HE took his first steps in the game when Darlington were engulfed in financial dire straits, then signed for a Championship club in meltdown before dropping into non-league where he again finds his employers embroiled in difficulties. Off-the-field issues seem to follow the unfortunate David Ferguson around.

He was even at Sunderland during Paolo Di Canio’s eventful stewardship, the left-back having moved to the Stadium of Light as a teenager when Darlington imploded in 2012 under the weight of administration.

Five years later and he is back at Darlington, the club where he came through the youth ranks, and where the off-the-field issues this time mean they have been denied a place in the play-offs.

Loading article content

A failure to meet ground criteria – 500 covered seats by March 31 – will preclude them from the play-offs, making for a deeply disappointing end to what had been a fine season for the team and Ferguson.

On Easter Monday he scored his first goal for the club, a 30-yard rocket in a 4-2 win over FC United of Manchester.

“If you don’t buy a ticket you’ll not win the lottery,” he said after his 15th game, most of them at left-back, since joining in January from Shildon and slotting seamlessly into Martin Gray’s team.

Gray had watched him play for Shildon, yet he was at Blackpool last season, falling from League One to the Northern League in one summer, quite a drop.

Now, putting ground rules and regulations aside, Ferguson’s sights are set on moving back up the football ladder.

“I had a long talk with Martin before I signed and both of us want the club to be back in the Football League,” he said.

“I had higher clubs interested in me, but I chose to come here because I think the club is going places and Darlo has always been in my heart.

“I joined just after primary school, then after that I signed a two-year scholarship under Craig Liddle. When the club went into administration I ended up playing in the first team. My debut was at Mansfield Town. I’ve still got my shirts, I had them framed, I was number 17.

“I’ve got memories. Darlo will always be in my heart. It’s where I grew up and it put me on the ladder so, that’s why it’s best place for me to come to now.

“I played seven games as a 17-year-old before what happened to the club, but I’m obviously more mature now.”

His experiences since making his first Darlington debut have no doubt shaped the now 22-year-old, who went to Sunderland alongside fellow Quakers prodigy Scott Harrison – now at Hartlepool – when Liddle was made development coach at the Stadium of Light.

Then in January 2015 came a move to Blackpool, a club in freefall.

They finished rock-bottom of the Championship with four wins, and on the back of just ten Football League appearances boss Neil McDonald made Ferguson skipper at the beginning of the following season.

“I was at Sunderland for two and half years after leaving Darlington, and then signed 18 months with Blackpool, so I’ve got some experience and I think I’ve come on as a player,” said Ferguson.

“I was captain at Blackpool. I took responsibility and think that has matured me at an early age. I was 21-year-old and things were happening off the pitch. A lot was aimed at me, so it was a massive learning curve. When fans were having a go at the team, I took responsibility, so I took the backlash really.

“I’d just turned 21 and I thought I stepped up to the plate, it made me strong mentally.

“I played over 30 games in League One. It’s a hard one to take from where I’ve dropped, but I’m not letting that get to me. I’m determined to get back where I was and even higher.”

Currently doing coaching work in Sunderland alongside former Darlington striker Amar Purewal, Ferguson knows he could still be in the full-time game had different decisions been made last summer.

So how did he end up going almost overnight from being Blackpool captain to joining Shildon?

“We were relegated and my contract option was not taken up by Blackpool,” he explained. “I didn’t find a club for certain reasons, but I just wanted to play football, so it was a case of knuckling down and trying to work my way back up.

“Representatives … things like that. I thought things would’ve gone for me, but they didn’t. It hurt me, but it’s not going to stop me because I know I’m good enough and hopefully I can show the fans, the club, the staff, the players that I’m good enough.

“The aim is try and play higher up again, and what better way to do that than with the club I was with for seven years previously when we were in League Two. The aim is to get back there.”