BUDGET-LESS Romsey Town have lost three key players to clubs tipped to challenge for the Sydenhams Premier title this term.

James Embree has joined promotion-hungry Winchester City, while Ashley Johnson is among a host of summer arrivals at Blackfield & Langley.

And, having cut his ties with parent club Eastleigh, goalkeeper Freddie Toomer has signed for last season’s Wessex runners-up Bemerton Heath Harlequins.

Without money to pay players squad losses were always on the cards, but Romsey boss Wayne Mew says it could have been worse.

Simon De’Ath, Town’s top scorer last season, had tempting offers to leave, as did brothers Ryan and Jake Long and Ross Gregory.

But all four turned down the chance of a weekly wage and a signing-on fee in favour of staying put at the Bypass Ground.

“That loyalty is really pleasing. It shows that, even without money, there’s still a lot to enjoy at Romsey,” said Mew.

“Even the players who left texted and begged me to try and get the money to keep them.

“Their hearts are at Romsey, but their wallets are at other clubs and I can understand why.

“When you’re offered £50-£60 a week plus win bonuses, it’s a lot to turn down, particularly for lads who haven’t got a lot of work.”

Steve Hollick, goalkeeping coach with Totton & Eling last season, will fill the void left by Toomer.

Mew has also signed young midfielder Luke Dempsey from Sholing and Callum Stanley, a striker/wideman formerly with New Milton.

Frontman Ben White, on Alton Town’s books last term, is also in training with Romsey but has yet to put pen to paper.

“If we had a budget, the majority of lads we’ve lost would have stayed and others would have signed for us,” said Mew.

“I tried to get (striker) Darren Morris from Sholing, but even Fawley were able to offer him money, which is a bit frustrating.”

Of the money that has been available to Romsey this summer, the bulk has been spent on improving their Bypass Ground home.

The central section of the pitch has been dug up and re-laid, the stand, hospitality suite and dressing rooms have been given a lick of paint and Town plan to put a new roof on the clubhouse.

“We’re trying to get the ground up to a reasonable standard as well as the team,” Mew explained.

“We don’t want to build a side capable of going out and winning things if we don’t have a decent ground to go with it.

“The ground has been let go a bit over the years and we’re trying to get it all up together side by side with the squad.”

* The demise of Andover FC has left Romsey without a pre-season friendly fixture next Saturday (August 6).

The pitch and officials have been booked at the Bypass Ground, now all they need is opposition.

“It’s the week before the season starts, so we could really do with a game,” said manager Mew.