Frank Lampard – Farewell…

It’s rare that one can refer to Big Brother to illustrate anything other than the general decline of Western civilisation, but back in the summer of 2001 it – perhaps unwittingly – provided a fairly telling comment on Frank Lampard’s transfer from West Ham to Chelsea.

The reality show was in its second series and much of the nation was transfixed (I just had it on in the background, honest). Paul ‘Bubble’ Ferguson, a Chelsea fan, was evicted and amidst a good deal of squealing and vacuity from Davina McCall, he was reunited with family and friends. One briefly updated him on recent developments down at Stamford Bridge.

“Chelsea – Frank Lampard’s in, Petit’s in – Wisey’s out!”

Bubble’s response was, I suspect, similar to that of many Chelsea fans.

No! Wise has gone?! Petit’s there – we can live with that!

It’s as much as I can do to remember what I was doing last week, let alone thirteen years ago, but that conversation struck a chord because it summed my feelings up perfectly at the time.

Not elation or indeed any kind of strong emotion, in fact; just indifference. We’d support him, of course, but as new signings go it just didn’t seem that exciting.

Frank Lampard. He’d been a decent player at West Ham, but in any conversation with a regular at Upton Park you didn’t have to wait long to hear murmurings of favouritism from his Uncle Harry as the sole reason young Frank was in the team.

And in all honesty, at £11m, the signing seemed expensive and arguably unlikely to fill the void left by the departure of Chelsea’s most successful captain. Homegrown players were, as ever, attracting something of a premium – Chris Sutton was Chelsea’s previous English acquisition for just £1m less than we paid for Lampard.

Anyhow, as well as Emmanuel Petit, Barcelona sold us Boudewijn Zenden that summer too. He looked the part – tricky Dutch chap, very exciting.

(No more needs saying here, I feel.)

I have to confess – the indifference continued for a while. Perhaps predictably, Claudio Ranieri played his summer acquisition from the Hammers out wide, rendering him largely ineffective. All I can really remember about Frank during his first season were a handful of goals – and I don’t think any of them were decisive – a few half-decent performances and a red card at White Hart Lane (we still won, obviously).

He certainly improved in his second season with us and I gradually warmed to him. But there was one particular game where I – and I’m sure many others – thought that we really might have a player on our hands; one cold Tuesday night at the Bridge in late January 2003 when Leeds came to town.

The game itself was memorable for Eidur Gudjohnsen’s outrageous overhead kick (from Lampard’s cross) and Dominic Matteo’s comedic late own goal that gave the Blues a cracking 3-2 win back in the day when Leeds had more goldfish on the wage bill than they did players. Frank got the second equaliser and it was his shot that Matteo diverted past Paul Robinson for the winner.

The conversation on the way back to Fulham Broadway can be broadly summarised thus: “That boy Lampard – he can play a bit, can’t he?”

From indifference to a master of understatement; my skills as a pundit and identifier of truly great players know no bounds.

With the arrival of Abramovich and his millions, we saw midfielders with serious price tags and bigger reputations come and go, many of whom were predicted by the hacks to be the tolling bell that spelt the end of Lampard’s time at Chelsea. How wrong they were.

This is the thing about Frank Lampard, if I had to offer some kind of précis of his career. He’s spent the best part of two decades as a professional footballer quietly making his point and proving people wrong. It was Mourinho’s arrival that really lit the fire under him – the goals flew in and the trophies piled up, as did the personal accolades and awards. Records tumbled and the doubters who dubbed him ‘Fat Frank’ gradually fell silent and looked more ridiculous as time went on.

I’m not going to regurgitate his career with us – you’ve read it all countless times in the last day or so and have your own memories; I simply can’t do it justice anyway. We sadly have to get used to the fact that when he disappeared down the tunnel at half time against Norwich in the penultimate game of last season, it was the last time Frank would wear a Chelsea shirt in a competitive game for us.

I don’t doubt that next season I’ll be walking to the ground and I’ll pass someone with his name and the number 8 on their back. It will make me think about an extraordinary player who straddled the Bates and Abramovich eras and helped to define a period of time at a football club in a way that only a handful of players have done before or ever will do in the future. Drogba and Zola provided many unforgettable moments, as have others but Lampard stands alone with an incredible, untouchable legacy – we won’t ever see anyone like him again.

But let’s remember – in those thirteen glorious years, he played a huge part in kicking the door open to the private dining room that contained European football’s old boys’ club and we’ve been there ever since, stubbornly refusing to leave.

He took home every domestic and European trophy that mattered and scored against them all in the process – Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Barcelona along with landmark goals against West Ham and Aston Villa.

He regularly tormented Spurs – and more importantly understood why that meant so much to us – and was always there when it mattered, from Bolton to Munich via Amsterdam and the Nou Camp and six hundred odd other games somewhere in between.

We just happened to be lucky enough to be there to see it all happen – he really was that good, wasn’t he?

Cheers, Frank. It’s been a real privilege.

There are 21 comments

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  1. teddybard

    Regardless of his service to Chelsea and no one can deny he has been excellent for your club.
    he was a great player also at West ham and I for one wish him all the best.

