NEWCASTLE'S largest senior cricket competition is in crisis following a bitter power struggle that has split the organisation amid allegations of bullying, financial mismanagement and lack of transparency.
Founded in 1921, Newcastle City and Suburban Cricket Association (NCSCA) - which has 110 teams and 2450 members - is in disarray after a series of clashes between the old powers that have been running the game for years, and an emerging power bloc that is pushing for greater financial and administrative transparency.
In recent months, a bitter internal free-for all has erupted over the social cricket competition's financials, resulting in two board members - part of the faction pushing for change - being summonsed to appear before the judiciary, for administrative deeds, and being handed lengthy bans from the game and sacked from the board.
The battle has been fought in the boardroom, on Facebook and in the judiciary.
Both former board members told the Newcastle Herald they were "targeted" for asking too many questions about the association's finances and spending, an allegation NCSCA president Phil Northey strongly denies.
"I can't discuss the judiciary matters because they are still ongoing, but they were a little bit more than administrative issues," he said.
"Everything in relation to the finances was above board and in accordance with with the act. Nothing is missing and everything is 100 per cent correct."
Sacked board member Roy Capitao, who played NCSCA cricket for 25 years before being banned by the judiciary for two years in August, said he actively agitated for a financial audit because one hadn't been done since 2004.
"Anytime I asked about the finances or what was happening about an audit it was like World War III," he said.
"I was asking a lot of questions, wanting explanations and justifications for what was being done and how members' money was being spent, and it put me offside with some people."
The Newcastle Herald has learned the simmering feud came to a head in March, when a group of disillusioned members established a Newcastle City and Suburban Cricket Association Players Page on Facebook to discuss concerns about how the association was being run.
The open page attracted more than 550 members in less than a week and, at times, was highly critical of the management of the association and started calling for a financial audit of the books.
In response, the board called an "open forum" in May - that attracted about 40 members - that promised to answer all questions.
A player, who asked not to be identified, said he expected to be able to view the financial records, but they were not made available.
"We were told we could ask anything and everything would all be clarified, but that just didn't happen," he said. "It made the situation worse."
Amid a backdrop of falling player and club numbers, and growing ill-feeling between some players and the association's board, two longtime members - Daniel Saunders and Andrew Kelly - ran for board positions in August, forcing the associations' first management committee election in more than 20 years for the positions of registrar and secretary.
Mr Kelly said the campaigners and their supporters regarded it as the only way to ensure a list of concerns about what was perceived as previous boards' "lack of transparency" was addressed.
"We both got elected to the board and I thought it was a great opportunity to make things open, so any concerns people had could be addressed," he said.
One of the first orders of business was to conduct a financial audit, that was carried out by Bottrell Business Consultants.
Association documents seen by the Newcastle Herald, reveal an audit had not been carried out since 2004. Under the organisation's constitution, a financial audit should be done annually.
Bank and petty cash statements obtained by the Herald reveal that in August the not-for-profit association, that survives primarily off members' registration fees, had about $96,000 in the bank.
A board member, who asked not to be identified, said questions remained unanswered about expenditure because there were minimal receipts and records kept for more than a decade.
From March last year to August, there was more than $3000 spent at Bunnings, almost $500 at Super Cheap Auto and numerous purchases at McDonalds, KFC, 7-Eleven, cafes, Club Macquarie, BWS, Coles, Woolworths and Subway.
In six months there was more than $1700 spent at Ezimetal, Raymond Terrace.
"No-one is saying that anyone has done anything wrong, we just want things to be transparent so everything is clear," the board member said.
"At the very least we need to tidy things up so proper records are kept of how members' funds are spent."
In a letter sent out to clubs and players earlier this month, following the completion of the financial audit, Mr Northey said the association was considered by NSW Fair Trading as a "Tier 2 association", that does not require financial statements to be audited.
"The constitution of the NCSCA does require an audit to be completed," he wrote.
"Therefore, the lack of an audit being completed for many years while not contravening NSW Fair Trading requirements, has not met the requirements of our constitution... We are pleased to say that, as a Tier 2 Association under reduced disclosure requirements, the association has passed."
He went further to detail a raft of changes to be made to the association's financial accountability as part of recommendations from the auditor.
"While there have been no funds unaccounted for, there are a number of long-standing practices approved by previous boards concerning accounting procedures, reimbursements, honorariums and meal/fuel allowances that need to be change," Mr Northey wrote.
"The current board is committed to ensuring we meet current standards and the expectations of our members."
Mr Kelly, who was spectacularly handed a five-year ban from the game last Friday, said despite the audit findings, there were still many members who felt the association had "lost its way".
A 36-year veteran of NCSCA, he was banned by the association's judiciary for trying to access information about what had been purchased on the organisation's Bunnings' account.
Events in the still-murky affair are disputed and Mr Kelly plans to appeal the decision, but concedes he "stupidly" used a false name when he tried, as secretary of the association, to gain online access to view what was purchased on the organisation's recently closed Bunnings account.
Several members pointed out the "stark comparison" between Mr Kelly's lengthy five-year suspension and the 12-month bans Australian cricket players Steve Smith and David Warner received for ball tampering last year.
"I ran for office because there was a group of us who could see that we needed change, we were losing teams and clubs and there was concern that things were being kept secret when members have a right to transparency," Mr Kelly said.
"The association is meant to be about cricket and getting more people to play cricket, but it's not anymore. They want to rub people out who ask too many questions and they think they can do whatever they please."
Mr Northey dug in on Friday, dismissing the dissent as a "few people" causing "nothing but angst".
He refused to elaborate after receiving legal advice not to talk to the media.
"There is action going on, legal action that we can't discuss," he said.
"The rest of the competition is running perfectly. It's just a few people who have their own issues."
But another board member, who also asked not to be identified due to a directive from Mr Northey not to talk to the media, said there was a lot of "disquiet" among members, including about the two suspensions.
He said Mr Kelly and Mr Capitao's bans should be overturned immediately because they were "completely inappropriate".
"There have been a number of concerns over years and years of cricket about how the association has been run," he said. "I would estimate at least half of the members are concerned, but the majority just want to get on with it and play cricket.
"The members want a committee and an association that is going to move forward and put the members first."
Cricket NSW Hunter general manager Neil McDonald said he expected the NCSCA to conduct business in accordance with its constitution and provide a good playing experience.
"All associations should be transparent to their members," he said. "We want to grow the game and we are here to assist if the association needs it."
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