Fans rally in support of Jets

‘‘WE will not be ignored’’ is the message from Jets fans all over Newcastle preparing to rally outside Hunter Stadium on Friday, April 20, in a show of support for their team.

And Newcastle soccer legend Ray Baartz is confident Newcastle United will survive after a crisis meeting with Football Federation Australia (FFA) officials in Sydney yesterday.

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The former Socceroo was joined by Novocastrians Keith Harris and Neil Jameson at the round-table and said FFA chief executive Ben Buckley was adamant he wanted a Newcastle team in the A-League.

The meeting was held 24 hours after club owner Nathan Tinkler’s decision to hand back the Jets’ licence to the FFA citing an ‘‘untenable relationship’’ with the sport’s governing body.

The three wise men of Newcastle soccer were all members of the Jets’ advisory board, but Baartz emphasised the trio met with the FFA of their own accord.

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‘‘I think we will have a team in Newcastle next year and it will be the Newcastle Jets after the meeting we had with the FFA today,’’ Baartz said.

‘‘Ben Buckley and the FFA were aware of the tradition of Newcastle football and the message I got was they would leave no stone unturned in a bid to get a Newcastle team in the A-League.

‘‘That is only my personal view, but the meeting was very positive and they even said they would attempt to discuss the situation with the Hunter Sports Group (HSG) if they were interested.’’

The FFA did not outline any plans to the travelling trio, only to say they would explore all avenues to get Newcastle into the 2012-13 A-League season.

That is good news for the dedicated. What began as the seed of an idea on social media yesterday morning attracted the attention of players and supporters alike, and by the end of the day tens of thousands were encouraged to attend next week’s show of support.

Instigator Bryce McCarter said fans wanted to make Nathan Tinkler, HSG and FFA stand up and take notice.

‘‘It’s not just a football club that’s being affected, this is 10,000 ticketed members of the Jets,’’ he said.

‘‘It is a whole community that is affected by this.

‘‘I think Nathan Tinkler himself has to face the community that he told he purchased the Jets for.

‘‘I think ... he’s got a lot of explaining to do.

‘‘Citing the Jason Culina debacle and the fact he had to pay a little bit more than other clubs to get the licence, it’s not good enough.’’

The blame was not all directed at Tinkler, or HSG.

McCarter said perhaps concerns raised by former Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer about the FFA and its handling of the A-League were dismissed too quickly, while many others pointed the finger exclusively at the FFA.

Fans were not united on who was more at fault, or what to do about it.

President of the Jets’ Squadron Tim Verschelden was taking more of a wait-and-see approach and was uncertain about attending the rally.

‘‘Yes, a fans’ rally is a good idea, but it has to be for a good reason and at the moment no one knows what’s going on,’’ he said.

‘‘We have to be doing the right thing and that’s where we need a bit of control about what we do.

‘‘We have held meetings at the club with some of the people from the football club, and we are still trying to get some answers.

‘‘We have spoken with players, we have spoken with HSG and we have spoken with the Jets and are still waiting for some feedback from the FFA.

‘‘At the moment the licence is in limbo. The HSG has handed it back, but the FFA didn’t take the catch. Until someone makes the next move no one knows what’s going to happen.’’

The HSG is owned by Tinkler, who owns and operates the Newcastle Knights through the group.

Knights chairman Paul Harragon said the club’s future was assured despite Tinkler’s decision to severe ties with the Jets.

The decision to dump the region’s soccer flagship caused chaos among Newcastle supporters when it was announced on Tuesday.

Jets administration staff were still actively working in their various roles yesterday, but several were unsure what to expect in the coming days.

HSG has dual sponsorship arrangements in place for the Jets and the Knights with Newcastle health fund NIB and rail companies QR National and Westrac.

NIB chief executive and managing director Mark Fitzgibbon expressed ‘‘great disappointment’’ at HSG’s decision to hand back the A-League licence.

‘‘Nevertheless, NIB understands the commercial realities HSG confronts in funding a loss-making venture,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon said.

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