SPORTING DECLARATION: Own goals cruel Jets

SIGN OF THE TIMES: A banner at Friday night’s game against Brisbane. Picture: Dean OslandTHE Newcastle Jets have become a circus, and their fans, unsurprisingly, are over it.

In the four years and four months since Nathan Tinkler assumed ownership of Newcastle’s A-League franchise, highlights have been few and far between, and the past few weeks have been nothing short of an embarrassment, on and off the pitch.

Like Football Federation Australia officials, Jets fans are entitled to have formed the view that Tinkler has outstayed his welcome.

Friday’s announcement that some Jets creditors had been paid, having waited impatiently for long-overdue liabilities to be settled, was hardly a cause for celebration.

Rather, it was a case of too little, too late. Even if the one-time billionaire was to start paying his bills in a timely fashion, thereby avoiding the type of publicity for which he has become notorious, what evidence is there that he has the faintest idea how to turn the Jets around after five seasons of mediocrity?

His track record speaks for itself.

He may as well have burned the hundreds of millions of dollars he pumped into his Patinack Farm horse-racing failure.

The Knights were in disarray when he was ousted in June and face a long process, under NRL management, of rebuilding and restoring credibility.

The Jets appear even more of a basket case.

While an FFA coup to remove Tinkler would meet with widespread approval in Newcastle – the city he recently declared has ‘‘done nothing but shit on me’’ – what happens next?

Who would step in to assume control?

Reading between the lines, it seems Scottish Premier League club Dundee United’s owner, Stephen Thompson, is ready and willing to step into the breach if offered the opportunity.

Thompson’s financial credentials and footballing background paint him as an attractive option. Yet anyone who assumes the Scotsman will be Newcastle’s round-ball saviour would appear to have a short memory.

Haven’t we been down this road several times before?

Just wind back the clock to October 2010, when Tinkler was handed Newcastle’s A-League licence. At the time, the overwhelming reaction was relief and gratitude, especially when within a matter of weeks it was announced that the Jets would be hosting a match against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.

Initially, at least, Tinkler was regarded as a godsend.

Ten years earlier, Con Constantine was similarly well received when he bailed out the Newcastle Breakers after the demise of David Hall.

And so on, and so on.

The recurring theme has been that an owner falls on hard times, an alternative emerges to bankroll the club, and the logical assumption is that nobody would volunteer for such a role unless they were sufficiently cashed-up.

But just as Tinkler was something of a mystery man when he took over the Jets, what do we really know of Thompson?

And if Thompson – or any other owner for that matter – was handed control of the club, what measures are in place to guarantee history does not repeat itself?

Thompson may be a successful businessman with football in his blood. But his knowledge of the Australian game, and the Newcastle commercial market, would seem limited. And no matter how good his intentions, it is hard to imagine his No.1 priority will not always be Dundee United.

Sourcing franchise owners has been problematic for FFA since the A-League’s inception.

Most clubs have changed hands at some point. A-League outfits in Auckland, Townsville and Gold Coast have been wound up, perhaps never to return.

High-profile but controversial owners like Tinkler and Clive Palmer have caused a procession of dramas that brought FFA’s due-diligence process into question.

And when a club becomes so dysfunctional that an ownership change is required, FFA is forced to intervene and rebuild everything from scratch.

So what is the solution?

I would suggest some form of start-up deposit, in the form of a bank guarantee, would be useful in ensuring owners conduct their business appropriately.

If and when they decide to move on, if the club is in healthy shape, the deposit is refunded. If not, it is used to pay whatever debts have been incurred, rather than leaving behind a financial mess. Whether that would be enforceable is another matter altogether.

One thing I feel confident in saying is that the Jets need not always be a money pit, whoever owns them. Given the FFA’s annual grant covers the cost of the salary cap, it should not necessarily be an expensive exercise to run a club.

As the Jets showed during their halcyon seasons between 2006 and 2008, when they are challenging for the title everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.

Put a successful team on the park and the club’s 9000-plus members will grow. A full Hunter Stadium can again be a regular sight.

The Asian Cup was a reminder of football’s potential in Our Town.

Build it and they will come, in other words. But somehow, given the bridges he has burned, I can’t see that vision becoming a reality until Tinkler’s tumultuous tenure becomes a fading memory.

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