"Feels like you are playing for your country"
STOKE City defender Danny Higginbotham says he has "great memories" of playing in the Keele International Cup as a youngster.
He was part of a successful Stretford Victoria side that competed at the old Manchester University site under the competition?s former name of the Umbro Cup.
His former club are back for this year?s tournament in the Class F category and his message to all the players and teams from across the world is to make the most of their Keele experience.
"First and foremost it's exciting," said the Manchester United fan. "You get to play teams from other countries and that is very different to your normal fixtures over the season.
"Even at a young age it helps the players to develop as they see the different styles and techniques. It also feels as if you are representing your country and that is great for any footballer.
"It's always good to play in any competition and have the chance to win medals as those opportunities get fewer and far between as you get older."
"But this is a particularly great tournament to be part of and has always been very well organised; it's still going now so it must be."
Higginbotham started his career at Manchester United but only made a handful of appearances at Old Trafford before furthering his career at Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke.
He said: "I was at (Manchester) City as a youngster and Brian Kidd (former Manchester United assistant manager) approached my family and asked what colour my house was. It?s always been red so I joined United."
After hitting top form last season, Higginbotham cruelly missed out on Stoke's FA Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury against Chelsea just before the semi final.
The 32-year-old, who signed a contract extension until June 2013, had been the Potters' hero in the quarter final, scoring a free-kick winner against relegated West Ham in a 2-1 victory.
He said the Wembley disappointment proves how important it is to make the most of every opportunity you have on the pitch.
"My advice to young players is always listen to what people say and come off the pitch having given everything," said Higginbotham, who is hoping to return to full training by September. "Never leave anything behind, always give your all".
"Work hard and enjoy yourself because the pressure builds as you get older. I used to over-analyse my mistakes but as you get older you know what you have done wrong and draw on experience"
"During your career as a footballer you will always have great ups and downs, so don't beat yourself up about things if they don't go your way."
During his long career Higginbotham has had the privilege of marking the best strikers in the world, but one player stands out as the most challenging.
"There are so many great players, too many to mention them all, but Raul's movement was amazing. Freddie Kanoute, Di Canio, Theirry Henry and Michael Owen, all great players."
"But the one that stands out was Paul Dickov. He did not give you one second. As soon as you got the ball he was right at you like a rash, and I mean that as the biggest compliment."
He added: "It is always good to come off the pitch having tested yourself against the top players."
"And that buzz before kick-off and in the dressing room straight after the game with all the lads after a win, it is difficult to beat that feeling."
Club: Stoke City
Squad No: 3
Date of birth: 29/12/1978
Height: 6' 1" (185cm)
Weight 12st 3lbs (77.3kg)
Previous clubs: Sunderland, Southampton, Derby County, Man Utd