JOHN WELSH says the decision to leave Liverpool tore him in two.
The conflict between being a boyhood Red and an ambitious young professional led to a crossroads in the midfielder’s career.
In 2006, Welsh opted to turn away from Anfield and towards a life in the Football League.
Although he gave up being a part of the most exciting period in Liverpool’s recent history, the 29-year-old found regular football and so has few regrets.
On Saturday, July 13 Welsh is reunited with the club he has supported his entire life when Liverpool travel to Deepdale to take on Preston North End in a pre-season friendly.
And instead of there being feelings of sorrow and longing looks back to a former life, Welsh is just excited to test himself against the best.
“As a supporter it was hard to take and leave the club,” Welsh said.
“I was still only young and had to move out of the city.
“But as a professional I knew I had to do it. I needed games, I was hungry and wanted to play. I wasn’t going to be happy with two or three games a season and Hull City have me a great opportunity to go and play there and get a full season under my belt.
“At first I thought I maybe would come back but it lead to a permanent transfer which worked out really well.”
Welsh featured seven times in the glorious season of 2004-05 and was part of the Champions League squads for ties with Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea.
He loved every second of being part of that electrifying run to Istanbul but was less enthused at the prospect of spending another season on the bench and in the reserves.
Welsh believed he could offer Rafa Bentiez’s midfield something they didn’t have but was wise enough to know he faced world class opposition in his position.
“There were a lot of good players at Liverpool during my time there,” said Welsh, who made his debut in the League Cup draw with Ipswich Town in December 2002.
“The squad had international and world class players in it so I knew it was going to be tough to get a place in the squad.
“I always had the belief that I could do a job for the team. But there comes a point in your career when you can only play so much reserve team football.
“Leaving the club was a hard decision but one I had to take.”
He added: “Steven Gerrard stands out as the best player I’ve played with. He has been a world class player for a number of years.
“We come from a similar background and we both came through the Academy.
“There were a lot of other good midfielders in my time such as Gary McCallister and Xavi Alonso.
“I also learnt a lot from Jamie Redknapp.
“It was a great upbringing to train with them day in, day out.
“It really stood me in good stead to go on and progress my career.
“I could not have been anywhere better to develop me as a player.”
After accepting a season-long loan to Championship side Hull City at the beginning of the 2005-06 campaign, Welsh joined the Yorkshire side permanently the following year.
Three seasons at the KC Stadium were interrupted when Welsh suffered a double break to his right leg.
Sidelined for almost a year, Welsh recovered and was loaned to Chester City, Carlisle United and Bury before he returned to Merseyside in the summer of 2009.
Liverpool legend John Barnes was in the Tranmere Rovers hot seat and recognised Welsh as the midfield motivator his side needed.
Welsh racked up over 130 appearances as Rovers captain before an offer to join Preston arrived last summer.
“It is hard to get back into the game after that long out,” he said of his injury.
“When people haven’t heard from you in so long they are less likely to take a gamble on you. Football is a high pressured job.
“But thankfully John Barnes signed me up and Les Parry got me really fit for the new season.
“I was fitter and stronger than I had been when I was younger. I got the pre-season I needed.
“I’ve had a good first season at Preston but we would’ve liked to have got promoted.
“Preston are a massive club with a massive fan base and we are all confident we can do something this season. We’ve got a good bunch of lads and a manager who has had success at this level.”
Ever the fierce competitor, Welsh hopes they kick-off their preparations for the new League One campaign with a win over Liverpool.
“When I heard that we would be playing Liverpool I was really excited,” said Welsh.
“I actually heard about it from one of my mates – I’m not sure how he heard about it.
“It is always nice to play big names, never mind Liverpool, but this is going to be a great experience for the lads.
“I played against the reserve side when I was at Tranmere but this will be my first game against the senior team.
“Obviously it would great if Steven Gerrard is playing. But I’d also like to come up against Joe Allen who I think is good passer of the ball. Philippe Coutinho is really creative and I’d love to play against Luis Suarez just to see what he brings to the table.
“But there are so many world class players in the Liverpool squad so it will be exciting whoever we are up against.”