SIMON Walton has left Plymouth Argyle and is joining Hartlepool.Argyle agreed to release the Pilgrims' skipper from his contract for family reasons so he could link up with the npower League 1 side.
Walts, 24, who made 66 appearances for the Greens in four injury-hit and loan-filled seasons, was the club's leading scorer last season, with nine goals.
The move allows him to be closer to his family home in Leeds, some 45 minutes from Hartlepool, and also to be nearer to his young child.
"Anyone who knows me knows that I am a massive family man," said Walts, "especially when it comes to my daughter.
"I am going to be upset to leave - there's no getting away from the fact - but I am taking a step forward in my life and a step up.
"[The move] has got everything right about it. It's a step up in leagues, which is probably the main thing. [Hartlepool are] in League 1 with a team that is aiming to go even higher than that."
Walts' Argyle career did not really take off until the spring of 2011, when, following several spells out on loan and a knee-ligament injury sustained at one of his temporary homes, Sheffield United, he finally nailed down a regular first-team spot.
He said: "Eighteen months ago, if you told me I'd be upset to be leaving, I would not have believed you.
"Coming back from my knee injury taught me a lot. I have grown up and learnt a lot.
"They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and that's certainly been the case from a club and personal point of view over the last two years, from when I did my knee."
Made captain by Carl Fletcher last season, he led Argyle through administration to Football League survival, in the process forging a strong bond with the club's staff and fans.
"I have never experienced that," he said. "I am going to be heartbroken to walk out on that.
"Without blowing my own trumpet, I think I had a lot to do with it. I am going to miss the place and the lads.
"It's a club going places. In a way, I'm a bit sad I'm not going to be part of it, but I have my own bright future to look to now."
Fletch paid tribute to his departing skipper.
He said: "Last year, he was a really important person for us.
"He's gone through so much for this club. He was my captain and pretty much leading out a bunch of kids when he was only just 24 himself.
"He was a massive part of what we achieved last season.
"I've known Walts for a long time and he's just a nice guy. I think a lot of people don't see that.
"He changed his contract to help the sale of the club go through, which shows the character of the man. It's important that we remember that.
"We are disappointed to see him go and we wish him all the best for the future."
Argyle owner and chairman James Brent echoed his manager's sentiments.
"It has been a pleasure knowing Simon," he said.
"Throughout the really challenging times our club faced last year, Simon demonstrated absolute commitment and selflessness.
"He assumed the responsibilities as captain when we were at our lowest point and helped guide the team away from relegation.
"We understand the reasons for him wishing to be closer to his family and we wish him every success in his future career."