Johnny Warren’s legacy burns brighter than ever

admin | 杭州桑拿
4 Dec 2018

Legacy: FIFA president Sepp Blatter awards Johnny Warren with FIFA’s Order of Merit badge in 2004. Photo: Steve Christo Legacy: FIFA president Sepp Blatter awards Johnny Warren with FIFA’s Order of Merit badge in 2004. Photo: Steve Christo
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Legacy: FIFA president Sepp Blatter awards Johnny Warren with FIFA’s Order of Merit badge in 2004. Photo: Steve Christo

Legacy: FIFA president Sepp Blatter awards Johnny Warren with FIFA’s Order of Merit badge in 2004. Photo: Steve Christo

On Thursday 10 years ago, Johnny Warren died. It is still the most jarring thought, Australian football’s spiritual leader departing well before his time.

The football fraternity ought to recognise November 6 as “Johnny Warren Day” forever more. This being the 10th anniversary of his death, it is time for an appropriate, formal recognition of the man who changed the game.

Heaven knows we cannot wait for the SCG or MCG trusts to erect a statue to correctly recognise his status. At the 74th minute (to denote Warren’s critical role in the 1974 Socceroos campaign) of Friday’s match between Adelaide United and Sydney FC, there will be a minute’s applause. There’s also a medal, but we need to do more.

To this day, Warren remains the most important figure in the Australian football history. Above Harry Kewell, Rale Rasic, Mark Viduka or even Frank Lowy. He is the only Australian Sepp Blatter, Pele and Bobby Charlton know by name.

To hear Warren speak, be it in person or every Sunday on SBS, was like attending a revolutionary protest. He relentlessly urged the Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters to bear arms and overthrow the incumbency. It would be bloody, yes, but justified by the purity of the cause.

Without him, Australia would not have qualified for the past three World Cups. There would be no A-League. We certainly wouldn’t have the champion team of Asia, a feat that would have brought him untold joy had he been alive to see it.

When the football community fatigued of talking – of fighting – Warren rallied them to go again. He had Marxist ideals but a Churchillian zeal for battle, not least in getting the sport to be recognised as “football”. He hated the term “soccer” and all the prejudices it domestically implied.

“It is the world’s game,” he would bellow incredulously each week to Les Murray, his on-screen other half, palms flailing in frustration, head shaking, his features thinning as the cancer took hold. “The whole world calls it football.”

Much of this explains why long-suffering Australian football fans are the way they are. A little bit precious, often jaded. He convinced them they followed the noblest game in a nation of brutal sporting pursuits and urged a sporting jihad, now known as “the football mission”.

He loved Australia but detested its idiosyncrasies. He keenly felt the injustice of being born in a nation so geographically isolated that not even football could reach it.

Only would Johnny find the energy for his battles by rejuvenating his soul in Brazil, a country he visited 30 times, give or take. One’s passion for football never needs justification in the Ciudad Maravillosa. And if he wasn’t there, or beating the drum at SBS, he was, of course, in Jamberoo.

The little hamlet west of Kiama will be a hive of activity on this day. The annual Johnny Warren Football Foundation golf day will reunite many of his closest friends, who will then gather at the Jamberoo Pub – in the Johnny Warren dining room – to tell tales that grow a little taller each year.

The foundation, also 10 years old, is changing track. It was once established to provide pathways for young players but the A-League, it accepts, has come to fill that role. Now the foundation, chaired faithfully by his nephew Jamie, will seek to protect and promote the history of the sport in Australia.

Yet Warren’s true legacy is that even though he now plays on the “great football field in the sky”, his mission down here has never seemed so prescient. Progress is finally accelerating at the pace he always envisioned. His posthumous blueprint is coming to life.

Leave it to Murray – holding his own retirement lunch a day after Johnny’s anniversary lunch in Jamberoo – to have the final word on his best mate.

“We miss him a great deal because the mission is still going on. It is not accomplished,” he said. “I don’t believe it will be accomplished until Australia winsthe World Cup and everybody in this country appreciates the game just the way Johnny did.”

He told us so. Happy Johnny Warren Day.

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