Crusaders new boy Jude Winchester has revealed his decision to trade Ballymena United for Seaview was influenced by concerns over his ‘mental health’.
Winchester, who has played over 100 games for Ballymena since joining the club from Cliftonville in 2018, completed his move to Crues this afternoon.
The 28-year-old, whose contract with United was due to expire in the summer, has joined Stephen Baxter’s men with immediate effect.
In an open statement to Ballymena supporters, the talented midfielder said his decision was influenced by “matters outside of football” and with his mental wellbeing at heart.
He said: “It was a decision I made in consultation with the club and my family and it was not a decision taken lightly.
“Over the past year, while on the pitch things have been going well, off the pitch I have had mental health issues.
“It got to the point where I felt like I had to sit down with my family and with David (Jeffrey) and have a full conversation about it.
“David made me a brilliant offer to stay and in a different circumstance I wouldn’t have thought twice, but for reasons off the pitch I couldn’t agree to a deal.
“For me and my family, it was better for my career and my mental health to work closer to Belfast and allow me to be more at home.
“We’ve had long discussions over the past two weeks about what’s best for Ballymena and me and the conclusion was that I’m moving on now.”
Paying tribute to Ballymena United boss Jeffrey and club Braid, Winchester said: “David is one of the best people I have ever met, not just in football but in life.
“He and Ballymena United as a club, the staff, the board and the fans have treated me so well. I’m sorry it ended like this but for me right now there are things more important than football.
“This decision allows me to continue playing so I hope the fans will understand.
“I didn’t make this decision overnight. This has been going on for a year where I haven’t been myself and it’s something I need to do for myself and my family.
“I will always treasure the highs and I’m proud to have recently played a century of appearances, giving my best in every game for the club and the fans.”
Ballymena boss Jeffrey says the decision to allow Winchester to leave during the January window was made with both the player and the club in mind.
He said: “Obviously Jude had made it clear that despite having a substantial offer on the table, he was not looking to stay beyond this season.
“There were other issues and circumstances that we needed to be open and receptive to that are personal to Jude, and he was very honest about that himself.
“Through our discussions, we explored the best ways to support him, but he also recognized that we also have a responsibility to take care of the club.
“In the end, we came to an agreement with the Crusaders to allow him to move out sooner in the hope that having him closer to home would be of greater help to him and his family.
“We thank Jude for his contribution and we send him all the best not only for his career, but especially for him as a person and for his family as well.”