The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Stu­art Ham­monds

FOR­MER Southamp­ton de­fender Dan Hard­ing says he re­jected the chance to sign for Portsmouth this sum­mer and dropped out of League football to join Eastleigh – be­cause of his love for Saints.

The 31-year-old full-back has signed for the big-spend­ing Va­narama Na­tional League pro­mo­tion hope­fuls af­ter his re­lease from Not­ting­ham For­est.

And Hard­ing, who spent the sec­ond half of last sea­son on loan at Mill­wall, says the three years he spent help­ing Southamp­ton rise from League One to the Premier League be­tween 2009 and 2012 played a ma­jor part in his de­ci­sion.

He said:“‘At the end of last sea­son if you would have asked me, I would never have thought I would be re­tir­ing from full-time pro­fes­sional football at the age of 31.

“Early on I had a few of­fers from dif­fer­ent clubs, one be­ing Portsmouth. Don’t get me wrong, Portsmouth is a big club and I would imag­ine they are go­ing to do very well this sea­son. But I just couldn’t bring my­self to do it.

“I had the best three years of my life at Saints and I still con­sider my­self a fan. It would not have felt right for me to sign for them.”

Hard­ing joins a host of play­ers with Cham­pi­onship ex­pe­ri­ence at the Silverlake Sta­dium, with Andy Drury leav­ing Lu­ton to join Richard Hill’s men this sum­mer and ex-QPR winger Lee Cook sign­ing af­ter be­ing let go by League Two new-boys Bar­net.

“Richard said he was happy for me to come and train with him and the lads un­til I found the right club for me,” says Hard­ing, who started his ca­reer at Brighton and has also played for Leeds and Ip­swich. “If I am hon­est, I never ex­pected to en­joy it as much as I did.

“The fa­cil­i­ties are very good and all the staff, man­ager and play­ers were amaz­ing and made me feel very wel­comed.

“I just want to play and en­joy it, and I hadn’t done that for a good few years.”

LOYAL: Dan Hard­ing

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