Exclusive: Reece James: 'Thank you Wigan Athletic...and goodnight'
"When I arrived last summer I was just a little boy...I'll always look back on my time here with fondness."
The words of Reece James after the 19-year-old played his final game for Wigan Athletic - with the captain's armband - before returning to Chelsea after a quite incredible season on loan.
James signed off with another virtuoso performance to help Latics to beat Millwall and and end the campaign in 18th spot - a whopping TWELVE points clear of the Championship drop zone.
But the standing ovation from three sides of the stadium that greeted his 90th-minute planned substitution said everything about the impact the 19-year-old - who hadn't made a senior appearance prior to his arrival last summer - has made.
"Obviously it was my last game here, and I'd just like to thank everybody at the club," he told the Wigan Post.
"They made me feel so welcome from the start and I thank them for that.
"The ovation I got when I came off...I can't thank the crowd enough for the support they've given me throughout the season.
"But that...I'm very grateful.
"Right from day one they've always said very nice things about me, and rated me very highly...and it means a lot to me."
No-one has played more minutes this term for Latics than James, who has grown both on and off the field during his time in the north west.
"I think I've come on a lot both as a player and person to be fair," he acknowledged.
"When I arrived last summer I was just a little boy.
"Not many people knew me or knew what I could do.
"As the season's gone on I feel I've grown and grown and grown.
"I'll always look back on my time here with fondness.
"It's been a great season and I've made a lot of friends."
Latics fans will certainly be following his progress with vested interest, but will that be in the Chelsea first team next term?
"That's what I'd want, ideally," he added.
"But whatever happens is not down to me really."