The late football great Johnny Warren once famously said he was sick of people asking when Australia was going to qualify for the World Cup. Instead, he said, we should be asking, “When are we going to win the World Cup?”
As the Socceroos prepare to compete in the FIFA World Cup in Russia this month, the foundation set up in Warren’s memory is donating $140,000 to the University of Sydney Business School to establish a PhD scholarship for research into the governance of football in Australia.
Warren’s nephew Jamie Warren, executive chair of the Johnny Warren Football Foundation, said the gift was in keeping with the organisation’s goal to achieve his uncle’s dream of an Australian World Cup victory.
“Our focus is on Uncle John’s legacy and what football can do for this country,” he said. “We want to support high-quality research that will inspire discussion and debate, and influence policy. We want to improve the way we do things in football in Australia – look at what the problems are and how to fix them.”
The governance of football in Australia has long been a complex and controversial issue. In 2003 – the year before Warren’s death from lung cancer – he was a major contributor to the Crawford Report, which criticised the corruption and poor organisation that had plagued the Australian game for decades. Despite changes that Warren helped implement, tensions persist. Recently, the representative group for A-League clubs, the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association, has been highly critical of Football Federation Australia’s approach to management, calling for FIFA’s assistance with a large-scale overhaul of the game’s administration in Australia.
Johnny Warren never came across as a superstar. He was a humble man with no ego.
The topics that could be investigated by the scholarship recipient are wide-ranging, said Professor Stephen Greaves of the Business School. The school will soon begin the search for a candidate to start work in March next year.
“There is a broad spectrum of governance and management issues that could be addressed,” said Professor Greaves. “Australia has challenges right from the grassroots in trying to promote the game against other codes, but also in competing with the rest of the world, in that so many of our best players go overseas.”
Other subjects that could be explored include youth development, gender equity, Indigenous participation and football’s role in Australia’s relationships with other nations. “We are only limited by our imagination,” said Jamie Warren.
As a child, Jamie and his famous uncle would spend hours kicking a ball around in the backyard. Decades later, when Jamie was an adult and his uncle had moved to the south coast of NSW to be close to his family in his final illness, they’d take daily walks together around Kiama and the Blowhole.
“From a young age, I knew what a star he was, but I didn’t really realise the impact he had on people through his personality,” said Jamie. “He had this ability to meet someone, then within five minutes, he’d made them feel that they’d known him all their life. He never came across as a superstar. He was a humble man with no ego.”
Johnny Warren’s career as a footballer included 42 international matches, including Australia’s first World Cup appearance in 1974. After retiring as a player, he went on to a successful career as a soccer coach, administrator, commentator and writer. His best-selling book of 2002, Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters: An Incomplete Biography of Johnny Warren and Soccer in Australia, traced the growth of the game’s popularity, its title referencing the sexist, racist and homophobic attitudes towards football held by many Australians in the past.
“Uncle John believed in the game and its power to improve things for this country,” said Jamie. “We’d like to build on that legacy.”