Modern football seldom produces stories, careers or people with the character of Rickie Lambert.
From a lowly beetroot factory worker to achieving his dream of playing in the Premier League after years of slogging it in the lower reaches of the Football League, Lambert is one of the few everyman footballers to have made it big in recent times.
Sure, Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy boasts a similar English rags to riches story footballing story, but he’s a bit of an arse, isn’t he? Not like our Rickie.
Here’s my take on my favourite Southampton player in Rickie Lambert upon hearing of his announced retirement from the beautiful game.
I still recall the transfer story breaking as Southampton splashed £1million in the third tier of English football to sign Lambert from fellow League One side Bristol Rovers.
Alongside the signing of former Premier League manager Alan Pardew as Saints’ head coach, the contextually-expensive acquisition of Lambert was an early signal of intent from Southampton’s new owner, Swiss-German billionaire Markus Liebherr, and his chairman Nicola Cortese.
Lambert went on to score 36 goals in 58 appearances in that 2009/10 season across all competitions—helping Saints on their way to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy triumph at Wembley with a goal in a 4-1 win over Carlisle United. Until we win some heftier silverware, this cup win will forever be of great importance to Saints fans, and we may be waiting a long time.
Just a season in, Lambert was already adored by the Saints faithful. While his song contains factual inaccuracies about his height, he was indeed Southampton’s beloved goal machine.
The Scouser was pivotal in the club’s second season down in League One. Though Lambert only scored 21 league goals in 45 appearances, he was a constant force to be reckoned with in the red and white of Southampton and was instrumental in helping the club earn promotion to the Championship.
Having not played in the second tier of English football before, it was unclear as to how Lambert would get on at a higher standard of football. The step up in competition was no problem for him, banging in 27 goals in 42 league appearances as Saints unexpectedly earned back-to-back promotions to enjoy Premier League football once more.
Lambert was no mug in the Premier League, either, easily bagging double-figure goals in both his top-flight seasons at Saints and earning a call-up to the England squad in the process.
Lambert provided so many memorable moments for this Southampton fan who travelled up and down the country to watch his team. For me, watching football live—especially away from home—is all about individual moments. You can’t go to many away games truly expecting to take home the spoils, so you need to experience something memorable to make long-haul trips totally worth it.
One moment which will long live in my memory is Lambert’s equaliser away at reigning champions Manchester City in the first game of the 2012/13 Premier League season.
City had just won the league in dramatic fashion over QPR and Saints had just arose from the Championship. The Southampton manager at the time, Nigel Adkins, had inexplicably left Lambert on the bench for what would have been his first ever appearance in the Premier League. Lambert eventually replaced new signing Jay Rodriguez as a second-half substitute and neatly tucked away a half-chance to send us Saints fans into rapture just minutes after strolling onto the pitch. The away end went absolutely mad.
Saints debutant Steven Davis went on to score to help Saints take a 2-1 lead. City’s star power soon shone, though, and they eventually ran out 3-2 victors. Despite the defeat, Lambert’s goal that Sunday afternoon will be one of my most cherished football memories.
Warning: the above video has misspelled Rickie’s name, looks to have been filmed on a potato and may contain some swearing.
Then there was Lambert’s hat-trick—featuring two late, late penalties—against Millwall in the Championship. Winning at a place like The Den is fun enough, let alone when you’re 2-1 down with just minutes remaining.
And it would be remiss of me to not mention the wonder that is Lambert’s goal while debuting in the white shirt of England. A goal against Scotland, no less.
A YouTube comment from the above video, courtesy of “Lucho Lambert,” says: “Watching this video helped me through a tough time in my life. The story of Rickie Lambert has inspired me to be the man I am today. If I become 1/4875438948290344th of the man he is, I would be Bill Gates.” Hear, hear!
Lambert was never the quickest of players, but he had fantastic poise, made complex passes and finishes look totally effortless, and was true team player despite his fruitful return in goals—one which saw 117 goals scored in 235 games across all competitions for Southampton.
In fact, Lambert retired yesterday having scored more league goals than any other player since the turn of this century with 219. That’s 19 more than second-placed Mr. Wayne Rooney, who, touch wood, doesn’t appear to be scoring 20 goals any time soon.
Lambert was also a pillar of consistency at Southampton, with a penalty record of 34 successfully scored without a single failure during his five seasons at Southampton.
But there’s another element of Lambert’s consistency which is often overlooked. At odds with his bulkier footballer physique, Lambert was a consummate professional while playing at Southampton with a fantastic fitness record. Lambert missed just seven league games while playing for Saints over a five-year period, appearing 207 times from a possible 214.
Like how he was on the pitch, Lambert was also a constant class act off it. Hell, he even managed to not earn the ire of Saints fans upon moving to his boyhood club Liverpool—something which is totally unimaginable for any other Southampton player given the actions of his former colleagues.
Lambert rightfully received five years of adulation from Southampton fans, and it’s clear he appreciated every second of it while truly loving the club back. Given the climate surrounding Southampton and the mercenary-minded players St. Mary’s now attracts, I yearn for a team of Rickie Lamberts nowadays. At least they’d know how to score goals.
Being a tender 26 years of age, I was way too young to have any honest recollections of the wonderful Matthew Le Tissier while he was in his pomp. It pains me to say it, but Le Tissier was usually injured and slightly more overweight than normal when I saw him stroll across the pitch at The Dell and then St. Mary’s. Anyone can watch Le Tiss’ obscenely-good goal compilation videos, but I never truly got to experience the Guernsey great during his prime.
Lambert is the closest I’ve got to a Le Tissier-type character to don Saints’ red and white stripes. In truth, Lambert was the perfect remedy for Southampton fans after years of financial mismanagement, point deductions, Jan Poortvliet, and relegation.
Congratulations on a fantastic career, Rickie. I can’t speak for all Saints fans, but I’m sure they will agree when I say thank you for your service at Southampton and that I hope you and your family go on to live happy, healthy and fulfilled lives.
You deserve all the praise and moments you experienced in an inspiring football career.
P.S. If you or your agent see this, please give me a shout (@JJHughes_) for an interview!