EXCLUSIVE JOHN WELSH COLUMN

'I will never forget the lessons I learned at Liverpool'
'I will never forget the lessons I learned at Liverpool'
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It goes without saying that everybody connected with Preston was absolutely delighted to see our goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann blast home his penalty against Oldham on Tuesday night.

With the scores level at 9-9 in the penalty shootout after the tie had finished level 2-2 after 90 minutes, it was up to the big man to take us through to the next round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Thankfully, Stucki was calmness personified at Boundary Park as he fired home the winner. We now go forward to the area semi-final where we will meet either Notts County or Doncaster Rovers.

While promotion back to the Championship is the ultimate aim for the club this season, all the players are excited about the prospect of a possible trip to Wembley for the final.

We are only three games away now and, as club captain, it would be a dream come true to lead the team out at Wembley. If we do get there – one thing I will be telling my team-mates is whatever you do, don’t touch the JP Trophy before the game.

I remember when I was a young pro at Liverpool, I travelled with the squad to the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan in Istanbul.

Although I had been in the squad in virtually every round that season and came on as a substitute against Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the competition, I was left out of the matchday squad for the final.

Even so, I vividly remember Spain striker Fernando Morientes, who had obviously won the trophy with Read Madrid previously, coming around to us all in the dressing room and telling the team not – under any circumstances – to touch the European Cup before kick-off.

He said it would bring us bad luck if we did and sure enough, as the team walked past the iconic cup just prior to kick-off, not one of the Liverpool players as much as glanced at it.

The same could not be said of the Milan players – they had their hands all over it.

Did it bring them bad luck? Well I suggest it did, judging by who was holding aloft the silverware at the end of the game!

Despite racing into a 3-0 half-time lead, Milan were rocked in the second half by an amazing Stevie Gerrard-inspired comeback, which culminated in the Reds being crowned European champions via a penalty shootout.

Although disappointed to have not been part of the squad, as a Liverpudlian and boyhood Liverpool fan, it was one of the greatest nights of my life.

Let’s just say that night and the few days after that are still a bit of a blur! I actually joined Liverpool at the age of eight. All my family were massive Reds so coming from that environment, it was just great to sign with the club.

I managed to progress through the club’s academy, before eventually reaching Melwood – the famous training ground – as a trainee at first, and then as a professional. It’s fair to say that my dream came true when I walked through the doors at Melwood for the very first time.

To see Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Gerrard and then to be able to train and play with them is something I will never forget.

I think coming through the ranks at Liverpool was not only great from a football point of view but it also taught me a lot about life.

The coaches there tried to teach the lads about life and the way we should act and conduct ourselves away from the game.

They wanted us to be humble and to be nice to people. They urged us not to have an ego. Sometimes footballers can get labelled as big time, but the coaches at Liverpool tried to steer us clear from being like that.

I think those lessons have stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.

Sitting next to people like Owen and Gerrard did leave me star-struck in my first few months as a professional.

I would often think to myself, ‘Wow this is amazing...I am here’. I would not say I did not think I deserved to be there but it did take me a while to come to terms with it. But after a while, I got used to getting changed next to Carragher or having my poached eggs on toast on the same table as Gerrard.

Being an ex-Liverpool player is something nobody can take away from me. I made my debut against Ipswich in a cup game at Anfield under Gerrad Houllier.

I suppose my appearance against Leverkusen was a highlight, although I can’t remember too much about it. I remember my mum coming up to me after the game and asking if I had done well.

My reply was, ‘I think so’. It was surreal because you spend your life watching these games on the television and then all of a sudden, you are involved!

It was Rafa Benitez who told me my future lay away from the club when he called me in and told me that my appearances would be limited to just cup games and the odd appearance here and there.

I needed to forge a career elsewhere and I’m thrilled to be at such a big club like Preston.

Away from the game, I have two young boys – John (six) and one-year-old Jamie – who obviously I love to spend as much time as possible with.

One of my big passions aside from football is boxing. I have a few mates who are pro boxers – people like Tony Bellew and Paul Smith.

I was in the crowd for Bellew’s fight against Nathan Cleverley last Saturday. I just love the art of boxing. I am friends with the Preston boxer Matty Clarkson who I think has a good career ahead of him.