I told you so - Johnny Warren's lasting legacy

Johnny Warren is no longer with us but his passion for football, and the integrity with which he did all he could to improve the game’s standards and standing in Australia remains his lasting legacy

Today marks what would have been Johnny Warren 69th birthday. The former Socceroo is no longer with us but his passion for football, and the integrity with which he did all he could to improve the game-s standards and standing in Australia remains his lasting legacy.

The game in this country has changed a great deal since Johnny-s passing - with the Hyundai A-League going from strength to strength and the Qantas Socceroos consistently proving themselves on the international stage - but there is still much work to be done.

SBS commentator Les Murray says his long-time friend would be happy with the way things are now but still wouldn-t be satisfied and striving for improvement wherever possible.

“Before Johnny died he said, ‘I told you so-,” Murray says. “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.

“He said we shouldn-t be obsessed with qualifying for the World Cup - we should be aiming to win it. He believed one day we would be capable of winning it, we should try to win it, and as far as he-s concerned, it-s unfinished business until we do win it - and I agree 100 per cent.”

The Johnny Warren Football Foundation (JWFF) was set up to ensure the next generation of Australian players have a clear pathway to becoming the best they can be, and to ensure that football in Australia is the best in the world.

Part of this is working with FFA on the expansion of the national skills acquisition program, which sends coaches out to teach other how to successfully coach the game.

And CEO Lisa Middlebrook says the foundation is continuing Johnny-s work by taking football out into the community, providing an opportunity for young people who want to play the game and for adults who want to get involved starting new teams.

“We are embarking on a community program - we-ve done pilots in Wentworth, NSW, and Mannum, South Australia, and a couple of locations in Darwin - that we-re hoping to get federal funding for.

“We-re trying to help establish new teams in places where there wouldn-t be otherwise. We might go out for a weekend and hold a camp or clinic, and get kids from age 5 to young adults.

“They kick the ball around and enjoy themselves, we have volunteer Coerver coaches (the coaching technique adopted by FFA technical director Han Berger) who come with us and we do clinics over a couple of days and then some leadership training, and show how to actually set up clubs.

“The response so far has been outstanding - people want more help. When we-re there we-ll find people who are interested in setting up a team but don-t know how to coach football or how to engage the kids, and then will go back and take the coaches back with us and do a Coerver class for that community.”

So football continues to expand into regional Australia, reaching out to individuals and communities that are crying out for an opportunity to get involved in sport - all under the name of Johnny Warren.

One person who knows just what that effect can be is Jamie Warren, Johnny-s nephew and a director for the JWFF. Jamie was given a unique opportunity as a young footballer - as uncles go, Johnny Warren is certainly up there with the best.

“I was in awe of John,” Jamie says. “I was only a baby when he was representing Australia in the world cup but he was always an idol of mine. I was always impressed by his passion for the game and the way he was thought of by people in and outside the game.

“I was very lucky. I was able to attend a lot of his soccer clinics in Sydney and Canberra, and meet a lot of great people and get some fantastic training.

“John took me to a Pele soccer clinic in New Jersey when I was 9, where I was able to meet Pele and be coached by his brother for a week.

“And John took me to Brazil when I was 14 and we spent six weeks in Rio de Janeiro at Flamengo, and I was invited to trial for their u16 team, and I ended up staying there for six months. They-re not normal experiences for a young player in Australia and I consider myself extremely lucky that I was able to grow up as Johnny-s nephew.”

For Jamie Warren, his uncle-s name is still doing a great deal of work for the game.

“He was so passionate about different aspects of the game. He wanted to see technical development of players at the forefront of our planning, he wanted us to do well at an international level and he wanted to see the game recognised for the wonderful game it is, not only in Australia but worldwide.”

Murray is also proud of the legacy of the friend he lost, and the man who did so much for football in Australia.

“Johnny was a tremendous believer in football and the future of football and had an unbroken desire for football to succeed.

“We had a tremendous association spiritually; in a football sense we were soul mates and we talked for hour, we exchanged views for years and years in what we could do, should do, to advance the game and I miss him in that sense.”

Click here if you-d like to find out more about the Johnny Warren Football Foundation-s programs, or call (02) 8116 9745.

And click here to cast your vote on the Greatest Ever Australian Footballer.

All funds raised by the Greatest Ever Australian Footballer project, through sponsorship, event ticket sale and event auction, will go to the Johnny Warren Football Foundation to fund its programs.