tribute to the Australian football family.

“It’s fitting because it’s something the country owed Johnny Warren,” he said.

“What Johnny ultimately wanted, more than anything, was to enrich Australia through football. He wasn’t doing it for football. He was doing it for Australia. He wanted us to be true citizens of the world, which thanks to him and our enhanced place in football, we now are.

“Johnny would consider the statue as a tribute to football in Australia, its fans, its players and the many hard working people who have tried to make the game relevant in our society. It is recognition that is long, long overdue.”

The sculptor of the statue Cathy Weiszmann said that she felt a responsibility to not just the family but also to lots of football fans to get the statue right.

“I tried to put into the sculpture the respect that I feel for that person and all the respect the fans have for that person,” she said. “I just hope they like it and to bring how they feel about him to it. “

The brainchild behind the statue was Tim Hooper who has known the Warren family since he was a teenager and like many Sydney football fans felt that football needed representation amongst the other sports.

“I’ve been doing volunteer work and work with Sydney FC since the inception of the A-League and I just got sick and tired of looking at the sculptures out the front,” he said.

“The question was why doesn’t football have a sculpture? 

“I was lucky enough to come through the lower grades behind him and all those good players like Georgie Harris and Harry Williams and Bonnie and Alston and all these guys. And we were talking and we decided it’s got to be John. It took me a few years to be introduced to the people you need to be talking to and it’s taken four or five years to get it to what it is today.”

  • Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.