Culina feels vindicated by Jets fiasco

Former Newcastle head coach Branko Culina says the recent implosion of the Jets has come as little surprise considering the way the club has been run for several years.

Culina spent two years as coach of the Jets but was sensationally sacked by controversial owner Nathan Tinkler, along with his Socceroo son Jason, on the eve of the 2011-2012 A-League season. The axing was over a row over Jason’s marquee contract with the club and his long-term injury.

Culina told FourFourTwo that the current events in Newcastle, including the sacking of five senior players and three members of the coaching staff this week, gives him no satisfaction.

“But it’s probably in some way, I’m pleased this is coming out in the open because for a long while people thought that when Tinkler got rid of me on the eve of the season launch, and Jason, oh yeah we’ve done something wrong because he’s got rid of us,” he said.'

“But I think since we’ve left the club’s only gone down hill, every year it’s gone worse and worse and you can see why. We did nothing wrong.  I was the last coach to get them into the finals. We deserve better than that.

“The latest events are typical of what’s unfortunately a poorly run or ill-advised club. I’m not sure how much Tinkler in the past had to do with a lot of the decisions, including what happened to me.”

Professional Footballers Australia is standing behind the sacked players, who are considering legal action. Football Federation Australia is believed to be getting ready to take over the running of the Jets this weekend.

“It’s not only what Tinkler does to people, the fact that he gets rid of them,” Culina said.

“Some of the decisions that have been made by the people that run that club have destroyed people’s careers. It’s the manner that it’s done. Tinkler as an owner has every right to do what he wants to with the club, along as FFA accept that, but the way some people are dealt with and treated needs to be looked at.

“Now what’s happening, it doesn’t make me happy because I feel for the people of Newcastle. There are a lot of good people in Newcastle and it’s a fabulously sporty town. I loved my time in Newcastle.

“But now with what’s going on, surely it must give people some food for thought to say hold on, what did actually happen with the Culinas? People didn’t want to rock the boat (back in 2011). I know FFA wanted it hush-hush.

“Now what’s happened over the last couple of years with van Egmond as well, now with Stubbins and what’s going on people are now saying Tinkler’s no good. But they didn’t say that back then.”

Culina joined the Jets in January 2009 after Gary van Egmond left the club. He led Newcastle to sixth place in the 2009-2010 A-League season, and a spot in the finals, and a seventh place in the 2010-2011 campaign.

Tinkler took ownership of the Jets from Con Constantine in September 2010.

Culina believes the blame does not just lie with Tinkler but also with previous administration that worked under him. Earlier this month CEO Robbie Middley and chairman Ray Baartz resigned from their positions with the Jets.

“I was warned as soon as Tinkler took over,” the former Sydney FC manager said.

“It didn’t take long for me to find out. I thought I had a good relationship with him but Troy Palmer was always in between and in the end, once you lose direct contact…

“Tinkler and Baartz and Middleby they were the ones driving the place. They know exactly what’s happened. But strange thing is those people are no longer there either. Palmer, Tinkler’s right hand man who was the catalyst of all of this, he’s now gone. Baartz has gone. It’s probably a little bit of karma.

“I had a very close relationship with those Baartz and Middleby, I thought I had. I was responsible for bringing Middleby to the club. Baartzy and I had coffee two or three times a week, and for them to turn around and just play dumb when I got sacked, and not even give me a hint of what was happening, was very disrespectful."

In April 2012 Tinkler tried to hand the Jets’ licence back to FFA. Soon after the club axed its football advisory board that included former Socceroo Joe Senkalski, ex-KB United player Keith Harris and former Matilda skipper Cheryl Salisbury.

The Jets have not made the A-League finals for the past four years and a number of ex-Newcastle players have gone on to star with other A-League clubs, such as Craig Goodwin, Connor Chapman, Labinot Haliti, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Tarek Elrich.

Culina believes things started to go wrong at the Jets when Tinkler took ownership of NRL club the Newcastle Knights.

“When they acquired the Knights I found it extremely difficult to have too much communication with him, it was all done through Troy Palmer,” the 57-year old said.

“Initially Ken Edwards, but then he got dismissed. Troy Palmer took over as the person making all the decisions on his behalf. It was almost like Tinkler got the Knights, which is what he wanted always, I don’t need the Jets anymore.

“I remember we lost Shane Smeltz for a few thousand dollars because the club wasn’t prepared to go to match what Shane was getting at Perth. There was a little talk but no real action.”