Nathan Tinkler is a paradox: a big man with big achievements in a short period of time, but a man who shuns publicity, preferring to act rather than speak.
Tinkler emerged from obscurity to amass a $441 million fortune, earned over two years of the some of most astute investment in the history of the Australian mining industry.
The 34-year-old converted his coal dollars into an equine passion that has taken Australian horse racing by storm. His Patinack racing and breeding operation is a major player in an industry dominated by the Gulf billions of Darley and the Irish colossus Coolmore.
Now Tinkler is in charge of the Newcastle Jets in what the football community hopes will represent a long term commitment to the club’s survival and growth.
Exactly what Tinkler will bring to the club and the Hunter football region in general, apart from substantial financial clout, is the crucial question and one that has a sharper focus given Con Constantine’s disappointing exit and a litany of uncertainty that shrouds the A League.
Not for the first time, I spoke to Nathan Tinkler this week. I share a passion in horse racing and was part of a group which bought a Tinkler/Patinack horse a few months ago. Oh well, the dream lives on!
Tinkler described his move into the A League as an “act of community” and “a duty to Newcastle and the Hunter region.” He said: “with over 50,000 registered kids playing football in the Hunter, I could not stand by and see the Newcastle Jets fold.”
Strong, emotive and direct, Tinkler spoke of a proud region and the importance of engaging the local kids and building from the grassroots up.
In just a few words, Tinkler, a young man with no football pedigree, summed up the missing link in our game between the grassroots and the A-League: converting the youth, football’s most innocent and passionate group into supporters and stakeholders of the A League. That remains the greatest challenge in the Australian professional game.
The very thing that Tinkler has touched on is the glaring weakness in the A League, engagement. For this to happen FFA must gain control of the grassroots of football from the State Federations.
According to an FFA insider, that is close to happening, but holding up the process is an agreement with Football NSW.
Let’s hope the greater good of the game can rise above the politics which weighs it down.
But control is one thing, what you do with it is quite another. It’s the make or break of the game down under.
Let’s hope FFA makes the hard calls for the betterment of the game and starts really listening to what the football community wants.
Tinkler is the first to admit that football is more an interest than a passion. But he was also quick to point out that unlike his predecessor Con Constantine, he doesn’t want any voice in the football decisions of the club.
But Nathan Tinkler did not amass his fortune by suffering fools, he would not commit to a long term ownership of the club and although he didn’t say it directly, I suspect there will be a testing out period of FFA and the direction it may take in the most trying period of the A League’s short history.
It’s not good enough to ask whether Newcastle simply wants an A League club .
The challenge ahead is to re-engage Novocastrians. “Newcastle deserves a top class A-League team and we are keen to help rebuild the club for the city,” said Tinkler, who’s rebuild refers to the loss of faith among the corporate sector and fans of the Newcastle Jets.
Constantine invested his money, 15 million dollars over 10 years, amid sweeping changes in the game. He helped bring a national title to a football-proud region but in my view, his business conduct in recent months has tarnished that legacy.
Make no mistake, the A League needs owners like Tinkler.
Why? Because he has community in his make up, not because he feels he has to, or contrives to, but because that is who he is. But community alone won’t see Nathan Tinkler remain as a long term player.
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