by Chris Bailey
THERE was to be no fairytale finish for the club he supported as a kid, but former skipper Doug Loft insists he bears no ill-feeling towards Gillingham as he prepares to test the open market.
Alongside utility man Brennan Dickenson, winger Jermaine McGlashan and back-up goalkeeper Glenn Morris, Loft was one of four players confirmed this week as leaving the Gills after their League One play-off tilt fizzled out.
It is a disappointing end for a man who was named captain as soon as he signed a contract two years ago – fulfilling a lifelong ambition in the process.
A couple of niggly injuries slowed his second season at Priestfield and, without his influence on the pitch, an inexperienced side finished the campaign without a win in eight games.
When thoughts turned to his contract situation, Loft, 29, says it quickly became apparent that a clean break was best for both parties.
“I think the gaffer (Justin Edinburgh) knew all along that I wanted a fresh start,” said the midfielder. “I injured my calf a couple of times this season and, all in all, it’s been a frustrating year for me. It was a mutual decision to leave.
“He knew I wanted to find a new challenge. So, it was no surprise we had the conversation. Both of us knew what was going to happen and I’m looking forward to next season with another team.
“I loved my time at Gillingham. I supported them as a boy and dreamed of being captain one day. I don’t want to dwell too much on the past, but I always felt I played well every time I was on the pitch. I’ve got no regrets in that sense.
“I will come back at 100 per cent. I’m very confident that I’ll play every game next year.
“There’ll be no problems and I’ve had a few good offers already, but I’m going to weigh things up over the summer.
“League One is what I’m looking at and I want to play at as high a level as I can. I’ve got a lot to offer as, at my age, I’m just coming into my prime.”
Such was the Gills’ late-season decline that, had they turned two of their five losses across April and May into wins, it would have seen them sneak into the play-offs. Instead, they slipped down to ninth on the final day after a last-gasp defeat to fourth-placed Millwall.
Edinburgh could now be forced into a rebuild with centre-back John Egan, 23, a target for Brentford after rejecting a new contract, while the vultures are circling for League One Player of the Year Bradley Dack, 22.
The pair would likely have stayed if Championship football was on the table next year.
Loft conceded: “We just ran out of steam. At the beginning of the season, we were doing really well, but we rode our luck a bit, too.
“But we had a young group of lads with a few senior boys mixed in, so I don’t think you can blame them too much for not having enough in the end.
“I leave Gillingham in a very good state. They are much stronger now than when I signed and I take great pride in that.
“A few of those players might move on this summer but there’s still a good core there.”
As for former Port Vale skipper Loft, he is adamant the next club who come in for him will be signing a player at the peak of his powers.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be captain at two clubs and I’ve enjoyed it, but doing so again isn’t a priority.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back to work and on the pitch next season,” added Loft, who undergoes a strict regime of road cycling and swimming each summer.
“I’ve never had a season like the last with injuries – it was a one-off in 12 years. I think I was leading in assists from midfield at one point and scored a few goals. I’m going to come back as strong as ever.”