BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Nathan Ferguson has given Dulwich Hamlet a glowing reference when it comes to helping footballers back into the professional game.
The midfielder, 23, recently signed a three-year deal with League Two club Crawley Town.
And Ferguson, who previously had spells with Burton Albion and Port Vale, is just the latest in a succession of players who have successfully rebuilt with the National League South club.
Hamlet boss Gavin Rose and assistant Junior Kadi have established a reputation for turning around the fortunes of talented youngsters. Former Crystal Palace prospect Reise Allassani was a prime example as he signed for the South Londoners in 2017 – following almost a year out of the game. Coventry City moved for the attacker in 2018.
Forward Panutche Camara made the same move as Ferguson in 2017 and has gone on to play more than 80 matches for the West Sussex outfit.
Ferguson has this message for any aspiring footballers who have a shot at playing for Dulwich Hamlet.
“If you go there then you’ll be really happy,” he said. “It is a really good place to go and kick on if you have to drop down out of the league or down from a higher level.
“The one thing I’d tell anyone is don’t give up, work hard and Gavin and the coaching staff – Junior Kadi – will help you. They can help you change your mindset and work more positively towards your goals and also the club’s goals.
“When I dropped out of the league my confidence suffered a little bit. I maybe had some doubts about myself as a player. They set some challenges for you, make sure you can get your head down.
“If you want to go back into professional football your mentality has to be right as well.
“It helps build character, definitely.
“Gavin creates a very demanding atmosphere at Dulwich, a very professional atmosphere, in terms of what is expected in professional football.
“So it is not like a totally pressure-free situation. He demands a lot in terms of professionalism, what he wants from you on the pitch and how he wants you to express yourself.
“He talks a lot about mentality and how you prepare yourself for games and high-pressure situations – because Dulwich get big crowds and the fans like attacking football.
“So there is a certain level of pressure anyway, he creates a good environment for anyone looking to bounce back into the Football League or progress in football.
“Gavin, the coaching staff and the club are very ambitious. They only look forward and up. It’s very good for a player, because you are never looking behind you. You are only looking to succeed.
“I always try and enjoy football. Dulwich brought an enjoyment back for me a little bit.
“It is bitter-sweet I guess [leaving].”
Ferguson played his part in Hamlet winning promotion to National League South and stabilising at that level last season.
They ended a 125-year wait to escape the Isthmian League with a penalty shootout win over Hendon in May 2018 at Tooting & Mitcham’s Imperial Fields – they were ground-sharing until a dispute with Champion Hill landlords Meadow Residential was resolved. They returned home on Boxing Day.
“Being back at Dulwich changed a lot of things for us as a team,” said Ferguson. “We had our own ground back, the big crowds boosted the players a lot and it creates a nice atmosphere to play football in.
“It’s a tight-knit stadium and it brings everyone together.
“All we missed from last season was a bit of consistency. There were a lot of games where we dropped points and should have got a win or a draw.
“Of course being back at Champion Hill helped a lot, that’s a base to kick on and do better next season.
“The play-off final was mad. It wasn’t at our home ground, us being away from Champion Hill for a couple of months, but we had thousands of fans there. It was a mad day.
“It was really hot, extra-time and penalties – you couldn’t write a better story of how the season ended.
“Dulwich were a bit of a sleeping giant before. Maybe the infrastructure hadn’t been there. It was about time they went up.”
Hamlet’s history of rebuilding players helped sell Ferguson on a move when he left Bromley.
He put pen to paper on July 1 2017.
“I played against Dulwich when I was at Grays Athletic and they were in the Ryman Prem,” he said. “I always knew they had really good fans and were a really good club.
“They had a nice pitch and the manager wanted to play football the way I like to play. It was a big draw, because I wanted to get my head down somewhere and not bounce around from club to club.
“I wanted to stay somewhere for a little while and see what came of it.
“It was a few weeks ago I found out about a potential move to Crawley. I’ve been working towards another opportunity in the Football League, so I definitely jumped at the chance.
“You always wonder if that opportunity is going to happen or not. But you have to be confident that what you put in will pay off.”
PICTURE BY KEITH GILLARD