STEVE Howard had offers on the table from three Championship clubs – but none could match the emotional pull and excitement of a return to Hartlepool United.
The 36-year-old – angry at being frozen out of the first-team picture at Leicester City last season – spoke to close friend and Pools coach Micky Barron at the start of the summer, expressing his disillusion with the game.
It was then that Barron demanded his former team-mate “get his backside” up to the North-East for talks with himself and Neale Cooper.
Howard liked the sound of what he heard and went away on a family holiday to America to mull over offers from at least half a dozen clubs.
All the while, however, he knew that a return to Victoria Park was his dream scenario.
Yesterday, that ambition was realised when he became Cooper’s third signing of the close season.
And, in an interview with SportMail, Howard explained: “I wasn’t enjoying my football at Leicester. I wasn’t allowed to go on loan and I just wanted to play.
“There were false promises and that was frustrating.
“I sat down and had a chat with my dad and said ‘listen, I’m still more than capable of doing it, I’m just not enjoying it because I’m not playing’.
“I’m close mates with Micky and I spoke to him about things as well and said, ‘look, it’s not about the money, it’s about the football’.
“I think his response was ‘get your backside up here then!’.
“Micky told me I could come here and start enjoying my football again.
“I spoke to him and Neale and it just felt right, but I took my time to think about things because I had a few offers.
“They were good offers as well, but after I spoke to Neale and Micky I knew inside where I wanted to be.
“I thought ‘yeah, this is where I need to come’.
“Here I am, and I’m absolutely delighted.”
Like fellow summer arrivals Jonathan Franks and Simon Walton, Howard was also quick to credit the role of Cooper in his decision to rejoin the club with whom he made his professional debut back in 1995.
“Pools have tried to get me a few times but it just hasn’t been quite right,” revealed the Geordie striker.
“But I spoke to Neale for some length over the summer before I went on holiday and you just know when you like the feel of someone and something.
“It’s Neale’s enthusiasm which just gets you – he’s bubbly, he’s charismatic.
“He’s the sort of guy you want to play for.”
Howard will meet his new team-mates for the first time when they jet out to Holland tomorrow for their annual European boot camp and pair of friendly matches against Dutch second-tier opposition – and the new boy can’t wait.
“It’s great timing,” he said, “Apparently it’s a lovely place so I’m just looking forward to getting my head down, getting in some hard work and feeling part of the group with the lads.”