In most people’s imaginations, the CEO of a football club is typically someone from a business background who spent their formative years developing their corporate skills.
That’s where Lawrie McKinna breaks the mould – only four years of his life since his professional footballing debut at age 21 have been spent outside a professional sporting club.
Those four years were spent as Mayor of Gosford, a city where he made his name to the wider Australian community as the coach of the Central Coast Mariners.
Then – he ended up as the CEO of the Newcastle Jets.
“I was 36 when I finished playing, I got into the coaching and enjoyed that,” McKinna said.
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“When I became a head coach at the Mariners and Northern Spirit, I got involved in a lot of the admin stuff… they were small clubs at the time and I was involved in sponsorship, involved in marketing, involved in going to every meeting with sponsors, chamber of commerce meetings and all that.
“I was involved in all of that for years, at Northern Spirit for two years and at the Mariners for five as a coach. I was doing the contract negotiations, dealing with agents, buying the chickens and salads before training, driving around the Central Coast looking for a training venue each day.
“I did a lot of that management stuff anyway. I employed the coaches, employed all the staff… I went to China, came back as general manager of football [at the Mariners] then I became the mayor for the four years at Gosford – dealing with people, with businesses, management issues.
“I was contacted as somebody to speak to FFA on behalf of Martin Lee and his company [in 2016], met Martin when he came out, and when the deals were all going through he offered me the CEO’s job and at that time it was when amalgamation was happening between Gosford and Wyong councils.
“Council went into administration in the May and Martin took over the club in June, so it worked out perfectly for me.”
Football runs through Lawrie’s blood – a passionate Glasgow Rangers fan from his early days, a professional footballer for 15 years and a coach for just as long.
While administration of the game is now the role he’s known best for around Newcastle, he’s not completely hands-off.
McKinna stepped into the role of Youth team coach in 2017, taking charge of the team with Labinot Haliti his assistant.
The roles have reversed now, with Lawrie stepping into the assistant as his former charge stepped into the top job this past November.
“I sacked myself a few months ago when Labi got his A-Licence, but I’ve reinstated myself as assistant coach,” McKinna said.
“We’ve got Glen Moss in there coaching too and that’s an outlet for me to still have my foot in the door of coaching, working with the boys, and seeing these young players come through.
“It’s really satisfying for me to look at these players and see Angus Thurgate, Patty Langlois, Jack Simmons, these boys starting to make their progression through into the first team which is great.”
It is Lawrie’s only direct involvement in football on the pitch at the Club, who has made a conscious effort to distance himself from having any real influence on the goings ons of the first team.
The decision reaches back to his days as general manager of football at the Mariners alongside Graham Arnold, when McKinna ‘drew the line in the sand’.
In fact, so bold is that line that McKinna recalls only ever stepping foot in the Jets dressing room once: after the 5-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners in Round 1 of the Hyundai A-League 2017/18 season.
One place where McKinna regularly interacts with people is social media, where the CEO is quick to have his say and chat with the fans whenever he can.
Through both Twitter and Facebook, Lawrie has become a league leader in the CEO ranks in his diligent efforts to interact, inform, and correct the record where needed.
“We can’t think that we know everything,” McKinna said.
“Everybody has an opinion and I respect everyone’s opinion, I learnt that when I was the mayor. Everyone has one and it’s alright to agree to disagree, and I say that a lot to people.
“On social media, a lot of it is rumours and stuff and if they’re on there having a go at us and they’ve got the facts wrong, I feel it’s my job to go on there and tell them what the facts are.
‘It’s not their fault they’ve been told the wrong story, I think it’s right for me to go on and explain the reason this has happened, and 9/10 times the fans come back and thank me for it.
‘I think it’s good to let them know, make them feel part of it, because when we came into the club the big thing was to get back to the community, make people feel as though they’re a part of the club and I think social media helps us do that.”
Approaching three years in the role, Lawrie’s role in changing the image of the Club and the perspective from the wider Newcastle and Hunter Valley community is undeniable.
Engaging the fans, mixing it with the travelling support at Central Coast Stadium last season, driving sponsorship and membership records for the Club – he’s been in the middle of it all.
So why is it that Lawrie believes he thrives in his position?
“I think it’s unique that I can understand the business, I can deal with people which I think is one of my strong points, the fans relate to me, so I think it makes a good mix to make an unusual CEO,” McKinna said.
"When I was the mayor I’d break it down to ‘if I was a ratepayer, what would I think if this was happening in my backyard? Down the street?' Broke it down, kept things nice and simple, and I think fans also appreciate that I’m a football fan.
"I work for Newcastle Jets, I support the Jets and the Glasgow Rangers, we stick by people in thick and thin and if the Club can help anyone in the football community or charities I feel as though that’s our responsibility."