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“I can remember every goal I scored in my career, especially for Saints.”

With some, that statement could be shrugged off. But behind Rickie Lambert’s grin is a whopping 244 goals for club and country. 

Surrounded by promotion medals, golden boots and framed shirts in his Merseyside home, Lambert spends our conversation detailing a full range of emotions - thus was the nature of his uniquely dramatic career. But by the end, there’s one prevailing feeling: pride.

“I almost under-achieved in my career believe it or not,” he says after a pause near the end of our Zoom call.

“And I would have if I didn’t come across Southampton. I would have under-achieved. Because my professionalism wasn’t there, my understanding of the game wasn’t there. My ability was always there. But everything else wasn’t quite there. 

“Southampton was the glue and the home that made me. It was the pot that made me grow into the flower. So I can sit here now and I think ‘yeah I probably did over-achieve and maximise everything that I could have.’”

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At the age of 18, Lambert was working in a beetroot factory. By 27 when he arrived at St Mary’s his career goal total stood at 116 - all in League One or lower. What happened next is hard to even believe. The striker went on one of the all-time great career twilights, scoring 117 times for Southampton - 29 in the Premier League - as well as three for boyhood club Liverpool and three for England.

Lambert’s meteoric ascendance came alongside his club as Southampton rose from administration in League One to established Premier League competitors once again. As the Saints legend says, he probably wouldn’t have reached the heights he did without Southampton. And for the club? Would they have earned their back-to-back promotions under Nigel Adkins? It’s hard to give a confident yes. 

But together they achieved what would have seemed nearly impossible just a few years earlier. Here is that remarkable tale told by Lambert himself through ten of the goals that define his St Mary’s legacy.

1/117 - August 11th, 2009: League Cup First Round vs Northampton Town

“To get off the mark in my first game was massive for me.”

After being released from Liverpool at the age of 15, Lambert joined Blackpool before bouncing around the lower divisions with Macclesfield, Stockport and Rochdale.

It was at the latest of these stops that he was finally converted from midfielder to striker and began to flourish.

22 goals for Rochdale in his first season up front alerted Bristol Rovers to his talent and after a pair of adequate if not incredible campaigns at The Memorial Ground, he found the net 29 times in his third.

Daily Echo: Rickie Lambert for Bristol Rovers. Image by: PARickie Lambert for Bristol Rovers. Image by: PA

As Lambert traversed his way through the lower leagues, Southampton were dropping. A 23rd-place Championship finish in 2009 saw Saints end the year in League One and in administration. After nearly 100 days without an owner, Marcus Liebherr bought the club and just over a month later, Southampton’s rebuild under new stewardship came calling for Lambert.

The headline signing’s first game came a day later as Northampton Town rocked up to St Mary’s for the first round of the League Cup. It took less than 30 minutes for Lambert to score number one of 117.

“Going from a League One club to another League One club for £1m doesn’t happen often,” Lambert explains. “So there was a lot of pressure. I knew I was going there with the purpose to score goals; to score goals straight away and get Saints up. In my head, it was so important to get off the mark as early as possible. So to get off the mark in my first game was massive for me, absolutely massive.

“I think it came off me back if anything! I don’t know why I tried to head it. It was on the floor! But I’m just made up it went in. I didn’t care what part of the body it hit!"

Daily Echo: Lambert poses with the Saints shirt on the day of his signing. Image by: Daily EchoLambert poses with the Saints shirt on the day of his signing. Image by: Daily Echo

We rewatch the semi-accidental finish a few times before Lambert starts chuckling.

“I’ve showed a little bit of pace there as well!” he says pointing at the screen as the younger Lambert darts in front of his marker. “I was determined. I was very determined to get off the mark, to get that first goal. Because that first goal for a new club is the most important. And to win that game as well. It was a massive relief. 

“There was pressure there and for each game you don’t score the pressure gets bigger and bigger. So if you nip that in the bud straight away…the fans are behind you, the fans are singing your name and then I just grew from there. My stature and my confidence just grew.”

29/117 - March 20, 2010: League One vs MK Dons

“I didn’t really know how far out I was…”

It would be unfair to purely label Rickie Lambert as a great goalscorer because he was most certainly a scorer of great goals as well. Free-kicks against Chelsea and Luton Town spring to mind while a quite sublime chip at Dagenham and Redbridge in 2011 showcased his immense range of quality.

