FORMER Jets coach Branko Culina said yesterday that the future of the A-League club was always ‘‘clouded’’ once Nathan Tinkler gained ownership of the Knights.
Culina and his son and former marquee player Jason Culina were sacked by Tinkler just days before the season kicked off in October.
The ongoing insurance dispute between Hunter Sports Group and Football Federation Australia over Jason Culina’s long-term knee injury has since been one of major grievances between the organisations.
Tinkler is a self-confessed rugby league man and admitted he had little interest in soccer before he took over the Jets’ A-League licence from former owner Con Constantine in September 2010.
Branko Culina told Fox Sports yesterday that when Knights members voted to hand Tinkler the NRL club in March last year it damaged the Jets.
‘‘I know people might be surprised when I say the acquisition of the Newcastle Knights, once that was completed, the future of the Jets was somewhat clouded after that,’’ Culina said yesterday.
‘‘There were questions asked whether the Newcastle Jets might have just been a stepping stone in acquiring the Knights. I certainly as a coach felt at that time the relationship we had prior to Newcastle Knights coming on board and after was not as good as it was.’’
Culina dismissed the notion that HSG’s dispute with the FFA over Jason’s insurance was a valid reason to abandon the Jets.
‘‘When you want to hand your licence back to FFA you’ve got to come up with some excuses, and that’s probably one of them,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m not surprised by the decision after what happened to Jason and myself three days before the season kicked off. I’m not surprised by anything any more, particularly in regards to Newcastle.’’
Culina coached the Jets for two seasons and said he would hate to see Newcastle without an A-League club.
‘‘There is enormous passion for football in Newcastle,’’ Culina said.
‘‘They’ve gone through some real difficult times, but despite all that, they’ve always supported their football team. There’s no doubt there’s a huge market for football in Newcastle and it would be a real pity if there was not football team in the A-League from Newcastle.’’
Fox Sports commentator and former Newcastle Breakers striker Andy Harper said whatever happened the FFA must keep the Jets alive.
‘‘FFA can’t leave it, they can’t walk away from it,’’ Harper told Fox Sports.
‘‘This is not the Gold Coast, with respect to that community and their fan base, they can’t do another North Queensland. Newcastle is a totally separate discussion point.
‘‘If the FFA think they can get away without Newcastle in the A-League, they are kidding themselves.’’
He said the ‘‘fallout’’ in Newcastle from Tinkler’s decision had been ‘‘catastrophic’’.
‘‘The fans are very voluble with their disappointment with what has transpired because they’re the collateral damage in this.
‘‘They’ve been brought to the table as fans to support the team, they’ve done that in the second-largest numbers in the country for this competition, they’ve got great membership.
‘‘They love football in that part of the world.
‘‘So football ain’t going anywhere from Newcastle.’’
He said the willingness of fans to get on board was hugely significant.
‘‘It is marketable, it is ready to be exploited commercially. There is no way that Newcastle won’t be in the competition. It’s a nonsense proposition.’’