Former Albion hero Darren Freeman is back doing what he loves best - playing football.

Freeman has signed a contract with Nationwide Conference club Margate after his professional career was cruelly cut short by injury.

Eleven months ago, with the Seagulls in the embryonic stages of their Second Division title campaign, Freeman's world caved in.

Serious hernia damage forced him to hang up his boots at the age of 28. Now he has dusted them off and returned to his non-League roots.

"I've had nearly a year out and I have found it very difficult," Freeman said. "I have missed the game so much and I am just going to see how it goes.

"It just seems part of me has been missing and that is my football. I cannot play professionally, so I am trying to do the next best thing."

Freeman played for a succession of non-League clubs in Sussex before moving into the pro game with Gillingham, Fulham, Brentford and then Albion.

The Brighton-born marksman had interest from a number of amateur clubs immediately after his retirement but first he had to concentrate on getting healthy again.

He could barely walk after matches and ended up having four operations.

"When I left Brighton I was devastated and still in a lot of pain," he said. "Football never came into my mind at that stage.

"It has taken me a year to recover. Obviously I am still not 100 per cent and I don't think I ever will be, but now I can walk without pain."

Freeman made the 70-minute journey from his home in Saltdean to Margate last week for his first training session with the Kent outfit.

"It was weird because I hadn't kicked a ball for nearly a year," he said. "It was quite a light session, but the following morning I was aching in all departments, especially my groin.

"I will be training once or twice a week and hopefully playing on Saturdays but I am just taking things one step at a time.

"It seems a very good set-up and I am just enjoying trying to keep myself a little bit fit."

Freeman's absence from the game has given him time to develop other areas of his life.

He listened to the advice of his dad Reg, who urged him to invest some of the money he made from football, and is now involved in two businesses.

He owns a property development company with friend and Albion fan Lee Martin and a sandwich shop, Lizzies, in Blatchington Road, Hove.

"I couldn't cook beans on toast before I went in there," Freeman joked. "Talk about being chucked in at the deep end.

"I cannot say I really enjoyed it. Now I have left it in the capable hands of my staff. I think they are delighted I am not in there any more."

The break has also given Freeman more time to spend with sons Stacey and Leighton, both promising players.

"I have concentrated on my boys," he said. "They are both doing really well. Obviously it is too early to say if they will make it, but I want to be there for them and put them right where I went wrong, like concentrating on their school work.

"They both play for Woodingdean and Stacey has already been over to Brighton's centre of excellence at Worthing."

Freeman would be happy for them to follow in their father's footsteps.

He said: "Sometimes injuries get you down. You don't get a Christmas and you can't have a drink, but when you are not playing it really hits home.

"You don't realise how good it is until it is taken away from you. If it wasn't for football I wouldn't be where I am now. It has given me a good life and a lot of good memories."

Those memories will come flooding back on August 10, when Albion launch their First Division season at Burnley and Freeman hopes to be lining up for Margate in a prestige friendly against Millwall.

A week later they commence their Conference campaign with a home game against Morecambe.

The irony is that if they are promoted to the Football League Freeman will not be able to play, but who knows?

That name could appear on an Albion shirt again one day.