But if we’re talking about the ridiculousness of Rickie Lambert then there’s one goal that sticks out above the rest. 

With the score already Lambert 2-0 MK Dons, Kelvin Davis smashed the ball up the pitch and a moment later with a touch off the striker’s chest and a swing of his right boot, it was in the back of the net for his first Saints hat-trick.

Daily Echo: Lambert speaking about his outrageous 29th Saints goal.Lambert speaking about his outrageous 29th Saints goal.

“Most of my goals were split-second decisions, adapting to the situation, instinct,” Lambert says. “With this goal, I tried it a few times before. I tried it throughout my career but for various reasons, I hadn’t pulled it off. So this was pre-planned! 

“Every time a defender dropped back behind me I knew I’m bullying the midfielder and I can bring it down on my chest. In my head, I’m thinking ‘if this ball bounces up nicely, I’m shooting!’ I didn’t really know how far out I was but I just knew as soon as it bounced up, I’m going to give it everything. And it worked perfectly. This was probably the best technical goal I scored for Southampton.”

If that explanation sounds casual it probably says more about the down-to-earth Lambert than the goal itself which seems to get more and more absurd with each rewind of the Youtube clip.

“I always love watching this goal,” he beams.

To reach 30 goals by March in his first season as a Saint says it all - Rickie Lambert was making an absolute mockery of League One defences.

“I knew I was the best player in League One,” he continues. “I was probably Championship-standard at this level. I could have maybe even done a job in the Premier League. But I knew at this point that I was the best player in League One - by some distance. And everything I was trying was coming off.

"I could feel the confidence in my teammates and especially from the fans and the manager. They were encouraging me to do stuff like this which made me even more confident. When a player has that you become invincible. I can’t even explain what it does for your confidence.”

31/117 - March 28, 2010: Football League Trophy Final vs Carlisle United

“When my stomach’s turning and I’ve got butterflies, that's when I feel most alive playing football.”

The numbers around Rickie Lambert’s first Saints season are quite absurd. To be fair, the numbers around his entire Southampton career are quite absurd. But perhaps none more so than that first year in League One.

By October he had reached double-figures and by early January his total stood at 20. When April rolled around he had already surpassed 30 before eventually ending on 36 in all competitions. Absurd.

Meanwhile, Southampton under Alan Pardew started the season slowly before clawing their way back into the League One playoff race after erasing the ten-point deduction imposed by going into administration the previous season.

It would prove a bridge too far as Saints ended in 7th but they still did earn their Wembley moment when a gripping Football League Trophy campaign saw Pardew’s side twice triumph on penalties before beating MK Dons 4-1 on aggregate to set up the showpiece finale against Carlisle.

Facing League One strugglers, the pressure was well and truly on Southampton as they searched for their first piece of silverware since the 1976 FA Cup. In front of 44,000 Saints, the day couldn’t really have gone any better.

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates the Wembley triumph. Image by: PALambert celebrates the Wembley triumph. Image by: PA

And it all started with Lambert in the 14th minute.

“It was unbelievable, unbelievable,” Lambert says as the screen shows a sea of red and white at Wembley. 

“We’d struggled in the stages leading up to this. We’d just scraped through on a number of occasions. So it was a journey just to get to this moment. But when we got here…and the players we had on the pitch…it was like it was meant to be. I think everyone associated with us knew we were going to win and we were going to win comfortably. Everyone’s mindset was on it. So it was only a matter of time until we got off the mark.

“I was about to score a header,” he says of the penalty. “Michail Antonio put a great ball in and I was just about to head it, 100% I was confident I was gonna score, and he put his hand up and stopped a certain goal. So I was a little bit frustrated.

“I had to get myself ready again. At this point in my career, I’d never taken a pen of this magnitude in front of this many people so the nerves were there. The nerves were there. And if you notice, the keeper goes so early and he gets a good hand on it. But the power…I was so focused on power, just as much as direction on my pens, and the power was just enough to go in. And that just set the game off.”

Daily Echo: Saints fans at Wembley. Image by: PASaints fans at Wembley. Image by: PA

Lambert’s penalty record is a well-known stat to most Saints but 34 from 34 attempts still bears repeating. Perpetually reliable, did he really feel the weight of the moment as he stepped up to give Southampton a crucial lead?

