Rickie Lambert’s journey through the hierarchy of English football is a story that for large parts seem to be written for a Hollywood script. Following his £4.5 million move to Liverpool, he will now return to the club that let him go 17 years ago.
Born in Merseyside, Lambert grew up supporting Liverpool and frequently attended matches at Anfield, idolising players such as John Barnes, Kenny Dagliesh and Ian Rush. Aged just 10, he was scouted by the Liverpool youth academy and was part of the setup for five years. However, he was released by the club in 1997. Just a year later he joined Second Division team Blackpool, only on a month-to-month contract. Having made three appearances, he was released in 2000.
In the four months that Lambert remained without a club, he found a job working in a beetroot factory and he has said in past interviews that at this point, he was sure his football career was over. This lasted until Gil Prescott approached him for a trial with Macclesfield. In March he was signed for the third division club. For the remainder of the 2000/01 season, he made nine appearances which gave him confidence to kick on for the next season. He took this confidence forward and scored 10 goals in 40 appearances. His form in this season resulted in Macclesfield receiving a club record offer of £300,000 from Stockport County.
He signed for Stockport but failed to impress, only netting twice in his first season. In the following season, he played in 40 games, scoring 12 times. It was here at the end of the 2003/04 season when Lambert began to become unsettled at the club. He subsequently moved to Rochdale in the January transfer window of the next season.
It was at Rochdale that the then 23 year old began to get in form. Between January and the end of the season, Lambert featured in 15 games for The Dale, scoring six goals. He starred in Rochdale’s 2005-06 season, scoring 22 goals and ending up Rochdale’s top scorer for the season. His impressive form attracted interest and he moved on to Bristol Rovers, also in league two.
After joining Bristol Rovers, he earned promotion from League 2 in his debut season scoring 10 goals to help them on their way. In League 1 he was a revelation for Rovers. In his first season, he managed 19 goals and became a fans favourite down at The Memorial Ground. However, it was the following season that Lambert caught the eye of many. The striker got just under 30 goals in the whole season, netting 29 times.
He signed for Southampton in League One for around £1 Million. It was then when his career took off, helping them to their double promotion. During his first season in League 1 he scored a fantastic 30 goals, his personal record. The season following he got 25 goals to his name, as he achieved Southampton’s promotion to the championship. At the first time of asking, Southampton came runners up in the championship, hence achieving promotion to the Premiership. Rickie Lambert had gone from a League 2 player to a Premiership player in just 5 years. Many people doubted Lambert’s premiership ability and questioned if he was the right player for the top tier of English football. But he proved them wrong instantly. Scoring 15 goals in his first premiership season, and coming seventh in the top scorers table, this was the dream start for him. This form made England manager Roy Hogdson pick him for a friendly match against Scotland. He came off the bench and remarkably scored on his debut, with his first touch. For the rest of the season Lambert showed what he could do as he scored another 14 goals, and assited 10 goals, resulting in him securing his place for the World Cup in Brazil.
The fairy-tale story was completed on the 2nd June. 17 years after being released by his childhood club, Liverpool signed him on a 2 year deal. Just twelve years ago, Rickie Lambert was contemplating giving up the game he loved as he sat in the beetroot factory, now he is a Champions League player. The story beggars belief, but Rickie Lambert has turned his astonishing career around.