HE grew up as an avid Pompey fan before giving up his Fratton Park season ticket to play for the Saints.

James Ward-Prowse still lives with his family in Portsmouth but has played for the arch-rivals of his hometown club since having to choose between the two at the age of eight.

He turns 17 next Tuesday but received an early birthday present last Tuesday night, a first-team debut against Crystal Palace celebrated by the whole family.

Although Saints lost the Carling Cup tie, Ward-Prowse did well in front of his parents, girlfriend, older brother and younger sister at Selhurst Park.

Dad John, a barrister, said: “James was told on the Monday that he would start and fortunately I had a free day so it worked out very well and we were able to go up in the afternoon.

“I was delighted with him, we were all very pleased with his performance and are genuinely over the moon.

“There were a couple of wayward passes but I have to keep reminding myself that he’s only 16!

“He said he would keep it simple. He’s a creative midfielder but not that flamboyant, he’s always played the game very simply.

“For me, his forte is his eye for a pass and ability to read the game.”

The irony is that Ward-Prowse grew up a Pompey fan, like his dad and 22- year-old brother Ben.

“Like me he’s Portsmouth born and bred!” smiled John. “Before he signed for Southampton he trained with Portsmouth’s School of Excellence and he did have some games for their under-nines when he was seven.

“At one stage he was training with Southampton and Pompey five nights a week, but then the inevitable happened – both clubs found out about the other!

“He had to make a decision in the April before his ninth birthday, but it was always going to be Southampton because of the fantastic reputation of their academy and the quality of the coaching.

“So you have the paradox of an avid Portsmouth supporter wanting to play for Southampton!

"I can’t speak highly enough of Southampton and its youth development.

"James is where he is because of the Southampton academy.

“If you asked him now he would tell you he’s an adopted Southampton fan.

"We were Portsmouth season ticket holders until four seasons ago and went to the FA Cup final.

“But because of James’s Saturday commitments we gave up our season tickets.

"We were loaning them to other people more often than getting to Fratton Park ourselves.

“And like a lot of Pompey fans we became disillusioned with the set-up and all the unfulfilled promises about a new stadium and training ground.”

James left Oaklands Catholic School in Waterlooville with six GCSEs in the summer.

“He got good grades and a lot of that is down to the Southampton set up,” explains John.

“He was only in school for a day a week, but for four afternoons he would get the rest of the tuition he needed at the academy.

"Southampton have really got it right.”

Ward-Prowse’s academy coaches included Mark Chamberlain, former England winger and father of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (the last Pompey teenager with a double-barrelled surname to play for Saints) and Dave Puckett, who was released last year and is now at Lymington Town.

“Dave gave him a lot of opportunities, he was very influential and pushed him on and up the age groups,” said John.

Others to help in Ward-Prowse’s development included Billy Gilbert, the hard-as-nails former Crystal Palace and Pompey defender.

“I asked Billy to toughen James up because I was worried he was a bit of a woos in the tackle,” explained John.

“Billy said ‘leave him with me!’ When I returned he was picking James up by his bib!

“Tony Mount, the former Havant Town and Newport IOW manager, also had private sessions with James to get his tackling together.

“And [Havant & Waterlooville manager] Shaun Gale had him training with his first team when James was 14.”

James has since played for England Under-17s, and now crosses the divide on a daily basis, travelling by train from Farlington to Southampton Central each morning.

“The first thing he did was kick,” continued John. “As soon as he could walk he had a ball at his feet and if we took that away from him he would kick his teddy bear!

“He was only three when he went to his first Pompey game, he had a bag of crisps and his drink and wanted to go at half time! But he grew to love it after that.

“He flirted with cricket as something to do in the summer, he’s quite a competent tennis player and he likes music – if that’s what you call what youngsters listen to nowadays – but it’s always been about football for him.

“I played a bit and he had a grandad who played rugby for Hampshire but I can’t think of anyone else in the family who’s played sport at his level.

“I’ve obviously spoken to him about it and the only reason he’s given for wanting to play is because of the huge crowds.

"It was refreshing to hear that money and girls weren’t his motivation.”