“Massive nerves,” he confirms with a smile. “But I’ve always thrived on them situations. When my stomach’s turning, and I’ve got butterflies and I’m nervous, that’s when I feel most alive playing football. It happened sometimes in big games, before the game - walking out. Or big situations like that, penalties. But I always thrived in them moments. So I was always confident.

“I always had a good right foot, even from when I was a kid. As soon as I started walking I could kick it longer, kick it better. But I was also always the one who would run and grab the ball, literally fought to have the ball for the pens. Because if the manager had not said who the penalty taker is then it was literally whoever got the ball first. So it was a race.

"I would make sure that I was getting to it first. I always loved them situations growing up and everybody looked at me as a kid as someone they could rely on. So when I became a professional footballer that was already mentally in me to be able to handle these situations.”

On our next watch, we skip the penalty and close in on Lambert wheeling away with his teammates.

“There is relief in that celebration,” he says. “The pressure…just getting the team going, getting the nerves out of our way. We were by far the better team, the better squad, so the pressure was on us. So when that went in it just gave everyone the confidence to play their game.”

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates his penalty against Carlisle. Image by: PALambert celebrates his penalty against Carlisle. Image by: PA

In some ways, the triumph at Wembley marked the end of one Saints chapter: the dark days that had engulfed the club. But for Lambert and his teammates, it was merely the start.

“It felt like this is the beginning of something,” he explains. “This was the start of the journey to us. Unlucky enough, Huddersfield just kept us out of the play-offs but this was the start of something special. This gave that group of lads a taste of what the big games, the big atmospheres, the stuff that Nicola Cortese, Alan Pardew had instilled in us - that we are Premier League players or at least Championship players. That was the start of our journey.”

56/117 - May 2, 2011: League One vs Plymouth Argyle

“The back post was my favourite position…”

After failing to catch Huddersfield for the final playoff spot the season prior, Southampton got off to another slow start in 2010/11 and Alan Pardew departed after just three games. The decision was vindicated with the epic success of his replacement, Nigel Adkins.

Under the former Scunthorpe boss, Southampton stormed the automatic promotion race and 11 wins in 13 from late March saw Saints within touching distance of a return to the Championship.

Still, there was time for some frightening deja-vu. Again, it was Huddersfield who were attempting to turn Saints’ season sour. Facing Plymouth in the penultimate match of the season, a win would all-but guarantee promotion thanks to a far superior goal difference. But dropped points would open the door for a disastrous conclusion.

As half-time approached, Southampton huffed and puffed but couldn’t break the deadlock. Then, as became so common through his St Mary’s career, Lambert arrived at the crucial moment.

A deep cross was met perfectly by the striker, guiding it into the far corner en-route to a somewhat comfortable 3-1 Saints victory.

“I’d put this header in my top five most important goals in my career, let alone for Southampton,” Lambert says. “Because Huddersfield were chasing us. So the pressure was massive, it was huge. And the more the game was going on, the more the pressure was building. So when that went in…”

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates scoring at Plymouth. Image by: PALambert celebrates scoring at Plymouth. Image by: PA

“It’s one of the best headers I’ve done in my career. Not just an important goal, it’s one of the best headers I’ve done. From wrestling with the defender to breaking free and putting it into the far corner. The relief on that goal was incredible, just incredible.

“The back post was my favourite position, the defender knew it, that’s why he tried to grapple me. But eventually, when you have Danny Butterfield, Danny Fox or Dan Harding on the other side, it was inevitable that I was gonna get a chance. And because of my form and confidence, I would normally put them away. And this was a huge moment for us.

“It was absolutely huge. When we got promoted from the Championship to the Premier League, that was pure joy. This was more relief that we got the job done. Because we didn’t win the league, we lost it to Brighton. Which I look back on as kind of a negative because we definitely had the best squad, the best team. I would have liked to have won that league so the pressure was on us to take that second spot and not go into the play-offs. So that was more of a relief than ecstasy.”

59/117 - August 16, 2011: Championship vs Ipswich Town

“I knew I was the best player in the Championship before I’d even played there.”

Back in the Championship thanks in no small part to Rickie Lambert’s 21 third-tier goals, Nigel Adkins’ side were talented but surely they couldn’t go straight up again? Of course, they could.

A 3-1 opening day victory against Leeds United before a 1-0 win at Barnsley gave Saints the perfect start but the jury was still out on their star striker who had failed to find the net in the first two matches (something of a mini-drought for Lambert). Then they travelled to Ipswich.

Lambert’s ‘drought’ lasted a further four minutes and he later added a second as Southampton won 5-2.

