Skipper Tom Jeffes reveals ‘emotional’ conversation as he leaves Wessex League club US Portsmouth after five years in search of a ‘fresh challenge’

Tom Jeffes has revealed the ‘emotional’ conversation he had prior to leaving US Portsmouth in search of a ‘fresh challenge’ - at the age of 35.

Jeffes was offered the chance to carry on captaining US in the 2022/23 Wessex League Premier season alongside his assistant manager’s role.

But after five years at the Victory Stadium, he has made the ‘selfish’ decision to leave just a fortnight after Tom Grice had stepped down as first team boss.

‘Until Tom left, the thought of leaving wasn’t even in the back of my mind,’ Jeffes told The News.

Tom Jeffes, right, has left US Portsmouth after five seasons at the Victory Stadium. Picture: Keith Woodland

‘It’s been a storm since then. Things can change in football so quickly.’

Farlington-based Jeffes admitted it was hard telling US secretary Bob Brady that he was leaving.

‘It was hard, it was one of the most emotional conversations I’ve had in football, both ways. Without Bob, that club would be nothing.

‘It was a very difficult decision (to leave), it wasn’t made overnight. Maybe I’ve been a bit selfish and made the decision for myself.

‘I felt I needed a fresh challenge, and it was the right time to move on, to explore a new chapter.

‘One hundred per cent I want to carry on playing. I feel fit, healthy, though I know I’m only one serious injury away from not playing again.

‘I want to be challenged every week. Playing is number one and I wouldn’t rule anything else out after that (with regards to a managerial role).’

Dave Fuge was manager at US when Jeffes contacted the club five years ago when he relocated back to the south coast after a spell in London, where he played for Clapton and Barking.

Having been a striker, he was converted to a centre back when Glenn Turnbull took over as US boss ahead of the 2019/20 season.

‘I enjoy going up front for the last five minutes,’ he said, ‘but I want to play at the back hopefully. I enjoy having the game in front of me.’

The obvious high point of Jeffes’ five-year stay at US was the spectacular run to the FA Vase semi-final in 2020/21 as a step 6 club. It was a run which saw him score the winning penalty in a fourth round win against Christchurch, prior to losing a shoot-out to Binfield.

Jeffes also scored the winning penalty against Bemerton in another shoot-out which booked US’ first ever Wessex League Cup final appearance, which they lost to Hamworthy a fortnight after their Vase heartache.

‘It was a special time, it will live with me forever,’ Jeffes remarked of the Vase odyssey. ‘But I’ve played almost 150 games and scored almost 50 goals, I’ve loved every minute of it.

Last season, US’ first at step 5 level, saw the club avoid a relegation battle despite most of the Vase squad following Turnbull to Moneyfields. A dismal finish - three points, all draws, in their last 11 games – saw them finish fifth bottom.

They would have finished a place higher had US not been deducted three points from fielding Jeffes in a December win against Cowes when he should have been sitting out a suspension.

‘We were the only club in the division without a budget, so to stay up against the odds … we did really, really well. With Tom (Grice) taking on his first managerial role, staying up was a fantastic achievement,’ Jeffes remarked.

‘I don’t want to beat the drum of sympathy, but it is hard (with no budget). And it gets harder every year with other clubs dangling (financial) carrots. It’s not just clubs one league below as well, even clubs two leagues below - in the Hampshire League - can offer money. Twenty or third quid to a young lad can be a lot of money.

‘Fraser (Quirke, new US manager) is under no illusions, he knows it will be hard to maintain the position the club’s got, let alone take it forward.’

Regards his next club, Jeffes - who celebrates his 36th birthday in October - said he has been ‘humbly surprised’ by the number of offers he has had.

‘There were hardly any calls last year or the year before, because people knew where my loyalties were. I don’t thrive on the interest, but it has been refreshing.’