Well a tumultuous few seasons ended today with the FFA officially terminating Nathan Tinkler’s ownership of the Newcastle Jets. Its been a long time coming. A start to his ownership promised so much – stabilising the club after years of penny pinching and cost cutting, bringing the Jets and Knights together to create a single direction for the two major sporting clubs in Newcastle, spending marquee money on Emile Heskey and actually having more than single digit employee numbers in the front office. It was a short period of sunshine during a long, cloudy existence.
Unfortunately, it all ended in rather inglorious fashion by way of a press release tit-for-tat battle after the money finally dried up leaving players and staff unpaid after several months of salaries arriving late. I wont be getting into any further retrospectives on previous owners because this isnt the point of this article.
What should happen now is that whoever gains control of the club from here needs to recognise that years of upheaval has left the football community in the Hunter region with a sense of apathy and alienation towards the club that is supposed to represent them. This is the most important issue (after paying the players and staff of course) that will need to be addressed to get the club restarted. This club needs to reconnect with its community and supporters, after years of erosion of those relationships.
NNSWFF needs to be first cab off the rank – to provide access to thousands of yet-to-be properly engaged football people despite years of half hearted attempts. Remember the Northern Alliance? Probably not, because it was never properly implemented. David Eland is a football administrator waiting with bated breath for long promised agreements to be actioned. NNSW and the Jets need to be on the same page, and working towards clear, defined goals for the betterment of football in the Newcastle and Hunter community.
The long suffering supporters need to be re-engaged with the club, and questions are already swirling on social media only hours after the licence was stripped from HSG. Will the club still be called the Jets? Will United finally be returned to the club name? Will red & blue be the club colours or will gold return? All good questions – and a simple (yet complex) solution exists to both engage the supporters and answer these and other questions.
A community ownership component can and should be a part of this club going forward. There is simply no better way to get the wider community re-engaged and invested in their club by allowing them to have a say in its future, and be involved in its future structure. This is why the Knights continue to have safeguards in their club structure and engagement in the rugby league community, because long time lovers of that game ensure that the club services and listens to those members and supporters.
The recent circus engulfing the Jets could (mostly) have been avoided if similar responsibilities and safeguards that were imposed on HSG when they assumed control of the Knights, were also imposed upon purchase of the Jets A-League licence. For this, the FFA must assume some responsibility for doggedly pursuing a single entity -ownership model for Australian clubs, rather than insisting that clubs have some sort of community ownership component to their structures to ensure those clubs are held to account by the supporters they are supposed to be there to serve.
The creation of the Wanderers provided a great blueprint for engaging a community behind a club and to ensure that even if all suggestions werent implemented, those potential supporters & members were at least listened to and felt a part of the process. Whether the name changes, the colours change, the values and ethos of the club change, etc all of these and more questions should be canvassed from the Newcastle and Hunter community to ensure a wide cross section of views are collated. Novocastrians are a parochial lot, and are very canny when it comes to sniffing out whether someone is geniunely listening to them or simply paying lip service. This is why HSG lost the majority of support by the end because everything coming out had all been said before and was simply classified as bollocks.
Spend the month of June running a series of football community forums at various locations throughout the Newcastle and Hunter areas. Invite any and all to attend, make it clear that we dont need to spend hours going over past mistakes, have a clear plan and set of agenda points to address. Canvass opinions on the agenda points on social media to engage those who cant attend the forums. Investigate and decide on a structure to the community ownership component of the club and gather feedback on it as well before implementation. Listen to the supporters, and actually use the feedback to shape the new values, identity and direction of the club going forward.
Finally (as far as this article is concerned anyway), local and football media is a strong ally. Relationships with certain media outlets have been handled abysmally by HSG during their entire tenure. The club will need to re-engage with all sections of the local media, and then not blackball sections when you dont like what is written. Supporters will understand mistakes if you come out on the front foot and admit to them with a plan to make sure they dont happen again, and then implement that plan. A bad article isnt the end of the world, but reacting like a spoilt child and insisting they get out of your room and not come back, wont win you any arguments.
Whoever comes in to take over the club faces an uphill but not insurmountable task to reinvigorate the club and its fortunes. A supporter base that has shrunk from average attendances of over 13000 three seasons ago to just over 8000 this season. A club that hasnt made the finals in 5 seasons. A club that has now claimed the wooden spoon twice. The community WILL get behind this club in numbers, if they are given a reason to and not just treated like customers at a fast food restaurant. If nothing else, you can never say life is dull as a Jets supporter.