JOBE Wheelhouse was about to start a training session with one of his academy squads when his mobile phone rang.
Craig Johnston, the former Liverpool star, was on the other end and simply said: “How can I help”.
Johnston, who volunteered to be the guest speaker, was among 460 people who attended a trivia night to raise funds for the Jobe Wheelhouse Football Academy’s tour to Spain and Portugal later this year where they will represent the region in two tournaments.
The trip had been in jeopardy over a financial dispute between Wheelhouse and Sydney businessman Manuel Camara. Wheelhouse, a former Jets captain, had contracted Camara's company, MGC Match Event, to help conduct two tours.
Wheelhouse says he is owed $180,000 from a trip to Spain last October and is chasing $138,000 in installments paid to Camara's company towards the upcoming tour, which departs on June 30.
The dispute, which police are investigating, has has left a number of Hunter families thousands out of pocket.
Wheelhouse has vowed to repay the seven families, comprising 18 people, who have pulled out of the trip and lost money – $45,000 in total.
The trivia night, which raised about $30,000 through an auction and raffles, will help ensure the players receive what they were promised.
“Newcastle has always been a town that gets behind people who are having a rough time,” Wheelhouse said. “You don’t see the extent of it until you are standing up in front of a room of nearly 500 people. It was pretty humbling to have such a good turnout for the kids and the parents, and obviously me.”
Johnston, who was born in Lake Macquarie and is one of Australia’s finest footballers, was interviewed by former Socceroo David Lowe.
“Craig Johnston, who I have met a few times, gave me a call and asked if there was anything he could do,” Wheelhouse said. “He was in the country and offered his help. “I said it would be awesome if he could come to the dinner and inspire the kids in the squad. He is so passionate about Newcastle and Australian football.”
The under-10 and under-11 teams were presented tour bags by Jets players Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Ben Kantarovski, Jason Hoffman and Lachlan Jackson.
“That was one of the highlights of the night,” Wheelhouse said. “The room warmed to the kids. We have all been through a rough trot. I’ll recover and the parents will recover, but if the trip wasn’t to go ahead, the kids are the ones who suffer more than anyone.”
The academy squad will meet Sydney academy Futboltec in a trial on April 24.
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