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Rickie Lambert's astonishing rise
HE was a third division player for Stockport County when the 2002 World Cup was held in South Korea and Japan.
He was a fourth division striker with an even more unfashionable club, Rochdale, when England competed in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
And he was still a third division footballer when the last World Cup was held in South Africa, albeit one that had scored 37 goals in all competitions in 2009/10 for Saints.
Now Rickie Lambert has completed his astonishing and heart-warming rags to riches story by being named in England’s squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
He is the second oldest striker England will have taken to one of their 14 World Cup finals.
Emile Heskey was the same age, but a few months older, when he went to the last finals in South Africa.
And back in 2006, Teddy Sheringham was 36 when he went to Germany.
Lambert is surely unique, though, given his background.
No player ever selected for an England World Cup finals squad has ever spent the vast majority of his career operating in the lower divisions.
From making his debut in August 1999 for Blackpool through to helping Saints win promotion in 2011, Lambert played in either the third or fourth tiers of English football.
He was 29 when he made his Championship debut in August 2011, and 31 when Roy Hodgson handed him his England international debut against Scotland almost two years later to the day.
The only real challenge to Lambert’s place on the plane to Brazil was from West Ham’s Andy Carroll.
But whichever way you looked at the stats, Lambert held the upper hand.
In his two seasons in the Premier League, the Saints ace has scored 28 goals, six of them penalties.
During the same period, Carroll – plagued by injuries – has netted just nine times.
Lambert’s strike rate is a goal every 2.7 games, while Carroll’s is a goal every 4.33 matches.
Carroll only manaed two goals in 15 Premier League games in 2013/14, having had to wait until January 11 for his first appearance.
Lambert’s game is not all about goals, though.
He provided 10 assists for his team-mates in 2013/14, the joint third highest total in the top flight.
Only Liverpool pair Steven Gerrard (13) and Luis Suarez (12) provided more.
Perhaps that stat, more than his goals and his incredible penalty taking record, is what prompted Hodgson to take him to Brazil.
Lambert is not your traditional lower division battering ram centre forward, he has the touch and awareness to go alongside his goals – 211 during his league career to date.
Lambert was by no means one of the oldest players to make his senior England debut.
Three years ago ex-Saints striker Kevin Davies was handed his first cap by Fabio Capello aged 33.
The Bolton forward was the oldest England debutant since Leslie Compton played in 1950 at the ripe age of 38!
Davies, though, had played for England under-18s and under-21s in his youth.
Lambert had never been picked for a single England squad at any age range prior to his debut, where he was introduced as a second half sub and scored the winner with his first touch.
Leon Osman, ex-Saint Kevin Richardson, Chris Powell and Steve Bould had also been 31 when they had made their senior England debuts in modern times.
None of those players, though, had ever worked in a beetroot factory, putting the lids on jam jars.
None of those players had ever spent vast chunks of their careers turning out in lower league footballing wastelands in front of only a couple of thousand die-hard supporters.
A cold and wet November or December night at a near-deserted lower league ground in the north of the country is not usually the place where England World Cup stars are developed.
England stars can be found there, but mainly early on in their careers.
Joe Hart spent a few years playing as a promising teenager for Shrewsbury prior to joining Manchester City.
Hart was 19 when he arrived in the Premier League in 2006.
In contrast, Lambert was 30 when he made his top tier debut six years later.
In the last 64 years, across 14 different World Cups, can England have ever selected anyone else who made their top flight debut as a thirtysomething veteran of countless campaigns in the lower divisions?
No, they cannot.
There is only one Rickie Lambert.
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