The RFL has today announced that five of Rugby League’s greatest heroes will be represented in the statue which will celebrate the sport’s long and proud association with Wembley Stadium.
The public work of art at Wembley will incorporate the five players who featured in the final shortlist: Billy Boston, Eric Ashton, Martin Offiah, Gus Risman and Alex Murphy.
All five were shortlisted following a public vote and a process involving a number of specially-convened selection panels comprising fans, Rugby League journalists, coaches, players, national newspaper editors and MPs.
The final decision to involve all five players in an artistic interpretation which captures the spirit of Rugby League at Wembley was made by the RFL Board of Directors and announced at the national stadium today.
RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood said the Board believed the group representation would be the perfect way to highlight the sport’s glorious association and celebrated history with Wembley Stadium.
“The RFL Board’s view echoed that of the many thousands of people who were involved in the selection process in that the statue needed to be a group representation,” said Wood
“So many players have contributed to the rich history of the sport and its association with Wembley and the Board were keen that that should be reflected in the statue.
“Having Risman, Boston, Ashton, Murphy and Offiah all part of the statue means that every generation of the sport is celebrated.
“We will continue the theme of representing the whole sport and its achievements by using the plinth on which the statue will stand as creatively as possible.”
Rugby League is the second sport to be recognised at Wembley alongside football legend Bobby Moore, the captain of the winning England team from the 1966 World Cup final whose statue is the only other work of public art at the stadium.
The sculpture will be commissioned with a view to unveiling it at Wembley prior to the Rugby League World Cup 2013 semi-final double-header at the stadium next November.
Rugby League has been associated with Wembley for over 80 years with the first Challenge Cup final played at the stadium in 1929. Since then some of the sport’s greatest moments have taken place at the venue, including Martin Offiah’s stunning length-of-the-field dash in 1994 which remains etched into the minds of all who witnessed it.
WNSL Managing Director Roger Maslin said: “Wembley Stadium is inextricably linked with Rugby League and most specifically the Challenge Cup.
“At Wembley Stadium we constantly strive to inspire memories and the players being honoured today have undoubtedly given their supporters and the wider sporting public as a whole plenty of memories to cherish.
“It is a fitting tribute that a statue is to be erected in honour of their endeavours but also highlights the history that Rugby League and Wembley Stadium shares.”
Martin Offiah was shocked to find out that he would have some involvement in the final make-up of the statue.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news, I was in total shock,” he said. “I’ve said from the beginning that I’d be proud to support a Rugby League statue at Wembley, no matter whom or what it was.
“But to know that I will be part of the statue is very special. This sits alongside anything that I achieved in my playing career. I’m immensely proud.”
Alex Murphy, who captained three different sides at the iconic venue and has an unbeaten record at the stadium as both player and coach, was honoured to even be considered for the Rugby League statue, let alone be part of the work of art.
“I was humbled to be in the same list as Risman, Boston, Ashton and Offiah and to be considered for the statue at Wembley,” said Murphy.
“But to have some involvement in the final outcome of the statue is overwhelming and quite emotional for me. Wembley is a very special venue.
“A match at Wembley is the most important in a player’s career, no matter what nationality, you always dream of playing at Wembley. So to have a statue representing the history of Rugby League at the stadium is a great accolade for the sport.”
Offiah, Murphy and Billy Boston all attended today’s announcement with Bev Risman representing his late father Gus and Eric Ashton’s daughters, Michelle Huyton and Beverley Smith, and granddaughter Victoria Smith attending on behalf of their late father and grandfather.
Billy Boston said he was “deeply moved” to learn that his playing exploits with Wigan and Great Britain were to be celebrated in the statue.
“It’s a wonderful honour and privilege. I’m deeply moved that there’s going to be a statue of me outside Wembley alongside Gus, Alex, Martin and Eric and that people will look on us all as they do Bobby Moore,” said Boston, who played six times at Wembley, winning on three occasions.
“There is no finer venue anywhere in the world. It’s a fabulous stadium and it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every year when I come to watch matches here.”
The achievements of the five players who will be represented on the Wembley statue are as follows: