Newcastle: Centre of the Universe

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Newcastle is the centre of the Australian footballing universe.

Yeah, you heard me. While Adelaide are flying high with an undefeated start to the season and champions Syndey prop up the table with just one win to their name, it’s the mining and student mecca of Newcastle that is proving to be the epicentre of all that is newsworthy, controversial and straight-up whacky in the Aussie game.

After enduring a couple of weeks on life support and a juicy ownership saga, as reported in my previous blog, the coastal town 100 miles north of Sydney has again been making headlines with a series of weird and wonderful stories this week.

Firstly, after ignoring the FFA model of recruitment by employing some people who actually have a background in the game, the Newcastle Jets made the rather impressive announcement that they were trialling a former England striker with a goal a game record. Impressive until you realised it was Francis Jeffers and that it was one goal in one game.

After the shock discovery that Jeffers still plays football, is still paid to do so and is still in his 20s, it didn’t seem like the worst of moves for the Jets, languishing as they are at the bottom of the table.

If signed, Jeffers would look to form a partnership up front with fellow Pom Michael Bridges and then all coach Branko Culina would need to do was sign Kieron Dyer, Carl Cort and Jason Euell to complete the ‘Nearly Men of England circa 2000’ team.

While we’re on the subject of washed-up England players, the Jets also announced they would be playing a friendly against David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy, scheduled to take place on November 27. After Beckham's... sorry, the Galaxy’s hugely successful tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2007, new Newcastle owner Nathan TInkler looked to have pulled off a coup both in terms of ticket sales and a shot in the arm for local tourism.

‘Looked to’, you note. This is where the weird and wacky bits kick in. You see, the Jets don’t actually own their stadium, sub-letting it from rugby league team, the Newcastle Knights. In a move in no way dispelling the notion that those involved in Australian rugby league are a bunch of brain-dead Luddites, the Knights decided to stage a motocross event two weeks ago and then cover up the extent of the damage to the field, reported to be $500,000, by having groundsmen paint the worst bits green.

The damage was only discovered by Jets’ officials on Tuesday, prompting the FFA suits to declare the ground unfit for play and cancel the next day’s match. Opponents Queensland Fury were, erm, furious with the situation, especially as the squad were on the plane heading south when the announcement was made.

CEO Rabieh Krayem said: “Whoever is in charge of the Newcastle Knights for hiring out the stadium should be held responsible for this and if they worked for me, they wouldn’t anymore.” (While the Fury game has yet to be rescheduled, Sunday’s home game between the Jets and Melbourne Heart has been moved three hours up the road to Port Macquarie – with free entrance to anyone wanting to attend.)

It was the final nail in the coffin for what has been a troublesome fixture for FFA. With Fury coach Frank Straka and assistant Stuart McClaren both suspended for the game, North Queensland had enlisted the help of Mark Bosnich to mentor the side in their absence. Now a host for Fox Sports, Bozza is gaining a new generation of fans for his maniacal laugh and a hairstyle that looks like shredded wheat.

However, after intially agreeing to the move, FFA’s list of restrictions as to what Bosnich could and couldn’t do with the team – even down to where he sat on the bench – made his participation impossible. It was a baffling decision from the FFA, who hid behind “guidelines” and “restrictions” rather than letting a legend of the Australian game generate a bit of much needed positive press.

Just as well they cancelled the game then.