Ian Saunders has quit Petersfield Town for Winchester City – one week before the start of the new season.
In a surprise move, the former Rams boss departed Love Lane for the vacant managerial post at Winchester earlier today.
Saunders guided Petersfield to back-to-back Wessex League titles, before securing a mid-table finish in Southern League division one central last term - Town’s highest ever finish.
He leaves after a four-year stay that will go down in club folklore.
Petersfield chairman Graeme Moir said: It’s obviously disappointing to lose Ian, particularly a week or so before the football season.
‘But Ian is owed a debt of thanks and gratitude from the club because of what he has achieved since he came here in the summer of 2012.
‘To be wehere we are now, compared to where we were then, is down to a lot of people’s hard work at the club.
‘But obviously Ian has been at the forefront of the playing side and will always have a place in the club’s history.’
Saunders and assistant Jason Hampson have both made the switch to the City Ground, where they will again be managing at step four of the non-league pyramid.
This time, however, they will be in Southern League division one south and west with a significantly higher budget than at Love Lane.
Moir added: ‘In fairness to Winchester, Dave Malone, their director of football, gave us a ring to indicate he wanted to speak to Ian so it hasn’t been cloak and dagger.
‘All cards have been out on the table so you can give Winchester some credit for that.
‘But it’s a difficult one really.
‘The way we looked at it was that it was going to happen some day.
‘We didn’t see it coming because we were all getting ready for the season’s start so it has put the cat among the pigeons a little bit.’
First-team coaches Jason Mann and Shane Brayson will take charge of the Rams on a caretaker basis in their pre-season friendly at Folland Sports tomorrow night (7.45pm).
A committee meeting has been called tonight at Love Lane, with the process of appointing a new manager to be discussed.