Former Liverpool Academy graduate John Welsh admits he cannot wait to be reunited with the club when Preston take on the Reds in a pre-season friendly on July 13.

The 29-year-old Scouser progressed through the Anfield ranks to make 10 first-team appearances between 2002 and 2005, figuring briefly in the Champions League run to Istanbul in 2004-05.

Welsh joined Hull City on loan in August 2005 in a deal that later became permanent before loan stints with Chester City, Carlisle United and Bury.

The midfielder returned to Merseyside in 2009 to join Tranmere ahead of a switch to Preston last summer, where was named as the Lilywhites' Player of the Season and Players' Player of the Season following an impressive debut campaign.

Welsh admits it was a wrench to part with his beloved Liverpool eight years ago, though he's philosophical when reflecting on that decision.

He told the Liverpool Echo: "As a supporter it was hard to take and leave the club. 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 be happy with two or three games a season and Hull City gave me a great opportunity to go there and get a full season under my belt.

"At first I thought I maybe would come back but it led to a permanent transfer, which worked out really well."

Welsh added: "There were a lot of good players at Liverpool during my time there. 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."

Welsh had the opportunity to train alongside some of the finest midfielders of his generation on a daily basis while at Liverpool, including the likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso.

He believes doing so provided him with invaluable experience in his development.

"Steven Gerrard stands out as the best player I've played with," explained Welsh. "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 McAllister and Xabi Alonso. I also learned 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."

It's clear Welsh's affection for Liverpool hasn't diminished over the years - but now he's relishing the prospect of locking horns with them when the Reds kick off their pre-season programme at Deepdale later this month.

"When I heard that we would be playing Liverpool, I was really excited," he said. "It's 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 be great if Steven Gerrard is playing. But I'd also like to come up against Joe Allen, who I think is a 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 come up against."