Leave Johnny Warren’s legacy alone

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Revisionism is a favourite pastime amongst the Australian footballing fraternity and this week’s seen the activity reach new levels. As you no doubt know, Thursday marked ten years since Johnny Warren’s tragic passing.

To commemorate this date there have been touching tributes from some of Australian football’s biggest names, but there has also been an element of propaganda that has no basis in reality and ignores Warren’s relentless campaign to establish football as a force on these shores.

Warren displayed a passion and love for the game that will never be rivalled, he championed the cause of football tirelessly, advocating a number of changes which sadly he was not alive to see. Football was truly in Warren’s heart and he wanted the very best for the beautiful game in Australia. “I told you so” became the famous phrase when the Socceroos qualified for the 2006 World Cup after defeating Uruguay on penalties. Unfortunately, the same four words have come to be disrespected and used to paint pictures that deceive the public in the last few days.

Recent articles have suggested that Warren would be proud of the Socceroos because they “took on the world’s best”. Now I can’t, nor can anyone say with any measure of certainty what Warren would and wouldn’t be proud of, but using the words of the great man himself, we can gain an understanding of what he might regard as successful or not.

When the Socceroos defeated England in 2003 Warren expressed frustration at settling for second best and football resting on its laurels.

“I’m sick of us saying, ‘When are we going to qualify for the World Cup’? When are we going to win the World Cup?”

These statements reflect Warren’s desire for continual improvement in all areas of Australian football, not applauding a team that lost all three of their matches in Brazil. It was this attitude which made him stand out from the crowd. Whilst many were happy to rejoice over what was essentially a meaningless victory, there was Warren reminding us all that in the grand scheme of things it meant very little. There was still work to be done, there always is.

In 2012, Warren’s lifelong friend and broadcast partner Les Murray said that there was still a way to go for Australian football, and that Warren would have wanted to see things through.

“Before Johnny died he said, ‘I told you so’,” Murray said. “Some of the things that he preached and predicted are coming true and already have.

“But he wouldn’t be saying that the job is done. He’d be very active in finishing that work.”

That work includes the unification of a still fractured sport with many clubs and individuals feeling ostracised from the rivers of prosperity that Football Federation Australia (FFA) so openly publicise and celebrate.

The most recent example of the “Australianisation” from on high is the National Club Identity Policy (NCIP), a spiel of jargon that effectively aims to remove all ethnic or cultural representations that clubs have in their uniforms, badges or elsewhere. Because the policy is not applied retroactively, some claim is not hindering any current club. But have you seen all those repetitive celebratory logos from A-League teams lauding their ten season long existence? That’s a no-no for the ethnic based clubs according to the NCIP, because any change to uniform or badge must be approved by the FFA first.

The FFA also blocked Melbourne Knights from using a proprietary limited company as a shirt sponsor in the FFA Cup because the sponsor in question happened to have ‘Croatia’ in their name. Yet there were no rules that stated this was illegal at the time. Within 48 hours, there were. Funny that.

Strangely enough we have been down this road before with governing bodies in Australian football. Soccer Australia tried a similar tactic in 1996 and Warren slammed them for their misguided attempts to de-ethnicise the sport. He wrote the following in the August 22, 1996 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

If Soccer Australia bosses David Hill, George Negus and company were hoping to lead the revolution, if they were hoping to storm the barricades of the recalcitrant old guard, then they failed.

They succeeded only in changing some logos. The club boards are still the same, the membership is still the same, the staff is still the same, and the players are still the same.

And so they should be, for they are the heart and soul of soccer in this country.

The rest of the article can be read here and Warren goes on to label the exercise as “ethnic purging” nothing more than “muscle-flexing”. It is remarkable how similar the events of 1996 and 2014 are. One could replace the names of Hill and Negus with Gallop and Lowy and it would very nearly be an identical critique of the NCIP.

Warren was outraged in 1996 at Soccer Australia for marginalising the rights of the ethnic based clubs. Football Central is not going to put words into the mouth of someone who has no right of reply, but based on quotes from the man himself, you can draw your own conclusions as to what Warren would have made of the FFA’s actions and the implementation of the NCIP.

It’s regrettable that Warren’s iconic words of “I told you so” have become somewhat of a marketing slogan for use of football’s highest powers. But the saddest thing in all of this is that the great man is no longer here to hold football accountable to itself while at the same time championing its cause to others.

Andrew Cussen

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