No promises: Jets future uncertain as HSG confirm withdrawal

FOOTBALL Federation Australia is confident Newcastle will field a team in next season’s A-League – but stopped short of offering a guarantee – after confirmation yesterday that Hunter Sports Group is relinquishing the Jets’ franchise licence.

HSG announced 11 days ago that they would no longer fund the Jets, citing irreconcilable differences with FFA. There have been attempts behind the scenes this week to negotiate a compromise, but those hopes were shattered yesterday afternoon when HSG released a statement saying peace talks had broken down.

Socceroos legend Mark Bosnich told a luncheon of influential soccer supporters in Newcastle yesterday that FFA had instructed him to convey an ‘‘ironclad guarantee’ that they would have a side to support next season, but Buckley would not go that far.

Asked if he could assure Jets fans that they would have a team to support next season, Buckley replied: ‘‘We’ve said consistently that we will work around the clock to ensure there is a team in Newcastle. There will be a team in Newcastle next season, we’re extremely confident of that ... the region is too steeped in football tradition and passion not to be represented in the A-League.’’

A community model of ownership looms as the most likely solution to secure Newcastle’s A-League future.

The Herald understands FFA has held preliminary discussions with Lake Macquarie businessman Andrew Poole, who last year proposed the ‘‘Patrons’ Trust’’ as an alternative to Nathan Tinkler’s takeover of the Knights.

But Poole apparently has no interest in becoming a lone, Tinkler-style benefactor and believes the Jets need to be owned by the community.

HSG has paid the players and coaching staff until April 30. That gives FFA nine days to sort out an alternative ownership structure before it will have to start picking up the bill.

Yesterday’s breakdown means FFA and Tinkler will now resolve their differences in court, where FFA are expected to sue the billionaire for at least $50million in damages.

HSG chief executive Troy Palmer said yesterday he would ‘‘welcome’’ any legal battle because it would provide ‘‘transparency’’ on the dispute.

HSG alleged that Buckley had ‘‘immediately rejected’’ a list of proposals submitted yesterday that may have led to a resolution.

‘‘This inflexible stance highlights the inequitable position and ongoing discrimination in which the Jets have been placed over the past 18 months,’’ HSG’s statement said. ‘‘The FFA’s mindset of being unwilling to negotiate provides a clear impression that FFA does not want the Newcastle Jets to be part of the football family.’’

Buckley denied that vehemently, saying he received an SMS from HSG chief executive Troy Palmer on Thursday informing him HSG would provide a proposal yesterday.

‘‘No proposal has been submitted and no further contact has been made with FFA,’’ Buckley said.

“HSG embarked on a unilateral breach of contract in the first instance and has given FFA no opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting to take place.

“We are disappointed that no talks have taken place to resolve our differences. The people of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, and the Jets’ players, coaches and staff, have a right to feel betrayed by these actions. FFA reaffirms its position that it does not accept that HSG has the right to return the A-League licence.”

HSG’s media release stated that the club had submitted a four-point proposal, seeking:

● a review of the Jets licence fee;

● the Jason Culina debacle to be ‘‘settled immediately with financial liability being shared equally’’ between the Jets, FFA and Culina;

● an independent taskforce, funded by the Jets, to review the A-League;

● the Jets to retain their licence until June 30, 2020.

FFA officials said that at no time over the past few weeks had Tinkler spoken directly with Buckley or FFA supremo Frank Lowy, preferring to rely on Palmer as an intermediary.

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