“It was a decent goal!” Lambert laughs. “At the time a lot of people questioned if I was Championship quality. So the desire I had in me to prove people wrong was so big I can’t even explain it. The desire in me and the ruthlessness I had just to get the better of my man and prove people wrong was unbelievable.

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates his first goal against Ipswich. Image by: PALambert celebrates his first goal against Ipswich. Image by: PA

"So when I scored that goal, you could see the explosion of emotion - right this is me, I am good enough to be at this level. That’s my first but watch what I’m going to do to this league. I was ready.

“I knew I was the best player in the Championship before I’d even played there. I said to Nicola Cortese - we were negotiating a contract and Nicola’s a very…harsh negotiator. And I said ‘don’t make me prove to you I’m the best player in this league because I will!’ And that was before I’d kicked a ball.

“This was by far the fittest I’d ever been. The team was just unbelievable, playing unbelievable football. So I knew I was going to smash this league. And just to get the first goal out of the way was brilliant.

“When you’ve players like David Connolly with you, it gives you confidence. Because no disrespect, I kind of had this ability in the lower leagues but I didn’t have players like this around me. So you would take more stuff on than you could actually do and mess up. But when you’ve got players like David Connolly around you, you know if you’re playing that ball and making a run off him, he’s finding you. He was an unbelievable player, I learnt so much from him.”

To simply say ‘the rest is history’ would be slightly disrespectful to the miraculous feat Lambert and his teammates accomplished, winning 26 games to earn a second-place finish and promotion to the Premier League.

It may have taken the rest of the league some time to realise the very real threat of this Saints team but when did the players themselves know they could do the improbable?

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates scoring against Portsmouth in 2012. Image by: PALambert celebrates scoring against Portsmouth in 2012. Image by: PA

“This game. This game!” Lambert laughs as he points to the screen showing a loop of his first goal at Portman Road. “Afterward we were sat on the coach, looking at each other going ‘we can do this…we can do this…’ 

“Just the way we were playing, the way we were training, the way players were developing; Ads (Lallana), Morgan (Shneiderlin). We kind of knew without saying too much.”

Southampton eventually had to settle for runners-up after Reading came roaring through to take top spot but that caveat does little to dampen the monumental achievement as a 4-0 victory against Coventry on the final day of the season confirmed a return to the Premier League. 

“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” Lambert says. “We were top all season, Reading came from nowhere and pipped us. West Ham were nipping at our tails like Huddersfield were the year before. So the pressure to get over the line on the last day was there against Coventry.

Daily Echo: Saints fan storm the pitch after promotion to the Premier League. Image by: PASaints fan storm the pitch after promotion to the Premier League. Image by: PA

“Leading up to Coventry you didn’t want to talk about it. Because talking about it would bring more pressure. You’re just thinking about your job, what you have to do. It wasn’t until about 3-0 at Coventry, I was looking around thinking to myself ‘oh my god, I’m going to be a Premier League player.’ And it was just sinking in. It was emotional, it was too much to take in.

“And then the final whistle went and the fans came on and it was just a scene and a moment beyond my wildest dreams, to be honest. To celebrate with the fans, to get lofted, to get put on their shoulders and carried off. It was incredible. Incredible emotions.

“I’d had many many setbacks or lapses in my career. I didn’t think I was going to get to the Premier League. I kind of gave up hope a few years before I joined Southampton. So at 29 to get there after playing hundreds and hundreds of games in the lower leagues…at that point in my career it was just beyond my wildest dreams. 

“Because not only was I getting there, I was getting there with Southampton in a group of lads that was brilliant as a striker who was loved by the fans. It was just…beyond ideal. It was perfect.”

89/117 - August 19, 2012: Premier League vs Manchester City

“I was watching Match of the Day that night and I was crying.”

Rickie Lambert proved he could score goals in League Two. He then proved he could score goals in League One. The Championship followed next. And finally, four minutes into his Premier League debut - at the home of the Champions Manchester City - he completed the set.

After surprisingly being left on the bench, Lambert replaced Jay Rodriguez ten minutes after half-time with his side trailing 1-0. In the 59th minute, the ball broke his way on the edge of the box and he superbly guided it into the far corner as the travelling Saints behind the goal lost their collective mind.

