Could Rickie Lambert be the last Saints legend?

The prolific striker, who this week announced his retirement from professional football, is revered by Saints supporters.

He had the lot – a goalscorer extraordinaire, somebody who played with his heart, an amazing back story from the beetroot factory to the Premier League, and a personality that shone above it all.

Lambert was the archetypal working class hero.

None of the luxury of having come through the plush academy ranks of a big club to superstardom for him.

He spent time out of football, famously putting the lids on jars of beetroot before working his way back up the footballing pyramid, eventually landing at Saints in 2009 for what would prove to be a bargain fee of £1m.

Alan Pardew wanted him, and transformed his career.

Lambert had always had a knack for scoring goals before he linked up with Pardew, but was equally as prolific with his lifestyle away from the pitch.

With Pardew’s influence he knuckled down, and what happened over the next five years at St Mary’s was to become the defining period of his career.

Lambert scored 117 times for Saints, and was virtually an ever present as the side rose through the divisions, out of League One and the Championship via the JPT win at Wembley and back into the Premier League.

Each step was a new milestone for him, and when he eventually played for England, and scored, it was a modern day footballing fairy tale, the likes of which only Jamie Vardy has been able to match in recent times.

That Lambert’s name is mentioned in the same breath as the man whose number seven he wore on his back, the great Matthew Le Tissier, is testament to the size of his impact on the club.

When it came to pass that he was to leave as that side that rose through the leagues was broken up, it felt like the end of an era.

Lambert’s career, as it turned out, had already peaked, and there followed a rather sorry to watch decline which has resulted in a period without a team, and, therefore, eventual retirement.

In an era of mega money, Lambert has no doubt done very well for himself financially, but he was the kind of guy for whom the cash seemed secondary. He was living his dream, and one he believed would never come true.

It felt like players of yesteryear, of Le Tissier, Benali, Paine, Channon, and the other legends of Saints, who played for love and with passion and desire.

It made him a hero and, more than that, a legend.

There is a lot of discussion at the moment as to whether football has become detached from the supporters whose ticket money and TV subscriptions ultimately feed the bandwagon.

Back in the day, Le Tissier and Benali could not walk around in the centre of Southampton without getting stopped every couple of minutes by supporters. In fact, the same is true now, even years after they hung up their boots. Lambert, who the supporters got to know in Saints’ lower league days, had and has the same.

Take the current crop of players. They are better paid than ever before, their performances are beamed around the world to a larger than ever audience, and yet many of them are largely anonymous. All but the most recognisable could walk through the centre of Southampton without getting noticed.

Nobody knows anything about them. They are hidden away.

They may have interesting things to say, interesting back stories, hobbies and families, but the chances are we will never be given the chance to find out.

They are instead hidden away from view, cosseted in the football bubble, and live a life that is total unfamiliar to the generic man on the terrace.

Lambert is just about of a different era, perhaps the last of an era with Saints now looking like a Premier League mainstay again.

It’s why he was able to become a legend in the same way as some of the club’s most illustrious names before him.

He might be the last one, at least for a long time.