MIAMI (AP) — Preparing for his first trip to the World Cup, Rickie Lambert epitomizes the player who never gave up on his dream.
Calling him an England striker would have been unthinkable before the last World Cup four years ago when he had just completed another season in the third tier of English football.
But the 32-year-old Lambert is now in Miami as part of the 23-man squad heading to Brazil, and is getting ready to represent his country on the sport's biggest stage. Enriching the fairytale aspect, Lambert on Monday completed his move from Southampton back to Premier League giant Liverpool, the club he supported as a boy but that discarded him as a player when he was 15. Out of football, Lambert found work in a beetroot factory, earning just 20 pounds a day.
"It was absolutely devastating," Lambert recalled Monday. "I can remember at the time thinking I wasn't going to be a footballer — I'd been dropped from Liverpool and it was the end of the world for me. I was so devastated.
"At the time, I thought nothing was ever going to feel worse than that, but I can tell people now life goes on and you shouldn't let it hit you too much ... but I never thought I'd manage to get back."
Following the pain of being rejected, Lambert forced his way through the lower leagues of English football, away from the glamor and riches of the Premier League, playing at Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before ending up at Southampton in 2009. On the south coast, Lambert established himself as a prolific scorer, helping power Southampton from the third tier to the Premier League and an eighth-place finish last month.
By that point England coach Roy Hodgson had taken note, calling Lambert up for international duty for the first time last August. It was a dream debut at the age of 31, scoring the winning goal in a friendly against archrival Scotland with his first touch at Wembley Stadium.
"It's an unfortunate truth if you want to get recognized at the top level you have to be playing at the top level," Hodgson said recently.