Wembley statue sculptor hopes to put a smile on fans’ faces

A detail of the Wembley statue

A detail of the Wembley statue

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It’s been three years in the making, but Stephen Winterburn, the sculptor of the Wembley statue, can breathe a huge sigh of relief on Saturday August 29 when the historic Rugby League monument is unveiled to the public before this year’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.

The statue includes five legends of the sport including Leigh legend Alex Murphy OBE.

Also featured are Eric Ashton MBE, Billy Boston MBE, Martin Offiah MBE and Gus Risman, who were voted by a panel of journalists, coaches, players, MPs, national newspaper editors and fans.

Winterburn, who has previously created sculptures of Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers icons Clive Sullivan and Peter Flanagan, will be lost for words when the covers come down.

“I’ll be speechless when the statue is unveiled,” he said. “Even now, with the statue finished, there’s still some stress with the logistics and all sorts of stuff to pull this thing off, which will make it hard to enjoy.

“Once it’s unveiled, it will probably take a day for it to sink in and think, ‘wow, we’ve done a good job here’. But it’s not about my work - it’s about what it means to the people.”

Winterburn faced many obstacles during the process, but was delighted to put a smile on the faces of those part of it.

“We had a few issues,” Winterburn admitted. “Problems with the fabrication of the construction of it as it’s quite a difficult piece to do.

“The design, and the way it was working with the mouldings of the legends etc were troubling, too. There’s been a few issues which has made it challenging.

“But to do it in the time that we’ve done it has worked out quite well, to be fair. Working with Alex, Billy and Martin, who came to the studios quite a few times, and the Ashton family and the Rismans has been great.

“They’ve been coming up to the studio a lot to take a look at it and Martin is just blown away by his own sculpture, as are Billy and Alex and the families of Eric and Gus.

“In 20 or 30 years’ time, the statue will still be there as a monument to Rugby League for everyone to see how important these legends are to the great game.”

Fans can come along to witness the unveiling of the Wembley Statue on the stadium concourse at noon of Saturday August 29 before the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final kicks off at 3.15pm.

Over 77,000 tickets have been sold for the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final between Hull Kingston Rovers and Leeds Rhinos at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.