THE pain was etched on the face of Jets chief executive Robbie Middleby after delivering the bad news to players yesterday.
In his two years of football club administration the 36-year-old has overseen the collapse of the North Queensland Fury and now the Jets.
But for the home-grown Socceroo, the Hunter Sports Group’s decision to hand back its A-League licence to Football Federation Australia has cut the deepest.
Middleby delivered the news to the players at 10.30am at Ray Watt Oval, at Newcastle University, while Hunter Sports Group chief executive Troy Palmer fronted a media conference at Crowne Plaza.
Palmer arrived an hour later and addressed the players, coaches and support staff and told them their contracts would be honoured and HSG would help them find new clubs.
Jets captain Jobe Wheelhouse has been at the Jets since season one in 2005-06 and was livid yesterday at the news.
‘‘It’s a bit of a joke and something we really didn’t see coming,’’ Wheelhouse said.
‘‘They’ve obviously kept it pretty close-knit and it’s not something they would have decided overnight, which is the worst thing.’’
Wheelhouse is a Toronto-Awaba junior and said the decision by Nathan Tinkler to hand back the A-League licence would damage football in the Hunter.
‘‘We’ve got the second most members in the competition with a great supporter base,’’ he said. ‘‘I know he’s [Tinkler] known from things he’s done in the past to be a ruthless man. And that’s fair enough if he’s been treated badly, but it’s not fair on the players and the club.’’
Middleby said he was told only of the decision on Monday evening.
‘‘Obviously they’re [the players] in shock with it, which I think everyone who loves the game is,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s a hard time, not just for Newcastle, but Australian football in general.’’
Jets front man Ryan Griffiths said Middleby was emotional when delivering the bad news.
‘‘Robbie has just come in and explained what happened and he was almost in tears,’’ Griffiths said.
‘‘He couldn’t really tell us what happened. It took him like five minutes to tell us what happened.’’
While bitterly disappointed about the Jets’ plight, Middleby said differences with the FFA had made running the club problematic.
There has been little time for Middleby to weigh up his own future, but he said: ‘‘I’m passionate about the game and I’m passionate about the area.
‘‘I was born here, my wife was born here and my kids have been brought up here and I’ve had soccer or football in my blood and it’s hard to walk away from.’’
Griffiths signed a two-year contract extension in February after he knocked back lucrative offers to return to the Chinese Super League.
‘‘I wanted to win a championship with Newcastle because I knew it was going in the right direction,’’ Griffiths said.
‘‘That’s why I threw away those offers I’d been given.’’