Crusader’s new boy Jude Winchester has revealed that his decision to trade Ballymena United for Seaview was influenced by concerns over his “mental health”.
Winchester, who has made over 100 appearances for Ballymena since joining the club from Cliftonville in 2018, completed his move to the Crues this afternoon.
The 28-year-old, whose contract with United is due to expire in the summer, will join Stephen Baxter’s men with immediate effect.
In an open statement to Ballymena supporters, the talented midfielder said his decision was influenced by “business outside of football” and with his mental well-being at heart.
He said: “This is a decision I took in consultation with the club and my family and it was not taken lightly.
“Over the past year, while things were going great on the pitch, I struggled with my mental health off the pitch.
“It got to the point where I felt I needed to sit down with my family and David (Jeffrey) and have a full conversation about it.
“David made me a brilliant offer to stay and in any other 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 best for my career and my mental health that I work closer to Belfast and let me be more at home.
“We had long conversations over the past few weeks about what is best for Ballymena and me and the conclusion was that I will now move on.”
Paying tribute to Ballymena United boss Jeffrey and the Braid club, Winchester said: “David is one of the best people I’ve ever met, not only 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 the way it did, but for me there are more important things than football right now.
“This decision allows me to continue playing, so I hope the supporters understand.
“I didn’t make this decision overnight. This has been going on for a year where I haven’t been myself and this is something I need to do for me and my family.
“I will always cherish the highlights and I am proud to have recently had a century of performances and gave my all in every game for the club and the supporters.”
Ballymena boss Jeffrey said the decision to let Winchester leave during the January period was made with both the player and the club in mind.
He said: “Obviously Jude had made it clear that, despite a substantial offer on the table, he didn’t want to go any further than this season.
“There were other things and circumstances that we had to be open and receptive to and that are personal to Jude, and he’s been very honest about that himself.
“During our talks, we explored the best ways to support him, but he also recognized that it is our responsibility to look after the club as well.
“Eventually we reached an agreement with Crusaders to let him move to them sooner in the hopes that being closer to home will be of greater help to him and his family.
“We thank Jude for his contribution and we wish him the best not only for his career, but especially for him as a person and for his family.”