Published 20 April 2022 6 min read
England Men's Senior Team

James Ward-Prowse's grassroots pride

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James Ward-Prowse

How grassroots football continued to help the England midfielder on his journey to the top, even after signing for Southampton...
James Ward-Prowse discusses how, even after joining Southampton from East Lodge FC in Portsmouth, grassroots football continued to aid his development thanks to time playing Sunday league football and training with Havant and Waterlooville's men's team while still a teenager.

My first football memory would probably be just the way my mum and dad introduced me to the sport. Like I do now with my son, you give your child a ball and see what they do with it.

I found a natural knack of kicking the ball and would kick anything around the house: old socks rolled up that my dad would throw to me or balloons which were around. So those would be my first memories of kicking a ball around.
 
I grew up in Farlington in Portsmouth and my local team were East Lodge FC. It was a two-minute drive from my house or we would walk there. It was the start of what has been an incredible journey for me.
 
I started playing down there around the age of seven and I had a really good trainer called Dave Hill, who had been at the club for many, many years and had seen a lot of lads come through the team there. By the age of eight, Southampton had contacted me and wanted me to join their academy and I trained there before then signing at the age of nine.
 
I was at both Southampton and Portsmouth at the time and I had to make a decision on where I wanted to be and where I wanted to sign. I just felt the quality of the training and the set-up at Southampton was a lot more suitable for me to develop and to be the best player I could be. 
 
It was a pretty big step up to join an academy and a daunting one but it was one which as a seven or eight year old you immediately looked forward to.
Despite growing up in Portsmouth, James was spotted and signed by Southampton's academy
Despite growing up in Portsmouth, James was spotted and signed by Southampton's academy
I'm still in touch with East Lodge FC. Dave is still in contact with my mum and dad and he reached out to them a few years ago and said he would like me to go down and see them all if possible. Dave spoke to me about the possibility of helping to renovate the building where they store the equipment and have the kitchen and things like that.
 
So I put some money towards the renovation because I wanted to give something back to the club which was the start of my journey. When I was a player there, the facilities were in the condition that we could train there and the families could go in and keep warm in the winter months. So to be able to help them reinvent that and allow the next group of young players to have that same facility was something which appealed to me.
 
They ended up painting a picture of me on the wall in an England shirt which was great. Obviously coming from Portsmouth and playing for Southampton - those clubs don’t have the best relationship shall we say - so they were keen to make sure that it wouldn’t be tampered with in any way. Hopefully people can look past that club rivalry and the reasons why I joined Southampton. I just hope the picture can show the young kids coming through that they can have the same set-up I had as a young kid at the start of their journey.
 
I played football at Oaklands Catholic School in Waterlooville as well but football wasn’t the first sport on the list. It was more of a rugby-orientated school so I had a little spell of trying to brave myself to play on the wing in rugby and it wasn’t too much fun. We had the odd football tournament but it was more playing at lunchtime at school and getting a real sweat on, going into the last lesson of the day shattered from running around playing football.
 
I think my initial love of the game mainly came from my dad. He obviously loved football and he actually brought around some DVDs the other day from around 2002 when they were able to film the games. My dad is on the sidelines and you can hear his passion and him trying to advise me. It was great to see it on screen because you don’t really remember those kinds of moments as much as a kid.
 
My dad is a barrister but my family gave me the foundation to go on to achieve whatever I wanted to. I was never forced into football or an academic route. I just found a love of football and ran with it, really. 
 
I did some work experience with my dad because you had to as part of your education and it was an easy way to have a look at a different way of working. It was a good experience but I was definitely keen to stick to the football!
29 Apr 2021 8:56

Questions with James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw


James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw sit down for a game of Questions, as they tackle some of the BIG issues of the day

I did do pretty well at school academically though and I left school a year early to do a day-release scheme with Southampton. I would spend four days out of the week at training and one day at school, where they prioritised a small group of us, which included Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Harrison Reed, to really focus on the football but still have an eye on the education as well.
 
I managed to come away with good grades and ones that I am proud of. Because of the lack of school time, I think I only took half of my GCSEs but I passed them all with mostly As and then a B in maths. So I was pleased considering I hadn’t been at school full-time.
 
In my age group we had Luke, Calum, Harrison and Sam McQueen as well, so we had a really good crop of players coming through. A lot of them have gone on to do wonderful things and we played together for England at various levels. We had a really special group and the club put a lot of effort into helping us flourish.
 
But I still had help from outside of the academy growing up. I kept it quiet at the time because I don’t think Southampton would have been too happy about it but I used to train with Havant and Waterlooville FC’s first team around the age of 14 and 15.
 
I wasn't the toughest kid growing up so I needed to get some exposure to men’s football and I wanted to play up the age groups and be the best I could. It was a great opportunity to be around it and hear even simple things like swearing, the tough tackling and having pressure on your training sessions.
 
It was good to be exposed to that sort of environment and it definitely helped me toughen up quicker. I was already playing up an age group or two in the academy so I wanted that experience at Havant and Waterlooville. Even just going to watch their first team games, I would see the different side of the game which proved really important.
 
The players there were welcoming at the start but they were obviously in their profession and wanted to impress the manager so they got in the team on a Saturday, so they weren’t going to care if they kicked me or not, which was good to be on the end of in terms of my development.
Ward-Prowse celebrates his goal for England against Andorra with another son of Portsmouth, Mason Mount
Ward-Prowse celebrates his goal for England against Andorra with another son of Portsmouth, Mason Mount
A few of us also played in Sunday league tournaments as well so we could play more football, because we were not satisfied with doing the bare minimum. There were a couple of teams I played for. One was called College Youth, which was an evolution of East Lodge, and there was another team based in Shrewton called Shrewton Sixes.

Obviously the further away from Southampton we went, the less likely it was we would bump into a Southampton scout!
 
In the end we bumped into a scout from the club and we were told we had to stop so we did. Jordan Turnbull, who is at Salford City now, was another one who played for the Shrewton Sixes. And Louis Thompson, who is at Portsmouth now, also played there. It was good experience for all of us.
 
It's funny to now be on the other end of the journey where I am the dad and giving my three-year-old son Oscar the balls to play with and see what line he goes down. He is incredibly gifted with the ball, whether it is with his feet, with a golf club or even playing tennis. I want to give him the foundations and cover all areas to say ‘here is what you can do. Now you go and find what you like’.  
 
When I look back on my own time growing up and playing grassroots football, I think my overriding emotion from that time would be that of pride, first and foremost. Pride at the journey that I have made through that and also just happiness. 
 
When you get older, there are more stresses which come with playing football and it doesn’t always go smoothly, there are a lot more things riding on it. Whereas at that age, it was just about playing and enjoying yourself.
 
There was a lot of happiness during my time playing grassroots football for sure.