SHORTWOOD captain Ashley Thomas is putting his heart before his beloved club.

The popular Meadowbank stalwart is set to play his farewell game for the Nailsworth outfit at home to Didcot Town on Saturday before jetting off to join sweetheart Haylee Hickman in California.

Thomas,30, a personal trainer said: "We have done the long distance thing for a long time. "The plan is to get a few internships at top strength and conditioning facilities.

"This will give me valuable experience and develop my knowledge.

"America is way ahead in the fitness industry and I would like to open my own facility in the future.

"Sometimes in life you have to take a leap of faith and follow your dreams."

Thomas started his football career with Chalford before boss John Evans took him to Shortwood.

He followed Evans to Slimbridge, but returned for a second spell at Meadowbank. 

His performances at the heart of United's defence saw him make a switch to Gloucester City, but the lure of Shortwood remained and he returned to lead them into the Southern League for the first time in their history.

"Shortwood are best team I have ever played for," he added. "The club is full of wonderful people who work very hard behind the scenes to make it all happen.

"Evo and the guys at Shortwood gave me my chance 11 years ago and that led to good non-league career with lots of trophies and memorable FA Cup runs. I can't thank them all enough."

Shortwood boss John Evans said: "Every now and then a manager needs to find a player to build a team around.

"I have been fortunate enough to do that on a few occasions. This player needs to be special both in character and ability.

"Nobody epitomises this sort of player more than Ashley Thomas."