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Chris Birchall vs Burton

Chris Birchall may have played alongside David Beckham in Los Angeles and against England in a World Cup finals, but that does not mean the Port Vale midfielder will be treating Saturday's FA Cup tie against Brighton & Hove Albion lightly.

Birchall's intriguing career captured the limelight when the Stafford-born Englishman received an unlikely call-up for Trinidad & Tobago, and he then faced Sven-Goran Eriksson's England side at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

On Saturday at Vale Park Birchall will don the colours of his boyhood team in the fourth-round tie against Brighton, one of his six former clubs in a footballing odyssey that has also taken in Coventry City, St Mirren, Carlisle United, Beckham's LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew, before coming full circle with a return to Vale this time last year.

"I'd definitely say I was an old 29-year-old because of the places that I've been and the managers I've played under, the different opportunities I've had of playing in different countries. I feel like I have been around really," says Birchall, who is relishing facing Brighton, seventh in the Championship, with Vale's eighth position in League One an indication of how well they are performing this season.

Birchall's globe-trotting days began during his first spell with Port Vale, for whom he had made his debut aged 16 in a 2-0 League Cup defeat away at Charlton in September 2001. He had only just established a first-team place when, four years later in 2005, the surprise international call came from Trinidad & Tobago, for whom Birchall qualifies due to the fact his mother was born in the Trinidadian capital Port of Spain.

"It was a long time ago. They called me up and the next week I was on a plane [to Trinidad], I'd never been there before and it was a bit of a culture shock, I didn't know how people were going to take me, accept me," says Birchall, although he was was welcomed warmly. "There's a lot of different cultures over there, so I didn't expect to be accepted as much as I was," says Birchall. "But on the pitch [how I] try to battle, they took to that and I was lucky, really."

He played an integral role in the Soca Warriors securing a berth at the World Cup for the first time, scoring a late equaliser in the home leg of the play-off against Bahrain. T&T won the away match, 1-0, to become the smallest nation ever, in terms of both population and geography, to compete in the finals.

"It was great. I was very young, and it was a whirlwind," says Birchall, who featured in all three group games in Germany in a squad that included Dwight Yorke, Shaka Hislop and Kenwyne Jones. "Once we [made it] I couldn't wait, it seemed to take ages," Birchall says. "But once there it was something I didn't really appreciate until I looked back and watched the DVDs. But it was a great experience."

Trinidad drew 0-0 with Sweden, lost 2-0 to England and 2-0 to Paraguay, and the clear highlight for Birchall was the match against Eriksson's team of Beckham, Michael Owen, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

"On the day England didn't really play well, we [limited] them to a few chances but they got the two goals in the last 10 minutes," says Birchall. "Each one of our team knew we weren't as good as the opposition but we had individual roles and the gaffer, Leo Beenhakker, was highly experienced," he says of the veteran Dutch coach who won three consecutive La Liga titles when managing Real Madrid in the 1980s.

Did he speak to any of England players afterwards? "Lampard, walking off the pitch, Beckham – they were on about the game and that they didn't play well and that," he says.

Birchall's rise to prominence on the World Cup stage won him a £325,000 move to Coventry City, bought by Micky Adams to begin a relationship with a manager who would sign him for Brighton in January 2009, following loan spells at St Mirren and Carlisle, and for a third time on the return to Vale last January.

In between came three campaigns for the Galaxy in Los Angeles, where he shared a dressing room with Beckham, became a pal of fellow Potteries-native Robbie Williams, lived in a beach house, and generally enjoyed himself, winning the MLS Cup in his final season in 2011 before a short spell with Columbus Crew in Ohio.

"I enjoyed it thoroughly [in the MLS], because it's probably the third real major sport over there there's no real pressure. You do get a lot of fans but they come for a more family event so its different kind of atmosphere.

It was a bit of a culture shock but with growing up and having different challenges – going to Trinidad, that was a shock – and always being away from home, I just tried to get on with it. There was Landon Donovan, Juan Pablo Ángel, a bit later on Robbie Keane, and obviously Beckham. So there was a lot of big names. Beckham is a really nice guy, you wouldn't think he's as famous as he is when you're talking to him."

Claiming the 2011 MLS Cup came after defeat in the final two years before. "We lost against Salt Lake on penalties," says Birchall. "So winning the cup and the players I played with, enjoying my football over there, the lifestyle and experience: saying that I've done it really, is what stands out. I've enjoyed it. Hopefully there's a few more years to come."

Victory against Brighton on Saturday and a place in the last 16 of the FA Cup for his boyhood club would be a less glamorous but no less significant achievement for Birchall.

"If we can get a win against Brighton it'll be a massive step towards a good season," says Birchall. "I knew I was always going to come back because this is my home, I'm from Newcastle-under-Lyme, and I've got a little boy. He had to start school and settle down. I've enjoyed my career and hopefully there's a few more years to come."

And many more mornings being teased by Vale team-mates? "Yeah, there is definitely a lot of ribbing and mickey-taking but all enjoyable," he says. "There's always a shout every day in training – if I do something good they're always shouting: 'That's why he's played in a World Cup.'"