Ray Lambert played his football for Liverpool in times both gloriously uplifting and downright wretched for the Anfield Reds during the middle years of the 20th century.
His decade in the limelight began triumphantly, as he played an integral part in lifting the first post-war League title, and ended in dire frustration, with the club languishing in the second flight of the domestic game.
Through it all, under golden skies and storm clouds alike, the Welsh international full back was utterly steadfast, the trustiest of defensive bulwarks, a team man with every fibre of his being. Decidedly more practical than elegant in style, Lambert was muscular, courageous and composed, his prematurely balding head standing out like a beacon of solidity in the Reds' rearguard. He was endowed with a canny positional sense, too, and was versatile enough to patrol either defensive flank with equal effectiveness.
Lambert qualified for an early taste of sporting renown in 1936 when, at the tender age of 13 years and 189 days, he was reported to be the youngest player ever to join a Football League club, having impressed as a dominant centre-half for Flintshire and Wales Schoolboys.
He signed a professional contract with Liverpool on his 17th birthday in July 1939, but then lost the first flush of his prime to the Second World War, during which he played for the Army against Portugal, guested for Reading and New Brighton and made four appearances for Wales in unofficial competition.
Following conversion to full back, Lambert made his senior entrance in an FA Cup encounter with Chester City at Sealand Road in January 1946, his fellow debutants including Billy Liddell, who developed into one of the finest players in Liverpool's history, and Bob Paisley, who remains by far their most successful manager in terms of honours garnered.
That November he earned the first of five full caps, featuring at right back in the Welsh team that defeated Scotland 3-1 at Wrexham – he finished on the losing side in his other four outings for his country – then rounded off a terrific season by contributing with characteristic consistency as Liverpool won the 1946/47 League championship, shading a taut race with Manchester United and Wolves by a single point.
But for the enduring excellence of Arsenal's Walley Barnes and Alf Sherwood of Cardiff City, it seems likely that Lambert would have enjoyed a lengthy international career, but as it was, he never played again for Wales after May 1949, when he remained at the peak of his powers.
In 1950 he was ever-present as manager George Kay's Reds reached the club's first Wembley FA Cup final, only to lose 2-0 to Arsenal. His direct adversary was Denis Compton, the majestic England batsman who also showed a clean pair of heels to plenty of full backs in his role as the Gunners' left winger. However, on a damp afternoon beneath the old stadium's twin towers, with the lush, slippery grass making it awkward for defenders to turn, Lambert jockeyed his tantalising opponent valiantly, emerging with honours even from their personal duel.
Thereafter he remained a regular in a team which had passed its peak and, under new boss Don Welsh, declined gradually towards the ignominy of relegation in 1953/54.
Lambert, whose only two goals for Liverpool both came from the penalty spot, helped the club to acclimatise to life in the second flight – Liverpool finished the 1954/55 campaign in a disappointing 11th place – but having entered his 34th year during the following summer, he was replaced by the younger John Molyneux in the late autumn.
A faithful one-club man, Lambert deserved better than to see out his Football League days in such a comparatively humdrum side, but the fact was that a career which had commenced with the dual highs of international recognition and the League crown had ended in poignant anti-climax, albeit through no fault of his own.
When Bill Shankly, who arrived to take on the messianic role of Liverpool's saviour in 1959, looked back over the Anfielders' recent history, he might have wished that the sturdy Welshman had been young enough to take a part in the Anfield revolution.
Lambert, whose son Wayne was once on the books of Manchester City, went on to become a newsagent at Queensferry, in his native Flintshire.
Raymond Lambert, footballer: born Bagillt, Flintshire 18 July 1922; played for Liverpool 1939-56; capped five times by Wales 1946-49; married (two sons); died Flintshire 22 October 2009.Reuse content