GARETH Bale is returning to Saints for the first time – with a vote of thanks from his grateful parents.

It is more than five years since the Saints academy product left for Spurs after one outstanding season in the club’s first team.

Bale was on Saints’ books for more than a decade before turning down the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal to sign for Spurs, for a fee of about £7m, in the summer of 2007.

He returns on Sunday as one of the most feared players in Europe.

Bale’s proud parents, Frank and Debbie, will be in the away end, grateful for the role Saints played in their son’s development.

Southampton prepared Gareth brilliantly, they really cared for his every need and we’re very grateful for that,” says Debbie.

“We were over the moon when they returned to the Premier League, they’re where they deserve to be.

“We always look for their results and although it was a bad one at West Ham last week it was great to see Adam [Lallana] score his first Premier League goal.”

The Bales will be travelling by train on Sunday morning.

“We all wanted to go to this game so much,” Debbie explains. “Gareth’s bought tickets for 13 of us – including his sister Vicky, aunties and uncles and a few of his friends."

Each one of us saw him play at St Mary’s for Southampton so we’re excited. I’m sure it will be a bit emotional.

“We thought about driving but then remembered how long it took to get back on the motorway after leaving a game!”

Full EXCLUSIVE interview in today's Daily Echo