Harry Harding has spoken of the difficult decisions he had to make that led to his departure from Lewes last summer – and ultimately to his welcome return to the club this week.
The talented midfielder was signed at the age of 19 by then Rooks manager Steve King in December 2011 before going on to impress Lewes fans with both his commitment and talent during with the Rooks for the rest of that season. He made 31 appearances and scored six goals before leaving at the end of the campaign.
Harding at the time made it clear he loved his time at the Rooks and was only interested in moving to a club higher up the non-league pyramid.
So it came as a surprise to many when Harding moved not to a team higher up the pyramid but to Carshalton Athletic – in the same (Ryman Premier) division as Lewes.
But in an open and extensive interview with the Sussex Express, Harding reveals that a deal had been lined up for him to move to a club in the conference national, but that this deal fell through at the last moment.
He confirmed that he was one of a small group of Lewes players who had been offered an improved contract at the end of last season, but by the time the deal to take him to the conference had fallen through, the Rooks “had used that budget on other players”.
He admitted that Carshalton offered him ‘a lot of money’ to Leave the Dripping Pan – and confessed that he made the move ‘perhaps for the wrong reasons’.
However, he was at pains to make clear to Lewes fans that he was not a ‘money merchant’ player – and revealed that he will be playing only for expenses for the Rooks for the rest of this season.
Harding also spoke of his troubled spell at Carshalton, where the owner pulled out, forcing Harry and many of his his team-mates to leave the Robins in order to allow the club to survive.
And he talked about the reason behind his decision at the start of this year to take a break break from football for the rest of the season - following brief spells at Bromley and Kingstonian - stating at the time that football had become a ‘chore’ for him.
He also revealed that he went back on the decision to sit out the rest of the season when given the chance to return to Lewes, where he had enjoyed his football so much last season.
Harding said: “I had a lot going on in the summer with decisions to make.
“Before pre-season it was kind of decided that I was going up to a conference premier side, but that fell through.
“All summer I’d been working towards that, it didn’t materialise (and) by that time Lewes had used the budget on other players.”
Harding said there was no bad feeling with the club, as Lewes player/manager Simon Wormull understood his desire to further his career by moving up the divisions as quickly as possible.
“That’s why Worms was so understanding,” he said. “He’s been a player himself so he knew how I was thinking.”
But then came the move to the Robins.
“I signed for Carshalton. They offered me a lot of money and perhaps I ended up signing for the wrong reasons,” he said.
“Being a young player I have learned a lot from it.
“I got sold the dream at Carshalton that they were going to do this and that.”
“The owner decided to pull out of the club. We had to go or the club would be in trouble.
“We were all playing but we all knew we had to go.
“We could have stayed and taken the money but it would have absolutely killed the club.
“And it would have got messy with tribunals, and nobody wanted that.
“There are still good people at the club but they’ve got problems.
“It’s a lovely club but it’s sad what happened.
“We were waiting to be picked off by teams,” he added. “Bromley came in for me. I was a little bit dubious (going back to his home town club where he had started his career) as everything there is in my comfort zone: the ground is 10 minutes from my home and with me being the youngest player to play for them, I’m always looked on as a little boy there.”
Harding said his move to Bromley coincided with the club having an extended spell of FA Trophy games (including replays), a competition in which Harding was cup-tied. This meant he was forced to sit on the sidelines, adding to what had already become a frustrating season for him.
“They were still in the FA Trophy. I was just desperate to play. It was such a stop-start season for me.
“Kingstonian had been in touch and it just went from there. My head had kind of gone with it all. I just wasn’t enjoying my football.
“I just kept reverting everything back to Lewes, how I felt there.”
Harding’s five-game spell at Kingstonian came to an end on New Year’s Day when, after a goalless draw with Hampton and Richmond, he announced via Twitter that he was taking a break from the game for the rest of the season.
At the time, he wrote: “Letting everyone know...that I am taking a break from football until the end of the season...have a lot of things going on in my life personally and need to get my life back on track, made mistakes in the summer on signing for wrong reasons...and football has become a chore.
“I will be keeping myself in tip-top condition and come back in the new season with a new hunger for the beautiful game...but I need to get my self right...good luck to @CarshaltonA_FC + @KingstonianFC and of course @Lewes_cfc for the rest of the season and all my fellow Ballers out there...this is what I need to get my hunger back”.
Looking back now, he admits: “I just didn’t enjoy the game at all.
“I came off after and spoke to my Mum, and she said: ‘Your heart’s not in it at the moment, is it?’
“I told her I’m just not enjoying it at the moment. I decided I needed to take a big break. I had to do it for myself.
“I felt I made wrong decisions and was constantly thinking about what I should have done.
“I had such a good time at Lewes last season. In hindsight I knew I should have gone with what I thought was right, which was to stay with Lewes.”
Harding went straight into the Lewes side that played Carshalton on Tuesday night.
“I hadn’t played for, probably, nine weeks but it’s not like I have stopped training,” he said.
“I’ve been keeping fit and I run every day. It was all geared up for me coming back.”
There was a certain irony that he made his comback against his former club but he adds: “You say it’s my old team but I knew maybe one or two in that team. It was like a new team from the one when I was there.
“But it was great to come back and I thought 2-1 (to Lewes) flattered them (Carshalton).”
Harding spoke of the circumstances that led to his return to Lewes.
“Robbo (Lewes captain Steve Robinson) is one of my best friends in football, and Karl Beckford is one of my closest friends and in my personal life has done so much for me, so many little things outside of football.
“I spoke to Karl and I also spoke to Robbo. He was saying there’s a chance (of going back to Lewes) and would I be interested.
“I’m only playing for expenses. Literally playing for expenses. I’m doing it to play and to help the team survive (in their battle against relegation). And I just wanted the buzz back.
“I signed on Monday but it was agreed on Friday. I met the boys on Tuesday. Just came in and met the boys before the game. Obviously, I know the players who were here last season and I know some of the others who weren’t. But the banter was good and it was good to be back.”
He added: “I had a really good relationship with the (Lewes) fans but to be honest I didn’t know how their perception of how I left would be. But they remembered what I tried to do for the club.
“I really don’t want to be thought of as a money merchant because that’s not what I play football for at all.
“Everyone who knows me knows that my life is football.
“I didn’t want football ever to become just a job for me, where I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got training tonight’ or ‘I’ve got a game tonight’.
“I enjoyed the game (on Tuesday) and it’s the first time I can probably say that this season.
“I had decided to take a break for the rest of the season.
“(But) that would have been impossible for me. I was desperate to play again.”