THERE will be no shortage of Rickie Lambert supporters at Anfield this afternoon.
Saints will have the backing of more than 2,000 fans for their first game at Liverpool in almost eight years.
Lambert will also have hundreds of family and friends amongst the Liverpool support as he returns to Anfield – where he cheered on his heroes as a schoolboy – for the first time since being released from the club’s school of excellence as a 14-year-old.
The Saints striker has a Liver bird tattooed on one of his shoulders and hails from Kirkby, a footballing hotbed that has also produced the likes of Phil Thompson and Dennis Mortimer.
Lambert went to the same school as those European Cup-winning captains, where his Saints shirt is on proud display and where there has been no shortage of interest ahead of his return to Merseyside.
He will be hoping for a better result than Saints managed on the other side of Stanley Park in October, when they lost 3-1 to an Everton side including another son of Kirkby, Leighton Baines.
“Half of Kirkby was at Goodison Park for that game, including both Rickie’s parents and his sister,” recalls John Woods, Lambert’s former PE teacher at Kirkby Sports College.
“I’ve been monitoring facebook to see who’s going on Saturday and there’ll be even more for this one.
“Rickie’s very proud to be from the area, he married a Kirkby girl and there are a lot of Liverpool fans hoping he does the business.
“Personally, I hope Liverpool win 4-3 and Rickie gets a hat-trick!”
Lambert was at the Millennium Stadium to see Liverpool win the Carling Cup earlier this year and he and best pal Danny Coid, a former Liverpool youth and Blackpool teammate, returned to KSC in the summer to coach pupils.
It brought back memories for Woods.
“Rickie just wanted to play football all the time and was a pleasure to coach,” he said. “What he’s achieved couldn’t have happened to a nicer lad.
“Some talented lads get a bit big-headed but not him. Even as a young lad he would score spectacular goals and that’s something he’s kept going.
“He’s never had much pace, but he’s always had a fantastic shot and an amazing touch.
“No matter how hard the ball was pinged at him he would control it instantly.”
Coid, who still lives in Liverpool, will also be at Anfield this afternoon.
“We played up front together for our schools and for our club on Sundays and practised on the Astroturf outside Rickie’s house in Kirkby,” recalls Coid, who spent a decade as Blackpool’s right-back but was released by Accrington Stanley in the summer.
“Rickie always had more strength and power than anyone else, he’d shoot from all angles and from as far back as the halfway line!
“We were at Liverpool’s school of excellence together and he was kept on for a while after I was let go at 14. But he joined me at Blackpool not long afterwards.”
Lambert made his Blackpool debut as a 17-year-old in the same team as Brett Ormerod, the last Saints striker to score at Anfield in a 2-1 win nine years ago.
But after being released by former Liverpool hero Steve McMahon he was restricted to midfield roles at Macclesfield and Stockport before beginning to fulfil his vast potential as a striker at Rochdale and Bristol Rovers.
Since signing for Saints in August 2009 he has scored 94 goals in 172 appearances – including six in 12 Premier League starts.
An Anfield goal would surely top the lot.