With Rickie Lambert scoring with his first touch as an England player it capped an incredible ascent for the Southampton man. It is much publicised that the former Bristol Rovers striker was working in a beetroot factory whilst playing for Macclesfield Town in the early part of the millennium yet Lambert’s belief and ability forced his career forward, becoming a prolific football league striker before eventually getting a crack at the Premier League in the 2012/13 season, after helping fire Southampton to second place in the Championship.
Of course Lambert isn’t the only striker over the years to have worked his way up the footballing ladder the hard way. Here is a selection of others who have served their scoring apprenticeships in the lower reaches of the football league:
Released by Carlisle United at the age of 18, Holt had spells with Workington, Barrow and Halifax Town also fitting in a prolific spell of 12 goals in 14 games for household name Sengkang Marine in Singapore during 2001. After a further two years with Barrow Holt was picked up by Sheffield Wednesday. Shipped out to Rochdale after three goals in 24 appearances for the Owls Holt took in Rochdale and Nottingham Forest before the start of a purple patch of scoring which hasn’t really ceased since with Shrewsbury in 2008. After a season with the Shrews Norwich City came calling and Holt shone with 68 goals in a total of 154 games in all competitions spread across League 1, the Championship and the Premier League for the Canaries. This summer saw Holt move to FA Cup holders Wigan with a scoring debut in their 4-0 Championship victory over Barnsley.
Holt’s strike partner in Norwich’s first Premier League game of 2011, “Moro” was another product of the English lower league system instead of Sengkang Marine read Bishop’s Stortford in the Wales international’s case however! Released by Northampton Town in 2004 Morison excelled in spells at Stortford and Stevenage prompting Millwall to pay £130,000 to get their man from Stevenage. 35 goals in 83 games led to a dream Premier League move to Norwich for Morison where he netted 10 times in 53 appearances before signing for Leeds United as part of the deal which saw Luciano Becchio move in the opposite direction. Morison found himself on the move again after just half a season at Elland Road however, returning to Millwall on loan for the 2013/14 campaign.
Another player with a Stevenage connection, Barry Hayles came to prominence as a Boro player with a non-league record of 73 goals in 154 games. A chance to step into the football league came with Bristol Rovers in 1997 where Hayles didn’t skip a beat netting on average a goal every other game. From Bristol, Hayles moved on to the Fulham revolution, sticking with the Craven Cottage club on their rise from Divison Two (League One) to the Premier League. After leaving Fulham in 2004 the former Willesden Hawkeye striker became something of a football league journeyman with goalscoring spells at Millwall, Plymouth Argyle, Leicester City and Cheltenham Town rounding off his football league career. In 2010 Hayles returned to the non-league scene with prolific spells at Truro City and St Albans before moving to Arlesey Town in 2013 extending his career into his 41st year.
Joining Hayles in the 40+ club, Kevin Phillips has spent a majority of his career yo-yoing between the Premier League and Division One/The Championship making his name as a Sunderland player between 1997-2003 scoring 113 times in 208 appearances as a Black Cat culminating in 8 England caps during his time at the Stadium of Light. A spell with Southampton followed before moves around the midlands with varied success at Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City respectively. 2011 saw Phillips team up with Ian Holloway at Blackpool with 18 goals in 56 appearances for the Championship side. With Holloway moving on to Crystal Palace in 2012 Phillips followed suit in a loan move converting the penalty that secured Palace’s return to the Premier League for the 2013/14 season during the play-off final against Watford. Phillips completed a full transfer to Palace during the summer ensuring he will once again be a Premier League footballer.