“I was intrigued and excited but determined as ever,” Lambert says of his feelings leading up to his first Premier League campaign. “But I knew it was going to be a step up. I knew it was going to be different, I knew I was going to get fewer chances. But all I was thinking about was just ‘get me on the pitch.’ Let me see what it’s about and I’m sure I’m going to prove everyone wrong…again. Just give me a chance. 

Daily Echo: Rickie Lambert celebrates his goal at Manchester City. Image by: PARickie Lambert celebrates his goal at Manchester City. Image by: PA

“So to find myself on the bench for this game was devastating. I was on the side chomping at the bit just waiting for my time to come on. So when Nigel called me on I was like a bull that had just been released. Seriously. A bull that had been captured and just been released into the wild. And this was just an explosion of I can’t tell you how many emotions.

“15 years of hard work, football every day, getting told you’re not good enough, getting let go, me not being professional enough most of my career. And then finally putting the ball in the back of the net in the Premier League against the Champions and then running to your fans.”

Lambert laughs, almost in a state of disbelief a full decade later. After a moment he composes himself before continuing.

“I honestly didn’t think it would ever get better than that moment. I honestly thought that moment would never be beaten in my life. Because the feelings I felt scoring that goal…I was obviously devastated we lost but we shook up the Champions. We went 2-1 up and me scoring the first goal…it just meant so much to me.

Daily Echo: Lambert's shot beats Joe Hart's dive. Image by: PALambert's shot beats Joe Hart's dive. Image by: PA

“I was watching Match of the Day that night and I was crying. I was crying watching me run over to the fans. Because you could see the emotion in my face and you could see the emotion in the Saints fans as well. The Saints fans had been through hell for six/seven years. Gone down, administration, takeover. Coming up the leagues and then an explosion against the Champions.

"I could see their emotion, they could see mine. It was just a perfect time. Saints were perfect timing for me but I think I was perfect timing for them as well. So for me to score the first goal for Southampton back in the Premier League meant so much to me.

“I played 400-odd games in the lower leagues, I was a proper journeyman, proper journeyman. So to get this opportunity at this stage and then to take it within the first couple of minutes was just…brilliant.”

We rewatch the flourish a few more times in silence. The break of the ball. The right-footed sweep. Joe Hart’s agonised dive. And the ripple of the net.

“I knew it was in. As soon as I saw the ball drop…you couldn’t have put the ball better for me. I knew it was in before I connected. If you notice, I’m already away before it’s hit the back of the net!”

98/117 - January 16, 2013: Premier League vs Chelsea

“No matter what happened you stand next to your brother through thick and thin.”

Manchester City came storming back to triumph 3-2 and two weeks later Southampton again let a late lead slip against Manchester United. It took until the fifth game of the season for Adkins’ side to earn their first win in the top flight and until the 12th to get their second.

After the supremely challenging start, Southampton learnt their lessons and lost just two of nine games leading up to the turn of the year. They continued their fine form into 2013 with four points against Arsenal and Aston Villa ahead of a mid-January clash at Stamford Bridge.

Title-challenging Chelsea raced into a 2-0 lead courtesy of first-half goals from Demba Ba and Eden Hazard. But giving up wasn’t in the DNA of this Saints side. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have reached the Premier League in the first place.

A brilliantly placed header from Lambert got the comeback started just before the hour mark. With no backlift, he somehow found the space and strength to angle his header past Petr Cech and into the top corner. Heading became a major part of Lambert’s all-round threat but it took time to get there.

“That was something I worked on,” he explains. “In my early years, I was terrible. I was scared, I would get bullied. The older I went I watched players like Steve Howard at Leicester and how he would use his body. But finishing…that was just practice, practice, practice. 

“This is one of my best headers. And it was an important goal. They were flying at the time and we came back. (Jason) Puncheon scored an absolute worldy, a volley. And ends up drawing it 2-2, it was an unbelievable result.

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates with Puncheon at Stamford Bridge. Image by: PALambert celebrates with Puncheon at Stamford Bridge. Image by: PA

“From the beginning, we had a core of players who would instil the Southampton way. And no matter which players came in - the higher we went they were coming from all different countries - but you would just instil this family togetherness and belief that no matter what happened you stand next to your brother through thick and thin. Whether we were winning or losing, you could rely on your teammates. So we would never feel out of a game. Never.”

Of course, the game has become known for reasons other than a thrilling comeback. Despite the impressive result, Nigel Adkins was given his marching orders. In his place, a highly-rated but somewhat unknown quantity arrived from La Liga: Mauricio Pochettino.

