STOKE CITY'S first team players and management were out spreading festive cheer to local children at The Donna Louise Children's Hospice and the University Hospital of North Staffordshire when they undertook their annual Christmas visits on Monday afternoon.
As in previous years, Tony Pulis split his playing squad into two with Peter Crouch, Michael Kightly and Geoff Cameron part of the group that visited the Donna Louise Trust, while skipper Ryan Shawcross was joined by the likes of Steven Nzonzi, Asmir Begovic and Michael Owen.
The players and coaching staff all took time out of their training schedule ahead of Saturday's clash with high-flying Everton to mix with the children and their families, where they spent time handing out Potteries Shopping Centre gift vouchers, posing for photographs, signing autographs and even participating in a mini outdoor kickabout with some of the young patients.
As part of the visits, the Club have made a donation from the Stoke City Community Fund and money raised by the players themselves to the Donna Louise Trust, while a similar amount has helped to supply computers and games for the Children's Centre at the UHNS.
Speaking during the visit, Owen said it is vitally important for the players to do their bit for the local community throughout the year, but even more so during the festive period.
"It's obviously really nice to visit the local kids," he said. "I have done a few of these hospital visits around Christmas time, and it always gives you the same feeling when you step into these places and see the children who sadly won't be at home during a special time of year.
"For one, it's nice to give them a bit of cheer, even if it is only for the day, and two, it is good for us to be given a general reminder of how lucky we are to be fit and healthy and working in a profession which we love."
He added: "We have all chipped in, and in a day and age where footballers do tend to get criticised for certain things, I think it is refreshing for people to see that the lads are going out trying to do something good for the local area, and making donations to help out these two fantastic causes."
The Donna Louise Trust, which is based just a mile from the Britannia Stadium in Trentham, is a charity close to the heart of the Football Club and there have been a number of events in which members of the Potters' coaching and playing squad have played a part in raising funds.
Celebrity Ambassador of the Donna Louise Trust, Rory Delap has participated in three fund-raising bike rides, whilst Tony Pulis completed the London Marathon in the summer of 2009 before embarking upon a monumental trek up Mount Kilimanjaro twelve months later.
Just six months ago, City's boss and television personality Nick Hancock were joined by a number of other celebrities as they completed a gruelling 960-mile bike ride from John O'Groats to Land's End, raising another substantial amount of money for the charitable organisation.
Pulis, who spent time at both the Donna Louise Hospice and the University Hospital on Monday, told Stoke City Player that visiting the children during Christmas is one of the highlights of his calendar.
"We're visiting the hospital and the Donna Louise, which is a mile away from the Football Club. The work they do is special and it's very humbling to be here. Coming to see them at this time of year is always something that I personally look forward to," he said.
"It's a lovely, comforting place to be and to see the players around the kiddies is great as they haven't been dealt the hand that the players have been dealt. It's very humbling to see the boys in there with them, where there are absolutely no inhibitions.
"We've come here and brought them vouchers so their parents can get them what they want for Christmas. As well as that, we've made a donation to the Charity again and we will do the same up at the hospital too. It's a nice little treat from us to them on the basis that we are very, very privileged."
List of visiting players and staff:
Donna Louis Children's Hospice: Tony Pulis, Paul Maxwell, Mark O'Connor, Charlie Adam, Geoff Cameron, Peter Crouch, Rory Delap, Matthew Etherington, Robert Huth, Michael Kightly, Carlo Nash, Thomas Sorensen, Marc Wilson, Matthew Upson.
University Hospital of North Staffordshire: Tony Pulis, John Rudge, Andy Quy, Asmir Begovic, Glenn Whelan, Wilson Palacios, Kenwyne Jones, Michael Owen, Maurice Edu, Jamie Ness, Steven Nzonzi, Ryan Shawcross, Dean Whitehead, Jonathan Walters, Andy Wilkinson, Ryan Shotton, Cameron Jerome.