EXCLUSIVE: Sam Bantick hits back at criticism on leaving AFC Sudbury
AFC Sudbury's leading goalscorer Sam Bantick has opened up on leaving the club, saying he is not jumping ship because The Yellows find themselves in a relegation dogfight.
The 25-year-old spoke to the Free Press to set the record straight after reading his manager's portrayal of his exit, which he says contained inaccuracies, some of which have been admitted by AFC manager Jamie Godbold.
In his first interview since leaving the relegation-threatened Ryman League Premier Division club for Ryman One North promotion hopefuls AFC Hornchurch, midfielder Bantick, who was one of AFC's marquee signings of the summer after joining from National League South Concord Rangers, has claimed he:
- Felt the title-winning togetherness of last season has been replaced by a fragmented dressing room.
- First went to his manager asking to leave back in January after becoming disenchanted with the selection policy.
- Was put on the transfer list - which was never revealed to the press - but the club would not accept any offers that came forward.
- Was subsequently forced to pay a 'substantial' amount of his own money to leave after his half-time withdrawal against Hendon proved to be the final straw.
- He is not a quitter and always gave 100 per cent for the club whenever he played.
- He never put his hand up in the dressing room when asked who was no longer committed.
While we also now understand he is involved in an argument with the club about his wages being deducted without warning on his exit, for which the club has said was an extra fine levied on one from much earlier in the campaign, Bantick has given an insight into the dressing by saying 'there were certain things that happened behind closed doors that I didn't like'.
This is understood to include a splintered dressing room, which he alluded to again when commenting on Sudbury's survival chances - with the club currently three points and two places afrift of safety with four games to go - by responding to a question about whether he thought they would survive by saying: "It's hard to say. The team definitely has the quality but just don't seem to be gelling as a team for one reason or another.
"I think that (dressing room discord) didn't help the league position they are in now, as well as the injuries they have had."
Feeling last week's Free Press back page did not give an accurate picture of how he left the club, just ahead of the transfer deadline day for clubs at Ryman League level, he said he had a message he wanted to get across to the club's fanbase.
"First of all, I would like to thank all the Sudbury fans and staff for making my stay at the club a really enjoyable one.
"I must, however, respond to this article as it doesn't paint a true reflection as to the facts surrounding the story," said the player who left as their joint top goalscorer with Craig Parker with 13 in all competitions (5 in the league / Parker & Wales have 6 league) from 37 appearances.
"Back in January I approached Jamie and asked if he would consider letting me go as I was unhappy with certain things in the dressing room and constantly being substituted or dropped despite scoring goals and playing well.
"I was told I could leave, but only if a club paid a large fee for me.
"Sadly, at that time, many clubs showed interest and made offers but were unwilling to match the fee Sudbury wanted (manager Godbold says no clubs made an offer, other than ask to take him without a fee, which he says was rightly refused for a valuable asset).
"I then continued trying to give it my all with Sudbury but felt I was being unfairly treated by making me play for the u21's some weeks (Godbold says he choose to play for them as he could not make training on a Thursday with working in Dartford, which Bantick says was not always the case) and again being dropped and substituted whilst I felt I contributed more than others who still seemed to play every week and not get substituted.
"Saturday (against Hendon the weekend before last) was the last straw for me; being subbed at half-time for no apparent reason.
"I tried my hardest in the first half, something that was recognised by many of the fans.
"I spoke with Godders after the game and expressed my dismay and was told if I didn't want to stay I could leave.
"He did, however, say I couldn't leave for nothing which has led me to pay £XXX (we have respected Bantick's wish to keep the three figure amount hidden) of my own money to have my contract terminated."
The former Brentwood Town player added: "I never thought a club who knew I was unhappy would make me stay and then go on to say things like 'I'm a quitter and I haven't been myself'.
"I was told that I either pay or they would take the option up on my contract for next season, even though I told them I don't want them to do that and make me stay or demand another sign-on fee which, baring in mind my problems earlier on in the season, I wasn't willing to risk.
"At no time have I admitted I was finding it difficult. The only thing that was difficult was being made to stay at a club that I wasn't happy at.
"I was the top goalscorer at the club but was finding the decisions made difficult to take and was no longer enjoying my football there.
"Now I wish to concentrate on the rest of the season with a new club, playing regularly and wish the club every luck with staying in the division."
Bantick also felt last week's article with Godbold on his departure had given a false impression by saying he had raised his hand in the changing room after the 4-0 Hendon home humiliation in response to a question from the manager asking if anyone was no longer committed to the cause.
Asked if that did happen, he replied: "No I didn't. I messaged him on the Tuesday saying that I wanted to leave and that was it."
When contacted about Bantick's story yesterday, Godbold has admitted the way it was conveyed through our article with him was not accurate and that he did receive a text message which initiated his exit under what was termed 'mutual agreement' from his contract.
Meanwhile, the AFC boss was left frustrated by not being able to land a host of targets in the last week of the transfer window last week.
But he did go into Saturday's game - a 0-0 draw at Worthing on the Sussex coast - with one big piece of positive news, following the return of Cambridge United's attacking midfielder Dylan Williams, who made 20 appearances (18 starts), scoring four goals, between mid-October and the end of January.
* For a comprehensive round-up and reaction, as well as a look ahead to the weekend's crucial home game with league leaders Bognor Regis Town, see Thursday's Suffolk Free Press print edition.