Justin Bennett admitted he came close to joining Gosport Borough’s rivals the Hawks, before sealing an emotional switch to hometown club Salisbury.
Borough’s all-time record goalscorer was a man in demand after announcing his decision to quit Privett Park, having become disillusioned by the club’s well-publicised off-the-field problems.
But with Hawks boss Lee Bradbury hoping to complete a sensational swoop to bring the 33-year-old to Westleigh Park, it was his former Pompey team-mate Steve Claridge who enticed Bennett to the Raymond McEnhill Stadium.
For Bennett, who will drop down two divisions from National League South to play in Southern League south & west, it was a decision he did not make lightly.
He said: ‘I spent a while deliberating between Salisbury and Havant, and now I have made the decision I am eager to get going.
‘It was a small part in my thinking and always in the back of my mind that a move to Havant might upset some of the Gosport fans I spent a long time trying to win over.
‘But I was under the impression from the Gosport fans I had spoken to, that they would have understood if I did go there.
‘In the end, though, the lure of playing for my hometown club was just too much.
‘I have spent nine years travelling up and down the M27 to Gosport and I would have had to have done that again for Havant
‘Now, it is on my doorstep.’
Salisbury, formed after the liquidation of Salisbury City in 2015, enjoyed a triumphant first season under the tutelage of Claridge, winning the Wessex League premier division at a canter.
The lure of being part of the club’s rebirth and playing under a man he had partnered up front at Borough all contributed to Bennett’s choice to return home.
And the striker is targeting instant success.
‘Salisbury had a really good season and towards the end of it, when I didn’t have games at Gosport, I was going to watch them play,’ he said.
‘They get an average of 800 fans a week and you can see they are a club on the up.
‘Me and Steve played at Gosport together and he had an influence on me that season, seeing the way he conducts himself.
‘Working under him at Salisbury I think will continue to improve my game.
‘Ideally, I want to get promoted this year and get them into the Southern League premier division.
‘Hopefully I can be around long enough to get them back into National League South.’
A hero in the eyes of the Gosport fans he has waved goodbye to, Bennett will be keeping an eye on his old club.
He added: ‘They will be the first team I check results for every week and I will be hoping they do really well.’