AN emotional Con Constantine said he had been stabbed in the back yesterday after Football Federation Australia handed ownership of the Newcastle Jets to Hunter Valley mining magnate and racing tycoon Nathan Tinkler.
Mr Constantine broke down in tears several times during a 40-minute press conference in which he accused FFA chairman Frank Lowy of having a hidden agenda to take the club from him.
The governing body has been paying the operational costs of the Jets for the past four weeks and gave Mr Constantine until Monday to convince them he had the capacity to fund the club in the long term.
FFA chief executive Ben Buckley said yesterday the governing body remained unconvinced and had no option but to change owners.
"We've met with them on several occasions in the last few weeks but it didn't bring about the level of security and guarantees that we required," Mr Buckley said.
But Mr Constantine accused the FFA of plotting his downfall and double dealing.
"I said 'Frank if I go, what are you going to do with the club?' He said they would probably close it down. This was on Monday afternoon at about 4pm," Mr Constantine said yesterday.
"I get a phone call from him on Tuesday afternoon and he tells me they had a buyer.
"He said words to the effect, that if I go without making a lot of noise with the media, I will look after you with the Western Sydney club. I told him I was not interested. Newcastle or nothing."
Mr Constantine, who BRW magazine estimated last year was worth $200 million, had asked FFA for a $1 million loan which he intended to pay back by selling some of his assets.
"I was very transparent. I told them everything and anything they wanted to know," he said.
"There is more to it behind the scenes. I can't tell you what took place but maybe Frank Lowy doesn't want me to be here.
"There was no reason for FFA to pull the pin unless they were dealing with Tinkler over the last few weeks."
An FFA spokesman said Mr Constantine had been given every opportunity to hand back the license in a respectful manner and chose not to.
"He was left in no uncertain terms that if he didn't agree to a mutual termination the license would be taken back," the spokesman said.Mr Constantine was adamant yesterday that his financial problems were short term and brushed off rumours he was under pressure from the Australian Tax Office and his bank.
He said he intended to sell some of his properties and said suggestions there would not be enough proceeds left from a fire sale after other creditors were satisfied to fund the Jets was "pure spin".
He also said he had planned to announce yesterday that he would offer 49 per cent of the club for community ownership.
At least three times yesterday, he could not speak for tears as the enormity of the morning's events hit home.
The owner of Parklea Markets has poured $15 million into the Jets since forming the club out of the ashes of the financially crippled Newcastle Breakers in 2000.
"I love it," Mr Constantine said.
"If I didn't love what I do, I wouldn't be here."
Mr Constantine insisted he had "no hard feeling towards" Mr Tinkler and warned that the new owner should be prepared to lose $3 million this season.
"All my problems are with the FFA not Tinkler or anyone else," he said.
"If Tinkler is willing to hold it and move on with it, I congratulate him. But if he is going to take it on for the short term and drop it, trust me, you will have a problem on your hands. Once you lose it [the club] it will take a long time to get it back.
"I have been in football all my life I know the game and understand it. For someone to come in from the outside, it looks easy but it isn't.
"He isn't a football man, he is a horse man. But I'll tell you something, horses don't talk back, footballers do."
Mr Buckley said FFA would start working immediately with Mr Tinkler to "broaden the support base of the club and engage the entire football and business community of the Hunter region in a campaign to secure its future in the A-League for many years to come".
Mr Constantine said he would be prepared to reinvest in the Jets down the track but "not while Frank Lowy and the FFA board are there".
"Autonomy has to be brought in," he said. "The clubs have to run their own show."
Jets chief executive John Tsatsimas said FFA had indicated that administration staff would be carried over under the new ownership.
Mr Constantine had signed a 10-year participation agreement in August.
He had always operated the Jets on a shoestring budget, but struck trouble four weeks ago when he was unable to pay player and club wages and other operational costs.
With players unable to meet financial obligations and club debts mounting, the FFA came to the rescue with a $300,000 financial lifeline. That finished on Saturday but was extended to ensure the team were able to travel to the Gold Coast for last night's game.
The Jets administration staff are expected to remain until at least the home clash against Melbourne Victory on Saturday night.