More than two hours before the gates at the Melbourne Cricket Ground opened for Shane Warne’s state memorial, a crowd had begun to form around the cricket legend’s statue outside the stadium.
Before Warne’s family and friends addressed the crowd of about 55,000 fans inside the ground on a cool Wednesday night, and some of the world’s best-known entertainers paid tribute, an army of fans gathered outside.
Some were dressed in cricket gear or the colours of Warne’s beloved St Kilda football club to pose for photos before Warne’s bronze likeness, smiling up at the king of spin immortalised in bronze.
They were the first of thousands who flocked to farewell the cricket legend after his sudden death from a suspected heart attack on March 4 aged just 52.
Some, like Caroline Van Ross from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, brought tributes to rest at the statue’s base.
“He was a typical Aussie, an Aussie larrikin who loved a bit of fun and his sports,” Ms Van Ross told The New Daily.
“Just an all ‘round nice guy who could relate to anybody, whether they were a cricket fan or big stars like Michael Jordan – he could close the gap.”
Dressed in her official Shane Keith Warne signature shirt and draped in an Australian flag, Ms Van Ross approached the statue with a can of VB beer and a tin of Heinz baked beans.
For a long time, it was widely speculated that Warne, who disliked spicy food, had 1900 tins of baked beans delivered to him while touring India in 1998.
Warne eventually debunked the myth in 2020, saying the beans were for the whole team, but the bean legend stayed.
Not all attendees at Warne’s state memorial were cricket fans.
Carrum Downs woman Rohini Dalpathadu, draped in a massive Sri Lankan flag, admitted she mostly watched the sport if it happened to be on TV.
It was Warne’s charity work Ms Dalpathadu came to the MCG to celebrate.
“After the [2004 Boxing Day] tsunami, he came to Sri Lanka to help disadvantaged people rebuild the cricket grounds,” she told TND.
“So we wanted to come here and pay our respects and be involved with the memorial service.”
Warne and Sri Lankan spin bowling rival Muttiah Muralitharan raised funds and offered bowling tips to schoolchildren from tsunami-battered schools.
‘We’ll miss you, Warnie’
As a respectful crowd looked on, Warne’s father Keith was the first of the Warne family to speak, sharing with the crowd memories of a son who could and would make everybody feel special.
“What the world didn’t see is that Shane spent a lot of his time helping kids, especially sick and underprivileged kids. It was always about putting smiles back on young people’s faces,” Keith Warne said.
“Kids loved him and he loved kids.”
The tributes continued to flow from those who knew him on, and off, the field.
Music great Elton John performed a pre-recorded version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me before describing Warne as one of the greatest Australian cricketers of all time.
“It’s a sad day today. But it’s not in some ways because his legacy lives on and he will live on through future generations,” John said.
Warne’s former Test captain Mark Taylor thanked the bowler for making him a better leader, while former British skipper Nasser Hussain spoke about the privilege (and “nightmare”) of playing against Warne, whom he described as a master entertainer, and sledger.
Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, via video, played an original composition called Eulogy as well as the band’s song Yellow, while Robbie Williams performed Angels.
Ed Sheeran, as requested by Warne’s family, performed Thinking Out Loud.
And live from the MCG, rock musician Jon Stevens belted out some of Warne’s favourite songs as part of an INXS and Noiseworks medley.
‘The best brother’
From Monopoly to golf, Warne’s younger brother Jason spoke about how competitive they were. And he knew all of Warne’s trigger points.
“He never quite reached 6 foot tall. Always claimed it, but he just didn’t. Every time he said, ‘I’m 183’, I would say, ‘You’re 182’,” Jason said, laughing through tears.
“He will leave a massive hole in my life that will never be filled. I will always love him and always miss my big brother.”
‘You will always be with us, Dad’
Perhaps the most touching moment of an emotional night came as Warne’s three children spoke of their father.
Summer, 20, remembered the last moments she shared with her father, saying his laughter and smile are something she will miss forever.
She said she could speak to her dad about anything and never feel judged.
“When I was struggling, and I didn’t know how to go on with life because I was dealing with my own demons, you showed me how I could fall in love with life again. You told me I could either live with these demons or fight with them and come out stronger at the end,” Summer said.
“You saved me, Dad. You truly did.”
Jackson, 22, wearing a St Kilda scarf around his neck, spoke about how easy and peaceful life was with his dad.
And Brooke, 24, speaking through tears, listed all the things she will miss about her father.
She mourned for the future where her and her siblings’ dad will never get to see them grow up, get married and have kids.
“I could go on forever about what we’re going to miss out on, but nothing will be more upsetting than how much I already miss you, Dad,” Brooke said.
As a final tribute, master of ceremonies Eddie McGuire announced what many believed was only right: The MCG’s Great Southern Stand would be renamed the Shane Warne Stand.
“Now every time we look into the Great Southern Stand we will think of Shane,” McGuire said.
Warne’s three children unveiled the renamed stand as cries of “Warnie” filled the stadium.