“Looking back it was probably the right decision. But only because we got Mauricio in,” Lambert says. “But at the time - and I still feel like he (Adkins) was harshly treated. It was his first time in the Premier League, it was all our first time in the Premier League. We started slowly, naively. But by this point, we had started to turn it around. I think we were just getting out of relegation and we were climbing. 

Daily Echo: Legendary Saints boss Nigel Adkins. Image by: PALegendary Saints boss Nigel Adkins. Image by: PA

“And at this point, I knew, under Nigel, we were going to stay up. Definitely. So when he got sacked after this game, it just didn’t make sense to me. And when it was announced that it was Mauricio coming in I was baffled. I’d heard very good things about him but he’s got to know what the English Premier League is about and he’s got no time to learn. We have to hit the ground running here.

"It turned out that he’s probably one of the best managers ever. In my eyes. I don’t think people realise how good he actually is. It still baffles me.

“But it hit me. I was one of the players it hit the most. Because of what Nigel did for us.”

With Southampton very much still in the relegation battle, albeit not in as precarious a position as a few months earlier, Pochettino did indeed get up to speed immediately.

Daily Echo: Lambert and Pochettino. Image by: PALambert and Pochettino. Image by: PA

“It didn’t take him long. It didn’t take us long” Lambert recalls. “Took us days, two days, three days to realise ‘okay…’ 

“His training methods were extreme and different. Because attacking he’s very fluent but defensively he’s very acute of exactly what he wants you to do. Exactly where to stand on every throw-in every goal-kick. On every set-piece you have to be stood here. Honest to god I was like ‘bloody hell, never seen anything like this before!’ The detail he went to on the training pitch was incredible. Never seen anything like it and I still haven’t.”

100/117 - February 4, 2013: Premier League vs Newcastle United

“To score 100 goals for Southampton? Southampton??? Wow!”

Under Pochettino and his meticulous methods, Southampton ended the season in 14th, five points clear of the drop-zone. Lambert finished his maiden Premier League campaign with 15 goals, number 12 of the term being a very special strike at St James’ Park.

With Newcastle winning 2-1, Lambert connected with an Adam Lallana cut-back to score his 100th goal in Saints colours - becoming just the fifth player to reach that threshold for Southampton after Mick Channon, Terry Paine, Ron Davies, and Matt Le Tissier.

Newcastle scored twice more to win 4-2, but it’s a special memory nonetheless.

“Honestly it’s one of the proudest things I’ve got,” Lambert says before swivelling his camera to a framed white Saints kit with the number 100 on the back. 

“Can you see that? That’s what it means to me. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable. And I think it took me a few games to get it. I was on a bit of a dry patch. So when I got it it was kind of a relief that I could get it off my back. But looking back now, it’s one of the proudest things. To score 100 goals for Southampton? Southampton??? Wow! Legends like Matt Le Tissier and Mick Chanon and you’ve scored 100 goals with them? Yeah, it was incredible. When I look back now it’s one of the proudest things I’ve done in my career.

Daily Echo: Lambert celebrates his 100th Saints goal. Image by: PALambert celebrates his 100th Saints goal. Image by: PA

“It was the journey of those 100 goals with the fans. The fans seeing where I’d come from to the player I was when I scored the 100th goal. It was a complete transformation. In everything: my knowledge of the game, my professionalism, my fitness, my understanding of how to play the striker role. It was just a complete journey from goal 1 to goal 100 and it’s one of the proudest things I’ve done.”

Rewatching the moment, Lambert asks for the clip to be paused as Adam Lallana prepares to cross the ball. Instead of opting for his favoured back-post run, Lambert drops away from his defender to create a few yards of space.

“In my head, I’m thinking Ads is going to take it further into the corner, I wasn’t expecting him to hit it so early! But when he looked up, as if to say ‘Where do you want it?’ I thought ‘right, I want it there, go on then!’ And when you’ve got a player like Adz, he’ll put it right where you want it. Great pass and I’ve caught it sweet, celebrating with the fans…incredible.

“If I could’ve picked I would have loved to have done it at St Mary’s. But like I said, it had been a few games since I’d scored so I was just made up to get on the scoresheet, to make it 2-2. We ended up losing but I got the 100 off my back, I could then carry on and score more.”

1/3 For England - August 14, 2013: International Friendly vs Scotland

“To say it was a dream come true is an understatement.”

