Note — this article contains spoilers for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you haven’t read/seen it and plan to in the future, I’d recommend skipping this one.
Permit me a brief digression. For those of you who have either read the Lord of the Rings books or watched the movies, this is for you. For those who haven’t, it’ll be only a paragraph I promise. In The Fellowship of the Ring (spoiler alert), Gandalf the Grey, the central, universally beloved character in the story, falls into the Mines of Moria defending the Fellowship from certain doom.
Upon the Fellowship arriving in their next destination, as news spreads of Gandalf’s demise, a lamentation for Gandalf is sung, the words of which we are never given. When asked to translate from Elvish, Legolas responds: “I have not the heart to tell you, for me, the grief is still too near”.
James Ward-Prowse is and forever will be a Southampton legend
Gandalf is a legendary figure in the Lord of the Rings universe. Ever present in the story, he has been around for over 1,000 years. He is the main force of good in the world, someone whose entire purpose on this earth is to counter evil. He gets the good guys out of tight spots time and time again and is always around to give a word of sage wisdom.
Which brings me to James Ward-Prowse. The Athletic’s David Ornstein and transfer guru Fabrizio Romano reported that an agreement between Saints and West Ham has been struck for the Southampton captain. We can talk about the price, whether Southampton got enough, or whether they should hold JWP for the season against his wishes.
But for me, the grief is still too near. Prowsey has been a club legend for Southampton. He came up through the Southampton academy and made his senior debut at the age of 16 in 2011. He made his Premier League debut not long later in 2012 and has been a regular in the team ever since. Not only that — he was born a Portsmouth fan, but spurned his boyhood club for their greatest rival, and has stayed loyal to the Saints ever since.
In a Premier League full of cash-bloated, internationally famous, gigantic clubs, Southampton found a way to compete for the better part of a decade. Not just competing, they often thrived, finishing top half several times and consistently besting the top 6 clubs. They found their way into the Europa League and beat Italian giants Inter Milan at St. Mary’s.
Saints were never the best team, the most skilled team, the most expensive team, but they found ways to win, with each manager bringing their style of play to the South Coast. The free-flowing teams of Mauricio Pochettino, the sufferball of Claude Puel, the gegenpressing of Hasenhüttl, Nathan Jones’…well…I honestly still don’t know what Nathan Jones was trying to do.
Ward-Prowse was there for it all. He was valuable for it all. He gave 100% through it all. Whether it was the sexy teams featuring Tadić and Mané, or the grind-it-out teams of Romeu and Højbjerg, Ward-Prowse was always there. He was a constant force for the good guys: getting under the other team’s skin (legend has it Zaha is still in his pocket), winning the ball back in the most opportune moment, playing as a 6, 8, 10, and even a fullback.
But importantly, most importantly, were his free kicks. Watching his free kicks was truly a privilege. Saints had long periods of time where the only offensive strategy was to run to the edge of the box and fall down. And it worked!
Opposing keepers would quake in their boots seeing Prowsey line up his shot. As soon as the defender committed the foul, the look of “Oh no I just messed up” on his face would be priceless. Being able to have that feeling as a fan and seeing JWP stepping up was a beautiful thing.
But now, it is (reportedly) gone. Our captain is leaving for greener pastures. And who can blame him — he is a Premier League quality player who wants to play Premier League and European football.
West Ham can offer him both. He has given his all for Southampton for over a decade, watched different eras of the team come and go, and has always contributed no matter what. He and Danny Ings almost single-handedly kept Saints up throughout the recent years, and without him, Southampton could’ve been relegated much sooner.
So our captain, our Gandalf, has fallen. Seeing the photoshops of him in claret and blue makes me ill. What will make me even more ill is seeing him for West Ham lining up a free kick like a lion stalks its prey. He is only two direct free-kick goals from breaking David Beckham’s all-time Premier League record, and odds are it will happen away from St. Mary’s.
One-club men don’t often happen in top-level football. Even the superstars are looking to move around — Messi from Barcelona, Mbappé from PSG, and Kane from Spurs. The days of Totti, Maldini, and Carragher are gone. Prowsey could’ve etched his name into legend at Saints, up there with the likes of Le Tissier, Lambert, and many more. However relegation is a cruel mistress, and JWP is moving on.
And like the elves for Gandalf, we as Saints fans lament the loss of an icon. The gap between Southampton and East London has never felt so wide. Southampton, like the Fellowship of the Ring, is now leaderless. But the Fellowship finds new strength.
They get a new leader, Aragorn, who steps into his mantle as King and leads them to victory. We may not have Aragorn, but we have Jack Stephens. The Cornish Maldini has been tabbed to take the armband upon its vacancy, and it is fully deserved.
If West Ham gets relegated next season (not impossible) and the Saints get promoted, could the prodigal son return? We can only hope. We can only hope Saints become stronger, more united in his absence.
Want your voice heard? Join the Saints Marching team!
Inspired by his fall, we march on, into the darkness of the Championship, united behind Captain Jack (Stephens). We fight our way back to the Premier League to find our hero waiting for us with open arms, knowing all along we could do it ourselves.
For now, we lament. “I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil” (The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King).
Southampton are back in action against Norwich City on August 12th at 3 pm BST.