Stranded on sidelines: Grandparents $20,000 out of pocket after football fantasy falls apart

By , 25/04/2020 19:38

HEARTBROKEN: Christine and John McLeod have lost almost $20,000 in the dispute over the Jobe Wheelhouse Football Academy’s trip to Spain and Portugal. Picture: Simone De PeakRETIREES John and Christine McLeod are almost $20,000 out of pocket and left with the heartache of telling their grandson they won’t be joining him on a football trip of a lifetime.

The McLeods, who live at Brookfield near Dungog, are among a host of Hunter families involved in a dispute with Sydney businessman Manuel Camara over a tour to Portugal and Spain.

Former Newcastle Jets captain Jobe Wheelhouse had contracted Mr Camara’s company,MGC Match Event, to help conduct two tours for the former A-League player’s football academy. Wheelhouse says he is owed $180,000 from a trip to Spain last October and is chasing $138,000 in installments paid to MrCamara’s company towards a tour to Portugal and Spain, departing June 30.

The McLeods’ grandson, Callum, is a member of the Jobe Wheelhouse Academy under-10 side, which will play at twotournaments on the trip, and trainat the centres of football giants Real Madrid and Barcelona. Their son Hamish is also among the 55 people in the touring party. As well as paying two installments, totalling $5000, John and Christine allege they paid $14,200 directly to MGC Match Event to upgrade their flights to business class. Mr McLeod has had spinal fusions, which make long-haul travel difficult.

The Herald, which first reported on this story on March 3,put the latest allegations to Mr Camara’s legal representative this week but is yet to receive a response.

Mrs McLeod said her husband had conversations with Mr Camara before paying for the business class tickets and held no concerns. “These are the things you see on TV… and you think ‘how could they be stupid’,” she said.

DEVASTATED: Former Newcastle Jets captain Jobe Wheelhouse with members of his football academy. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Wheelhouse has been left devastated,personally and professionally,by thedispute,which police are investigating. He says he has placed his house on the market and taken out personal loans to ensure the June-July tourgoes ahead.Ian Jeffress, of Hello World Travel, and Kerry Phillips, of Great Events, have taken over travel arrangements.

The McLeods are among 18 people who havepulled out.Wheelhouse has vowed to coverthe two instalments those people had paid –$45,000 in total. “My husband has some medical issues and we can’t afford to fork out another $14,000,” Mrs McLeod said. “We are retired and have been scrimping and saving to go on this holiday. We used savings to pay for the upgrade to business class. We are down $20,000. We have accepted the fact that we are highly unlikely to get the $14,200 back. Our son and grandson are still going on the trip and they are doing a big fundraiser in April to try and help out. The football fraternity has been very generous.”

Mrs McLeod said the situation has caused “a lot of angst” in the family.“This was such an exciting thing for all the boys,” she said. “It is heartbreaking. My husband is a football fanatic. It was going to be a wonderful thing for him and a great opportunity for our grandson to have the exposure of playing in the IberCup (Portugal), and we wanted to be there to support and witness it.”

TheHeraldhasseen a copy of a loan agreement signed by Mr Camara and a witnesson November 9, 2017, which refers to a”misappropriation of funds”, with Mr Camara agreeing to providea “personal guarantee to repay” $182,441.19to Wheelhouse.

The McLeods have submitted a nine-page affadavit to police. “We want Camara to be made responsible and be responsible for what he has done,” Mrs McLeod said.“Wetried to ring Manny and the phone just rang out … We have copies of all the invoices, all the details …I don’t know how many other families have been affected by paying Manny.” Wheelhouse, who did not set up a trust fund as he discovered later is normal practice for a tour of this kind,admittedto being “a little naive”. He didn’t inform the upcoming tour group of the issuesuntil late January. “Had we known in late October or early November we mightnot be in this financial situation,” Mrs McLeod said. “Jobe is a lovely man and I know he is doing everything he can to resolve the situation.Realistically, as soon as he smelt a rat, he should have alerted us. It is easy to say thatin hindsight.”

DISPUTE: Sydney businessman Manuel Camara, left, at the Barcelona soccer school in Spain during the academy’s 2017 trip.

A trivia night on April 7 has been moved to Newcastle Jockey Club to accommodate 420people. The NJC has provided the room free of charge. Wheelhouse has been inundated with donations of auction items and raffle prizes, includinga Gold Coast holiday, signed Barcelona shirt and motorbike. There is also adinner with Jets stars Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Ronny Vargas.

Wheelhouse has been overwhelmed by the support the group has received fromthe football community.

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