World Cup 2014: Rickie Lambert still can't believe he's going to Brazil having won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy just four years ago
Lambert had joined Southampton for £1m from Bristol Rovers and having missed out on the League One play-offs enjoyed the beginning of what would be a rapid rise through the ranks
Friday 23 May 2014
Rickie Lambert is living in a dream world right now, having completed the journey from the scrapheap to secure a place in England's World Cup squad.
The story of how the striker spent time working in a beetroot factory has almost become cliched but encapsulates his Roy of the Rovers rise.
Lambert worked there after being released by Blackpool in 2000, before going on to spend time at Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before making a £1million move to Southampton five years ago.
At that point the striker's "whole lifestyle changed" as he began the transformation from lower-league marksman to one of the most consistent goalscorers in the Premier League.
Despite that, Lambert only gave himself a 50-50 chance of going to Brazil ahead of Andy Carroll, so when the call came from Roy Hodgson the 32-year-old was understandably emotional.
"I have been here for a few days and it is a dream come true, it is as simple as that," he said at England's training base in Portugal. "I know I have said that before but it is.
"It means everything to me and it is the best moment of my career and I am enjoying every minute.
"I am going to enjoy every minute of it, especially the games. The first game against Italy, the atmosphere - that is what I have dreamt of all my life and now I am going to be there.
"They are the moments that will live with me for the rest of my life."
Just four years ago Lambert was like the rest of the general public, watching the action in South Africa unfold on television.
That was the summer after his £1million move from Bristol Rovers, with his first season seeing Saints just fall short of the League One play-offs due to a 10-point deduction but win the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
"My career was just starting to pick up [four years ago]," Lambert said. "I was in League One and had just joined Southampton.
"We just missed out on getting in the play-offs but we won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy so it was a good season. Obviously, it was a million miles away from where I am now.
"It is brilliant. To come from League One, not me personally but the club, four years later to have three in the England team is unbelievable and it is a credit to everyone involved."
Lambert has flourished under the management of Alan Pardew, Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino, scoring more than 100 goals for Southampton in the process.
The frontman has shone despite continually being written off, although it had looked even a year ago as if an international call-up would be beyond him.
Having been overlooked despite a fine debut Premier League season, Lambert poked fun at his situation by making out he was committing his future to the New Zealand national team.
Read more: Baines admits 'I'll miss Ashley but Luke is the future
England announce squad numbers for Brazil
Rooney can be England's Pele, says Hodgson
That, though, was an April Fool's joke and one which Roy Hodgson may well have taken note of, handing him his first England cap four-and-a-half months later.
Lambert netted in a dream debut against Scotland and the call-up led to a number of Southampton team-mates joining him in the senior set-up.
There are now three Saints players in the 23-man England squad, with team-mates Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw living together at the club's Vale do Lobo training camp.
As the youngest, 18-year-old Shaw got the smallest bed of the trio but has earned Lambert's unwavering respect.
"It is frightening what he has done in a year," he said of the left-back. "When he first joined the first team he took it so well and his progression has been frightening.
"It is full credit to him. His attitude is spot on and I know for a fact that he's going to keep that attitude.
"He is not going to get carried away because he knows what is important in life, really."
Shaw is a graduate of Southampton's much-vaunted production line - one which has been altered this week by the sacking of Under-18s manager Jason Dodd and assistant Paul Williams.
The 18-year-old has been angered by the former Saints defenders' exit, as has Lambert.
"A lot of it (the club's academy success) has got to do with Jason Dodd and Willo as well," he said. "It was a disappointment to hear the news that they've been sacked. It is a bit of shock, really."
Latest in Sport
Phil Jagielka: I may never win back England place, says Everton defender
Mario Balotelli: Staff at arson-hit Manchester Dogs' Home convinced Liverpool striker is behind five-figure donation
Rio Ferdinand mocks Jamie Carragher's Liverpudlian accent... but Liverpool man hits back at Londoner
Colombian women's cycling team kit that makes wearer appear naked is branded 'unacceptable' by UCI president
Just like Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United, Gareth Bale says he hopes to return to Tottenham 'one day'
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster