Jordan Pickford admits he owes plenty to the rough and tumble of non-league football.
While at previous club Sunderland, the 23-year-old spent time on loan at Darlington and Alfreton Town, then of the Blue Square Premier League, across the 2011/12 and 2012/13 campaigns.
The chance to experience life at the other end of the football spectrum as a teenager resonated with the shot-stopper, who admits he owes much to those early opportunities in non-league.
“It was just the chance to play men’s football,” said the Everton number one. “I learned quite a lot getting battered by fully-grown blokes! You would come for crosses and catch an elbow in the face. But that’s what you want.
“When you are that young, you want that experience. You see lads literally playing for their livelihoods or paying for their mortgages and stuff. It was great to go and learn your trade in that environment.”
The lower echelons of the football pyramid will hold Non-League Day this weekend, with a plethora of games going on in and around the Merseyside area.
Pickford himself still recalls how enjoyable it was to play in front of local crowds in smaller grounds, even if some of the banter was a little questionable!
“You were always going to get the daft comments from someone in the stands behind you,” he smiles. “I remember playing for Darlington at Southport and this fella said some unkind things about mu grandad! I just laughed it off and got on with the game. That’s the kind of lad I am - nothing really affects me!”