SAINTS cult hero Brett Ormerod has been delighted to see Rickie Lambert follow his path from Blackpool to the Premier League.

When Lambert made his Football League debut on the opening day of the 1999-2000 season, it was for a Blackpool side leading Wrexham 2-0 through an Ormerod brace.

Lambert and Ormerod did not play together again, but both went on to star for Saints in the top flight and are still in contact.

They first crossed paths when Lambert joined his best pal Danny Coid at Blackpool after being released by Liverpool as a schoolboy.

“I knew Rickie very well as a kid at Blackpool – I remember him as the unfittest 15 year-old I’d ever met!” laughs Ormerod, who now plays for Wrexham in the Blue Square Premier.

“He was behind the goalkeepers in the fitness tests, red in the face and slower than my grandma!

“But his ability was unbelievable. Blackpool had a very good youth team then and when Nigel Worthington was manager they would play the first team on a Friday and often win.

“We must have been the only team playing in the Football League that had lost to the youth team the day before!

“Rickie has always been quite shy but he would do most of the damage, pinging 25-yard balls.

“He was a midfielder originally but he always had that tremendous ability to score spectacular goals out of nothing.”

Ormerod, right, was recovering from a badly broken leg when Lambert made his two other appearances for Blackpool as a substitute.

Lambert was released by Worthington’s successor, Steve McMahon, in June 2000 and was at Macclesfield when Gordon Strachan brought Ormerod to Southampton in December 2001.

Ormerod scored 19 goals for Saints, including memorable strikes in the FA Cup semi-final win against Watford at Villa Park in 2003 and the club’s last victory at Liverpool that same year.

Lambert scored on his Saints debut, a decade after his Blackpool bow, and is closing in on a century of goals for the club (94 in 165 starts).

“Ten years ago, people wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told them the success Rickie would have,” Ormerod continued.

“But he always had tremendous ability. Some players mature later than others for loads of reasons - mostly luck.

“I can’t remember why he was released but he learnt his trade at Macclesfield and Stockport, got the move to Bristol Rovers and has turned into a top, top player.

“He’s continued to develop and has absolutely flourished at Southampton.

“He’s far more than a target man, he’s the closest thing Southampton have had to another Matt Le Tissier.

“He fully deserves the success he’s had, he’s still the same Rickie. I was playing Call of Duty on the X Box with him and Richard Chaplow, who I know from my Accy [Accrington Stanley] days, just the other week.”