Technically this isn’t one of Lambert’s 117 Saints goals but scored during his time as a Southampton player, it’s a major part of the striker’s fairytale story.

Just prior to the 2012/13 season, Lambert’s fifth at St Mary’s, he received his first call-up to the England squad. Starting on the bench against Scotland he came on with the score level at 2-2 in the 67th minute. It took just two minutes and 43 seconds for Lambert to make his mark on the international scene.

As soon as the image of Leighton Baines preparing to take the corner at Wembley comes onto the screen, Lambert starts chuckling.

“I’ve tried to explain this moment many many times. I don’t think I’ve done it justice once! To say it was a dream come true is an understatement. It was beyond, beyond, beyond my dreams. Even as a kid, you don’t dream of a better moment than that. Play for England, score the winning goal…it’s unbelievable. 

Daily Echo: Lambert heads home against Scotland. Image by: PALambert heads home against Scotland. Image by: PA

“I took a coach-load, about 60 of my friends and family. Doing the interview right in front of them, going into the dressing room…oh my god…my face was twitching, my forehead was twitching because of the emotions in my body. I couldn’t handle it, I literally could not handle it! A moment of pure…beyond joy. Beyond joy and beyond anything you could ever think of. I look back now and I get emotional. Incredible.”

Lambert’s story should be real inspiration for every young player in the lower leagues. He achieved more than he could have ever imagined possible. And while it took indescribable effort on his part, he knows he couldn’t have gotten there on his own.

“I did the interview afterwards and it was probably one of the best interviews I’ve done because my raw emotions were so high and then they put a camera in my face. And I wasn’t quite ready for it! And they were just saying ‘How do you feel? And who do you thank?’ 

“So I mentioned my wife, my children, my parents. And I’m glad I mentioned Southampton. I’m just made up that after the best moment in my career, I thanked the exact reason why I was able to have it. It was because of Southampton.”

Daily Echo: Lambert wheels away to celebrate his maiden England goal. Image by: PALambert wheels away to celebrate his maiden England goal. Image by: PA

Somehow the barely believable tale of Lambert’s international debut is matched by the story of his call-up itself, coming as a complete surprise on the day of his daughter’s birth.

“I didn’t even know the squad was being picked!” he laughs. “I’d been up all night. Woke up to hundreds of messages, so many missed calls. Obviously, I knew because I turned on Sky and my face was on bloody Sky Sports. 


‘Oh my word, OH MY WORD.’ That was incredible. My little girl being born that day, all healthy, missus all healthy. One of the best moments of life. And then getting called up for England…it was insane. At this point, even before the goal, my life was kind of like Roy of the Rovers. Everything I was touching was turning to gold, I was riding the crest of a wave and it carried on a week later when I scored the winner. So it was an incredible few years. Incredible. 

Daily Echo: Lambert in training with former England boss Roy Hodgson. Image by: PALambert in training with former England boss Roy Hodgson. Image by: PA

“The Southampton fans were shouting for me to get into the England squad way before I did. I’m not saying I gave up hope or they gave up hope but it didn’t look like I was going to get in. So to finally get the call-up and then to score the winner, many many of them have said to me in person and on social media that that’s the best moment in football they’ve ever seen. 

“Honestly, I can’t even begin to explain how much that means to me.”

Getting set to move on to our 10th and final goal, we suggest one more watch of the towering header.

‘OH GO ON THEN!’ Lambert laughs.

“It’s the best header I’ve done in my life! I swear to god, even if it had been in League One! I’ve caught it sweet. BANG! GET IN THERE!

“Honest to god…” he laughs about the ensuing celebration. “I’m just gone there. I almost took my top off, I’m just so happy. I never took my top off, watch I grab it here. My top’s coming off and then I think ‘no, don’t do that!’”

117/117 - May 11, 2014: Premier League vs Manchester United

“I was just a normal lad when I joined. I became ten-foot-tall when I played for Saints.”

The England experience proved a springboard for another excellent campaign as Lambert hit double-figures for the fifth season in a row on the South Coast. 

Saints enjoyed their best campaign since 2003, finishing 8th, while Lambert notched 13 more top-flight goals (and one in the FA Cup) taking his tally to 117 in all competitions. On the final day, Saints headed to Old Trafford and took the lead through, of course, Rickie Lambert.

