Wembley statue nears completion

A section of the Alex Murphy bronze.
A section of the Alex Murphy bronze.

With 100 days to go before Rugby League celebrates its 120th birthday, the historic Wembley Stadium statue that will be unveiled on Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final day is nearing completion.

The statue, which features Leigh legend Alex Murphy, will be located on the Wembley concourse and commemorates the sport’s long and proud association with the national stadium, which hosts the 2015 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final on Saturday August 29.

That date also marks 120 years to the day since Rugby League was founded at a momentous meeting of clubs at the George Hotel in Huddersfield in 1895.

For sculptor Stephen Winterburn, the artist who won the commission to produce the most significant piece of public art in Rugby League’s proud history, today marks an important milestone in what has been a long and inspirational process.

“We’re getting there, it’s all going really well and everything is on course for August 29 and what will be a really special day for everyone,” said Winterburn, who is busy assembling the sculpture at his studio in East Yorkshire.

“There is still a lot of work to do but I’m pleased to say that we’re on schedule and the team are working hard to make this happen. There are a lot of elements to the statue and a lot of our focus now is pulling them together.

“Bronze is not the easiest material to work with but it’s a fantastic metal and we’ve all really enjoyed being involved with a modelling process which is thousands of years old. Creating ceramic moulds and casting hot molten metal is a delicate and difficult process but one which as an artist is hugely rewarding.

“Bronze will last forever, and that’s an important message in a sculpture which celebrates a sport like Rugby League.”

In recent months, much of Winterburn’s time has been spent working on the castings of the five Rugby League legends who will be immortalised in bronze at Wembley.

The three living players – Billy Boston MBE, Alex Murphy OBE and Martin Offiah MBE– have all completed their sittings and approved the final designs and the families of Gus Risman and Eric Ashton MBE have expressed their satisfaction at the way the two great men have been captured.

“Everyone has done their bit and it’s all signed off now,” added Winterburn. “Now it’s a case of assembling what we can in the studio and preparing the statue for its journey to Wembley in late August.

“The creation of the base is a big job at the moment: it’s an essential element of the statue and structurally significant to the whole piece.

“We couldn’t be happier with the way things are progressing: in 100 days’ time I’m confident that we’ll be unveiling a public sculpture that everyone involved in Rugby League will be proud of.”

The statue has been commissioned in association with Rugby League Cares and will be unveiled on the morning of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final on Saturday August 29. Rugby League fans are welcome to attend the ceremony, full details for which, including specific time and location, will be announced in due course.