Rickie Lambert lifts lids on England dream debut
Rejected by Liverpool as a youngster and then released by Blackpool in 2000 aged 18, Rickie Lambert was forced to work in a factory putting lids on jars of beetroot while he tried to keep his football career alive by training with minnows Macclesfield.
England striker Rickie Lambert admits heading the winning goal against Scotland with the first touch of his international debut was a dream come true.
Lambert completed a remarkable rags to riches tale at Wembley on Wednesday when the Southampton forward came off the bench in the 66th minute and two minutes later bagged the goal that gave his country a 3-2 friendly win over old rivals Scotland.
After a career spent mostly in the lower leagues, Lambert is enjoying an Indian summer to his career and his bullet header from Leighton Baines' corner was the crowning glory.
Rejected by Liverpool as a youngster and then released by Blackpool in 2000 aged 18, Lambert was forced to work in a factory putting lids on jars of beetroot while he tried to keep his football career alive by training with minnows Macclesfield.
"It was my first touch. It's probably the best header I've headed in my life," Lambert said.
"That's what I've been dreaming of probably all my life. It means so much.
"It was a corner, obviously I fancied myself and I managed to get rid of my marker and get a firm header.
"If that's the only moment I'm going to have in an England shirt - hopefully not - I couldn't have wished for it to have been any better.
"For it to have gone like that was a dream come true."
Lambert's Wembley heroics were a far cry from the humble beginnings in the game.
He eventually earned a contract with Macclesfield and was able to quit the beetroot factory, but even then he spent several seasons far from the spotlight with the likes of Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before finally getting his big break with then League One club Southampton.
Inspired by Lambert's goals, Saints returned to the Premier League in 2012 after back to back promotions, but their unheralded striker wasn't finished yet.
He scored 15 times in his first ever top-flight season to help Southampton avoid relegation and in the process earn admiring glances from England manager Roy Hodgson.
When Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll were ruled out of the Scotland clash, Hodgson decided to give Lambert his first call-up, making it a double celebration for the 31-year-old after his wife gave birth to the couple's third child earlier that day.
After years plying his trade on the game's least glamourous stages, Lambert has relished every moment of his England experience, from training with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere, to pulling on the shirt for the first time and then finally getting his taste of the limelight.
"I was trying to play it cool as if it wasn't bothering me but deep down I wanted to scream. It was brilliant," Lambert said.
"I've got to say a big thank you to the lads who made me feel welcome. I had respect for them anyway but being with them for a few days I've got a lot more respect."
Lambert returns to club duty with Saints against West Bromwich Albion on the opening weekend of the Premier League season on Saturday, but he hopes to earn another England for next month's qualifiers.
"That's my first one. I'm going to try to make it more in the future. Definitely," he said.
England captain Steven Gerrard, a fellow Liverpudlian, has no doubts that Lambert has done enough to be involved in the future.
"Rickie getting the winner was fantastic for him," Gerrard said.
"It gives us another option up top going into the qualifiers.
"It's a great story. Any young kid watching who is starting at the bottom, you've just got to believe and work hard.
"Rickie is a great example. You can work all the way to the top."