Lawrie McKinna says Newcastle fans used to chuck pies at him – now the incoming CEO of the Hunter outfit says the ingredients are in place to reinvigorate the city’s Hyundai A-League club.
McKinna is relishing being back in football as the incoming CEO of Newcastle Jets.
He believes under the club’s new owners the Ledman Group and coach Scott Miller the club can make a tilt at the Hyundai A-League Finals Series next season.
“And if you do that then year two you should be cemented in the semis and year three you should be challenging [for the title and ACL qualification],” he told www.a-league.com.au.
After a stunning start to last season, Newcastle dropped off the pace and eventually finished eighth, 11 points off sixth spot.
It was their sixth consecutive season without finals football after winning the Championship in 2008.
Over the next few weeks, McKinna will take over from the respected David Eland as Newcastle Jets CEO as the Hunter outfit transition from FFA ownership to that of Chinese businessman Martin Lee and his Ledman Group, announced Tuesday at Hunter Stadium.
Qualifying for the ACL within a three-year period is a stated goal of Lee, something he spoke about with passion at the launch.
“Where as in China, it’s going to take 100 years to qualify for the ACL. You’ve got a one in ten chance in Australia,” said McKinna.
“Jets have been there before and that’s his [Lee’s] goal. You have to have targets. The fans want to hear realistic goals and in my opinion that’s a realistic goal.”
McKinna played a pivotal role in bringing the parties together over recent months utilising his contacts in China where he had brief coaching stints with Chengdu Blades and Chongqing Lifan in 2011 and 2012.
The charismatic Scottish-born Aussie brings a wealth of football know-how, passion and business experience after coaching the Jets’ rivals Central Coast into an A-League force in the first five years of the league.
He later parlayed his popularity in the community and passion for the region to become the elected Mayor of Gosford before a recent amalgamation of councils ended his tenure in local politics.
“When I was asked about the job I didn’t even think about [the Mariners connection]. I was like ‘yeah, because it’s a football job’. It’s me back in football, something I love,” he said.
“It happens to be against the Mariners biggest rivals but it’s not an issue.
“I did my time down there and moved on, I’ve done my time as Mayor and moved on and now I’m CEO of the Jets and that’s my focus.
“This is a club that hasn’t been in the finals for five or six years and they’re getting over 9000 members.
“The potential here is huge.”
And that focus will be on working with Miller (who’s currently overseas), building a strong business model and continuing the community work done by the club last season as they looked to move on from previous owners.
“Over the last couple of months I’ve been talking to Scott quite a bit.
“I met his mum and dad in Melbourne when I came out to Australia 30 years ago because they were Rangers fans because quite a few of my mates down there are Rangers fans and are mates with his mum and dad.
“I don’t know him well but had good dialogue with him over the last few months.
McKinna added: “It’s a business and you can’t just keep losing money. One thing is we have to narrow that gap financially because obviously Martin Lee knows he’s going to have to invest in the club but you can’t expect him to come in with an open chequebook.
“One of our big goals is to engage the community, the local fans and the Newcastle community with the club again… in the past that’s maybe been lost a little bit and that’s business-wise as well.
“It’s my job to reconnect that and do the good work that David Eland and the group did this year under tough circumstances.
“It’s important that engagement happens for the fans, that’s a big thing for me because I want to see this place buzzing again.
“Like it used to when I used to come out here [with the Mariners] and people would chuck cold pies at me.
“If it had been a hot pie I’d have probably ate it!”