Terry White says a deal was agreed at the end of last week to bring Sean Ray back to Hastings United Football Club.
But the powerful central defender instead opted to join Ryman Football League Division One South leaders Peacehaven & Telscombe.
United manager White said: “I agreed a deal with him and he said he was coming on Friday night, but now he’s signed for Peacehaven. It would’ve been deeply frustrating if it was any player, but for somebody who plays the ‘I love Hastings’ card it was even more so.”
Ray has made more than 300 appearances for United and was player-manager of the U’s side which reached the third round of the FA Cup only to be relegated from the Premier Division last term.
He resigned as United boss three days before the start of the current campaign, and subsequently combined playing for Ryman Premier side Kingstonian and Sussex County League Division Two leaders Eastbourne United AFC, who he helped reach the FA Vase semi-finals last weekend.
Ray said: “I’ve spoken to Terry quite a bit recently; Terry’s a mate anyway. We agreed everything in terms of money, but it just didn’t feel right for me. I’m not sure it’s the right time to come back.
“I’ve got no problem playing for Terry. I played under him at St Leonards and Hastings; it’s not a personal thing towards Terry. For some reason there’s still a bit of bad feeling from some supporters towards myself.
“There were one or two supporters saying quite bad things about me when I left and it’s little things like that which stick in your mind. I know it’s only a very small minority hiding behind a keyboard, but it’s something that didn’t need to be done.”
Ray claimed that United didn’t want him to come back during John Maggs’s managerial tenure earlier in the campaign, but didn’t rule out a return to his hometown club at some point in the future.
“I’ve had a bit of a hit and miss season,” added Ray, who only began playing again in September after a summer knee operation. “I just want to get this season out the way really and start afresh. I enjoyed it at Kingstonian - which is a really good football club - and Peacehaven’s the same.”
White was successful in his pursuit of Hythe Town winger Taser Hassan, but 20-year-old full-back Jack Parter - the other player he was chasing last week - has joined Whitstable Town following his release from Gillingham.