The striker lept in the air to attack a long ball, leaving Nemanja Vidic bloodied on the ground and Rio Ferdinand off-balance. After exchanging a pass with Steve Davis, Lambert went through on goal and coolly sent David De Gea the wrong way.

Daily Echo: Lambert sends De Gea the wrong way. Image by: PALambert sends De Gea the wrong way. Image by: PA

“I’m very proud of that,” he says of the expert finish. “I had to make the right little movement and it’s the timing of the pass that kills Rio. Because if Dave-O delays it a split-second then Rio’s intercepting that ball. But he’s seen the movement and played a perfect pass. 

“Just before that I’d smashed Vidic in the nose, broke his nose! Blood everywhere. I saw him on the floor and was like ‘oh are you okay??’ But as I looked up Dav-O’s got the ball so I went ‘ah f*** you, just ignore you.’ Go on then put me in! Vidic was raging after that! I can’t even tell you what he was calling me! And he was trying to smash me, he was trying to elbow me, he was pinching me. I was going ‘Calm down, I didn’t even mean it. Calm down!’ He was fuming. 

“But I ran him and Rio, who people say are probably the best partnership to ever play in the Premier League, I ran them ragged that day. That was one of the best performances I put in as a striker. This was the game just before Roy Hodgson was picking the squad for the World Cup. I knew Hodgson was in the crowd, so I was desperate to impress.”

Daily Echo: A bloodied Vidic argues with Mike Dean. Image by: PAA bloodied Vidic argues with Mike Dean. Image by: PA

The next day when Hodgson announced the England squad to travel to Brazil, Lambert was in, the goal and performance surely making it a simple decision. A special moment for a number of reasons, this would turn out to be Lambert’sfinal Saints goal.

“I had no idea,” he says. “I obviously loved Southampton, thought I’d be there for years, retire there. So I had no idea what was coming.

“The way my life was going…it was crazy. Going to Brazil…I had a few days off, went and joined the lads in Portugal and then we had a six-week build-up to the World Cup. 

“A few weeks into it I got a phone call from my agent: ‘Liverpool are coming in for you.’ 

“So that was a bit of disbelief, to be honest. Because I was just focused on the World Cup, that was it. So to hear that was just…unbelievable. But I had no idea I was leaving, I never thought I’d leave.

Daily Echo: Rickie Lambert in the England XI at the 2014 World Cup. Image by: PARickie Lambert in the England XI at the 2014 World Cup. Image by: PA

“But when I knew it was Liverpool it was kind of like…there was no chance I could say no. I knew I might regret going to Liverpool, I knew it might not work out and I was a bloody king at Southampton - everyone adored me. And I knew if I left I had a chance of losing that. But I knew in the back of my head that if I said no to Liverpool, that chance would never come again. 

“I would have finished at Southampton, it would have been incredible and everything I would have ever dreamed of. But I would have had something in the back of my mind that would have been eating me every day of my retirement saying ‘What could have been at Liverpool?’ 

“So as much as it didn’t work out at Liverpool, I would probably still pick that over not knowing. I can sit here now content that I gave Liverpool a go, it didn’t work out. Rather than sitting here and having thought that I could have played for Liverpool, especially, of course, the club I supported growing up. That’s something I wouldn’t have been able to deal with.

“I’ve just got to be grateful for the career I had. At first, when I retired I was very upset it didn’t work out at Liverpool. It didn’t work out at West Brom, didn’t work out at Cardiff. So my career tailed off massively and it was very disappointing. For two years I struggled. 

Daily Echo: Lambert scored just three times in a Liverpool shirt. Image by: PALambert scored just three times in a Liverpool shirt. Image by: PA

“But now I look back and I just remember the good things: the Southampton years, the Bristol Rovers years, coming up the leagues, playing for England. It’s the good stuff I remember now and it took a while. When I retired all I was thinking about was the disappointment of Liverpool. But I’m content now, I’m happy and looking back at the good things in my career.

“The relationship I had with the Saints fans is the best thing about my career. It was beyond anything I ever thought possible. They took to me from day one and the journey we went through and the love they showed me…they made me that player. 

“I was just a normal lad when I joined them. I became ten-foot-tall when I played for Saints. I felt indestructible, I felt so good playing in front of that crowd because of the way they loved me, the way they pushed me on. It was brilliant to be part of. And they’ve been brilliant with me since I left Southampton. They’ve never stopped showing their love for me. That’s really good to know. Because if I’d lost that, it would have destroyed me.”