Stephen Baxter has revealed that when he left Linfield as a player it felt like “a death in the family”.
Baxter's goals had helped the Blues win two league titles during a six-year spell between 1987 and 1993 after joining from Ards, but that was not enough to keep him at Windsor Park.
“I was 21 when I signed for Linfield, stayed six years and won two championships and scored over 100 goals in that period,” the Crusaders boss recalled ahead of Saturday's Irish Cup final against the Blues.
“The pressures of Linfield tell you they are always looking to improve and bring in better players and I was deemed surplus to requirements when Trevor Anderson became manager.
“Along with Martin McGaughey I was let go which proved the right decision because in came Garry Haylock and Dessie Gorman and they went on to more success.
“At that time it was like a death in the family for six months because I felt I'd failed as a player.
“I signed for Billy Hamilton at Distillery and in that year my heart was still at Linfield. It was a tough, tough time in footballing terms because Linfield were and are the giants of this country.”
After 12 months at Distillery, Baxter moved to Crusaders, where he was an inspirational figure in Roy Walker's double championship winning side.
“I always say I have a football career with two chapters — at Linfield and Crusaders,” adds Baxter.
“I grew under the management of Roy Walker at Seaview and played in two championship winning teams, scored a lot of goals and loved it, just as I had done at Windsor Park when things were going well.”
Baxter left Crusaders in 1998 but returned after a short spell at Glenavon, before seeing out his playing career at Bangor.
As a kid growing up he says he was a “token Glentoran supporter” for one season when he joined his friends at the Oval for games, including a European tie against Juventus, but adds that he has never been “sucked in” to one particular football club.
The 45-year-old committed Christian states: “Unlike many others I wasn't sucked in to have blue blood because I played at Linfield or even red and black blood through my time with Crusaders.
“My greater instincts tell me to do the very best I can, whoever it is I'm working for. I guess ultimately that's because I serve a higher authority. I have peace in my life with regards to my faith.”