It's been a fair old week for the Newcastle Jets. It began with salvation from an unlikely source – a crew of rival A-League club owners – who will be paying the bills for the foreseeable future after Martin Lee's expulsion as chairman.
On Friday night, it will end with a showdown against a player and a coach who stand accused by the Hunter faithful of betraying the club in its darkest hour.
Bernie Ibini will face the Newcastle Jets for the first time since leaving the club on Friday night.Credit:Getty
There won't be much more than a few thousand fans at McDonald Jones Stadium – and the ones there will be wearing masks in line with the latest advice from NSW Health.
But there will be no masking the anger and rage they plan on venting towards Carl Robinson and Bernie Ibini, who left them to join the Western Sydney Wanderers on the eve of the new season, and it should make for a tense, tinderbox atmosphere.
Robinson said his piece on Wednesday, admitting Jets fans were entitled to boo him if they wanted, but continuing to hint they might think differently if they "knew the situation" around his shock departure three months ago – although he has, so far, declined to reveal the real reasons.
Ibini has elected not to speak to media about playing his old club. His former teammates haven't heard a peep from him, either, since his controversial departure just before Christmas, which prompted allegations from chief executive Lawrie McKinna that he was "taking the piss" and using mental health as a lever to get out of his contract and follow Robinson – the coach he played under at Vancouver Whitecaps three years ago and the sole reason why he signed for the Jets in the first place.
I can get why they'd be pissed off with everything. We've gained, they've lost – of course [they're] going to be sour.
"The way it was done, I don't think was great," said Roy O'Donovan, the Irish striker who felt he was developing a handy attacking partnership with Ibini across Newcastle's last few games of last season.
"It was frustrating from a players' point of view. But I don't know what happened behind the scenes, in the boardroom, what advice he's been given. It wasn't ideal [but] he's got what he's wanted, really, which is a move back home to Sydney.
"It's maybe a bit awkward for him as well – with everything that's gone on he just went to ground a little bit. But the important thing for us is to make sure that he's a passenger in the game and we keep him quiet, because that's the only way we can prove that he made the wrong move."
Ibini can expect to be jeered every time he goes near the ball – and perhaps there will be a little extra force in the tackles coming his way. But his new teammates say he is ready for that sort of treatment.
Carl Robinson once pledged his loyalty to the Newcastle Jets, but walked out on the club amid continued off-field uncertainty.Credit:Getty
"You take it as a positive," said defender Daniel Georgievski, a former Jets player who switched to the Wanderers last season.
"The more they hate you, the more that means they loved you when you were there. Bernie will probably cop a bit of stick but he's been around football for a while. It'll be water off a duck's back.
"I think he'll cop more stick when we play Sydney FC to tell you the truth. But he's prepared for it. It's part of football."
Georgievski can also understand why Jets supporters now hate Robinson, who has put more than a few noses out of joint in the A-League with his aggressive recruitment strategies.
Fans have delighted in digging up a quote from Robinson's first press conference as Newcastle coach in February, in which he stated his long-term loyalty: "The last thing I want to do is try and get a job, apply for a job, accept a job, then three months later tell [them] I wasn’t happy and I want to leave, because that wasn't fair. That's not who I am as a person."
In Robinson's defence, circumstances have changed significantly since then, including the onset of a certain novel coronavirus.
"I can get why they'd be pissed off with everything. But that's football in my eyes," Georgievski said.
"Either they get rid of you or you choose to leave for better pastures. It's really a personal choice at the end of the day. We've gained, they've lost – of course [they're] going to be sour."
O'Donovan suspects Robinson was promised the Jets would be sold early in his reign, but after the transaction stalled for months, chose to activate a clause in his contract permitting him to leave to seek security for himself and his family.
"It was a shock for everybody – I enjoyed playing under him, I think we all did, it was a nice style of football that the Wanderers will enjoy playing under," he said.
"But we have to use what we know about his tactics against him and try and get three points for the Jets. Our supporters are definitely looking forward to having their knives sharpened, ready for everyone to come back here and give them helter. I'm sure there's going to be plenty of boos and wolf-whistling in the air."
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