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Newcastle, Hunter needs the Jets, says long-time club volunteer

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The Newcastle Jets must be saved at any cost.

That’s the opinion of the A-League club’s long-time volunteer and Hunter Valley Football president Frank Klaassen as the organisation’s future hangs in the balance.

Speculation has been rife throughout the region since the chairman of the Australian Professional Leagues, Stephen Conroy, admitted the APL – the body that governs the ALM and ALW competitions – was no longer in a financial position to support the venture.

He also expressed concerns over the slow process of negotiations after KordaMentha’s appointment to handle the sale of the Jets in October.

Since 2021, following the pandemic, Newcastle’s received its funding from a consortium of fellow A-League owners – Western Sydney Wanderers, Sydney FC, Western United and apparently Wellington Phoenix.

That occurred after the licence was stripped from previous owner Martin Lee.

Reno Piscopo produced an outstanding performance at McDonald Jones Stadium at the weekend. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

But, with the quartet now having second thoughts about propping the club up any further, Klaassen believes it would be a major blow to lose the Jets altogether.

“It’s hard to make out what is really happening,” he said.

“You hear rumours and I’ve been involved with some team meetings where CEO Shane Mattiske’s spoken to everyone.

“It’d be a devastating setback if the Jets folded.

“The organisation’s not only super-important for Newcastle but also the Hunter.

“It’s somewhere for all young players to aspire to represent.

“Many would rather play here [in Newcastle] than go to the big cities because we enjoy living in a ‘country’ area.

“It’s relaxed, more laid-back than Sydney or Melbourne.

“Where would guys like Angus Thurgate be if they didn’t have an opportunity at the Jets?

“He arrived from Port Macquarie on the Mid-North Coast because it provided a pathway for him.

“There’ve been several people from Coffs Harbour, who’ve come down over the years, too.

“Playing for Newcastle made sense to them.

“I coached the rep sides from Port Macquarie from 1997 until I came down here in 2004, so I know there’s great talent in the region.

“That will be lost if the Jets go.”

A popular figure around the organisation, Klaassen began his affiliation with Newcastle way back in 2007, via his late wife Marilyn.

“I started when the girls first kicked off with the W-League,” he said.

“Marilyn was heavily involved but, sadly, she’s since passed away.

“Then I became a stretcher bearer, which I continued up until the year before last.

“Former Socceroo Eli Babalj came up to me a while ago and said” ‘We’re going to Tamworth, do you want to come?’

“So, I drove up with Garry O’Dell, another volunteer, to help them out for the weekend.

“Afterwards, Eli asked me: ‘How much time have you got, Frank?’

“I replied: ‘How much time do you want?’ he added with a laugh.

“That’s how it started… and I’m now going into my third year in this [current] role.

“Honestly, I love it; everyone’s fantastic.

“Ironically, I followed Newcastle in the EPL, so naturally the name stuck with me.

“However, I’ve always been involved in football, from refereeing to coaching.

“As for being a volunteer, this is my 51st year… that’s a long time.

“Working with the Jets is just a follow-on now that I’m retired.

“You need something to do; you can’t sit on your backside all day watching TV.”

The Newcastle Jets celebrate Sunday’s win over Sydney FC. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

Due to his close proximity to the “inner sanctum”, Klaassen admitted he’d been “thoroughly impressed” by Newcastle in 2023/24.

Rob Stanton’s men have been highly-competitive in the ALM, notching the scalps of the Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC, while Ryan Campbell’s women will contest the ALW play-offs this weekend.

“The boys’ results don’t reflect their effort,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“They’ve taken so many matches down to the wire, I firmly believe they should be in the top six.

“And, they could have achieved that with one or two more senior players.

“But, there’s no money.

“I’m sure Rob would’ve loved a couple of experienced guys, too, however the situation doesn’t allow it.

“So, he’d be frustrated as are all of us.

“Full credit to the boys though, they’re always upbeat, there’s no doubt about that.

“Obviously, after a loss, the changeroom is a bit quiet.

“However, come Monday or Tuesday, whenever training restarts, everyone’s upbeat again.

“I’ve been in changerooms where everybody’s sad, wearing long faces, reflecting on a bad result.

“It sort of hasn’t been like that here.

“They’ve remained positive… there’s not one player there who isn’t putting an effort in.

“Then you look at Ryan and the girls; they’ve done brilliantly.

“Losing Gary van Egmond mid-season could have led to a major disruption.

“But, instead, they’ve flourished, winning 10 of their last 13 games.

“Their most recent victory was an 8-0 thumping of Adelaide United – the third-biggest triumph in A-League’s history, ALM or ALW.

“There are so many things that the women don’t get that the men have.

“Again, they just get on with the job.

“And, is the ALW entertaining?

“You betcha, it couldn’t be more popular at the moment.

“I think they can knock over Western United on Saturday; and, if they do, the Maitland Regional Sportsground should be crowded the following weekend.”

Frank Klaassen in front of the Newcastle Jets honour board. Photo: Rod Thompson

So, in Klaassen’s eyes, the Jets need to be saved at any cost.

“Absolutely, 100%, they’ve got to stay,” he said.

“It they fold, the likelihood of them returning would be very remote.

“It’d take years, and a lot of desperation, to bring them back.

“It’s sad really, Con Constantine was the original owner… I did a lot of business with his brother Mike when I worked at Saddingtons, so we spoke a lot about the club, where he referred to it as a ‘drain without a plug’.

“You’ve got to have plenty of money to spend, to support it, but that’s just how it is.

“Newcastle’s identity is an issue, too.

“I believe the biggest problem, in my opinion, is the lack of media exposure, especially in print over many, many years.

“You’d open the newspaper and, from the back, it’s rugby league, AFL, rugby league for the first six or so pages.

“Football seems an afterthought.

“Because of that, I don’t even bother buying a newspaper anymore.

“And, if I feel like that, other people would as well.

“At the end of the day, the Jets deserve as much support and coverage as the Knights; they’re representing Newcastle at the highest level.

“We should be proud of them.”

Newcastle’s ALM side faces the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday 13 April from 5.30pm.

The high-flying ALW team will travel to the Regional Football Facility Tarneit for its semi-final showdown with Western United on the same day.

That showdown kicks off at 6.30pm.

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