Salisbury manager Steve Claridge has pulled off a major transfer coup by signing prolific striker Justin Bennett, beating off competition from clubs higher up the football pyramid in the process.
Salisbury-based Justin left Vanarama National League South Gosport Borough at the end of the season looking for a new challenge after nine seasons at Privett Park that saw him score no fewer than 263 goals, a Boro’ record.
And he has opted to be part of the new era at the Ray Mac, which will host Evo-Stik Southern League South and West Division football next season.
“Fair play to Justin, he’s come to the club for the right reasons and not money,” said Steve.
“There were four clubs in for him, the other three all at a higher level, and I know we were offering the least money. In fact, one club was offering virtually double our final offer.
“But it’s his home town club and I think he can see the club has got a freshness and a good feel about it. It’s professional and run well now.
“He’s been to a couple of games and seen what we’re all about, he knows a few of the lads and can see that hopefully we are a club on the up.
“In a funny way, it helps with signings that Hereford are in our league. They are one of the biggest clubs in Non-League and people want to play in those types of games.”
Justin, 34 at the end of this month, was third top scorer in National League South last season with 23 goals for Gosport, scoring 32 in all competitions, including three hat-tricks. Last October he was the subject of a £10,000 bid from Havant and Waterlooville.
“I’m cool with Justin’s age,” added Steve. “He looks after himself and he’s fit. He doesn’t carry any weight and he’s still got plenty of life left in his legs.”
Steve himself played until he was 45, alongside Justin at Gosport Borough in the Southern League South and West. In the 2012 play-off final against Poole Town, Steve came off the bench to grab a late equaliser and force extra time, in which Justin scored before Steve sealed a 3-1 win.
“You say we played together up front,” joked Steve. “Well, I ran around and he scored goals.
“I told him that if it wasn’t for me and my goals, he’d still be at South and West level with Gosport and I’d have got him cheaper!
“Seriously, he’s a good all-rounder, reasonably quick, reasonably good in the air and with a good record when it comes to injuries. He can play in a system of either one up front or two. What really sets him apart, though, is that he is a fantastic finisher. His record tells you that.
“All we are asking him to do is what he has been doing for Gosport for nine years.”
On leaving Gosport, Justin was described by Borough manager Alex Pike as “a fantastic footballer and a wonderful person.”