    Aforementioned Uncle Harry has always been a pain in the rear though

  2. Blueboydave

    Very nicely summed up, JD.

    I, too, remember being indifferent and deeply sceptical about Frank’s worth when we spent what was then, for us, a lot of money to buy him. His first season he mostly looked out of his depth and took a long time to turn into the extraordinary player he became.

    On a similar note, it’s worth recalling that The Drog didn’t arrive fully formed as the unplayable phenomenon we remember now, though he quickly established his knack of scoring in cup finals and knock-out CL games [ his 15 goals in each of his first two seasons doesn’t look so bad either compared to our current strikers’ efforts].

    The pressures for instant success mean new players get so little chance to establish themselves before they are discarded nowadays. How many other potential legends have we lost because of this attitude?

  3. OsgoodWasGood

    It is going to be very strange next year to see the number 8 shirt with a name other than Lampard on it.

  4. limetreebower

    A very eloquent tribute. Such a pleasure to read it and remember. I have vivid recollections of parts of the 3-2 against Leeds — still one of my favourite games at the Bridge — but funnily enough I don’t recall Frank’s involvement at all. As others have said, he seemed slightly anonymous at the time. Little did we know.

    Good to read today that he’s apparently been given carte blanche to return to the club at a time and in a capacity of his own choosing. (Well, maybe he won’t be allowed to declare himself manager.) I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s back.

    In the meantime — can anyone think of a player who hasn’t been linked to Chelsea in the past couple of weeks?

    • Blueboydave

      I haven’t seen the perennial “Kaka for Chelsea” yet this year – but it’s still only June 😉

  5. limetreebower

    Word from a mate of mine in the luxury estate agent business is that Diego Costa’s move may be in trouble because he’s not sure he can find suitable accommodation in London.

    My mate described it as a Costa living crisis.

  6. WorkingClassPost

    (Very) Slowly warming to this WC and thinking that Frank’s probably chosen the best time possible to leave. He can now concentrate on Brazil and he’s already got plenty of options for afterwards, but if he has a good run out then his value and bargaining power will increase dramatically.

    He’s been a great servant and it’s rare to see a player leave a club these days with such goodwill from everyone concerned.

    Who knows, now he’s left CFC, maybe even the Inglund fans will warm to him.

  7. HannahMoore2014

    Thanks Jonathan for such awesome article. Just a tip about those who don’t live in
    countries that stream world cup online. You can use UnoTelly to remove the
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  8. limetreebower

    Chelsea are off the mark in the World Cup!
    Fabulous game from little Oscar, too. About the only Brazilian player who looked like a Brazilian. I love how tenacious he is. They’re a side packed with some seriously meaty players but while monsters like Hulk and Fred are going nowhere or falling down embarrassingly, who’s tackling people on the floor and fighting through three opponents each twice his weight? Oscar is.
    Not sure how easy it’s going to be to learn to love Cesc, but personal feeling aside, that’s another excellent piece of work in the transfer market. As someone pointed out, we’re paying a couple of million more for him than the let’s-all-point-and-laugh Mancs paid for … Marouane Fellaini.

  9. WorkingClassPost

    No Frank on Saturday, but I was otherwise quite impressed; although Italy had the better play, England had the better chances and didn’t play too shabbily, either.

    Already a bit bored though, and hardly watched any of yesterday’s matches.

    Looks like Jose may have his work cut out keeping Costa from boiling over next term.

  10. Blueboydave

    The latest edition of the monthly official Chelsea magazine landed in my snail mail letterbox today.

    Pleased to see they devoted the front cover and no fewer than 16 pages inside in a decent celebratory farewell to Frank.

    More surprised to see that it also devotes 5 pages to Gareth Hall. No disrespect to him – there’s a place for loyal, journeyman back-ups, which the article admits he was to Steve Clarke for much of the 10 years he stayed with us.

    Does he really qualify as a “Chelsea Icon” as the article is headed?

  11. WorkingClassPost

    Just giving this site a prod to check that it’s still alive.

    Been a bit Tom & Dick lately, but feeling much better now and up early with loads of stuff to catch up.

    Early exit for England, which is a shame because we started to see a decent team taking shape, although a bit more experience might have been called for in THE major competition!

    Our commentators and presenters are fickle fellows though, and one has already turned his affections to France (can you guess who?), but it was great to hear him enjoy their play and to note that “The French really seem to enjoy playing with each other.” Yes, that’s what he said. Oh well, with no more howlers on the pitch to look forward to, I suppose someone has to carry on the good work!

  12. limetreebower

    *gnff* *snrck* Whaa… Who prodded me?

    Been enjoying dozing off in front of the 11 pm matches. Lots of good games so far. The South Americans (except Brazil) seem to have found the right style at the moment. Fast, snappy, fairly direct. Funny how fashions change: Spain’s effort to keep the ball just looked hopelessly ponderous by comparison.

    No real surprise about England’s exit, and the tooth-gnashing and hand-wringing has been appropriately muted so far, though if (when?) Costa Rica turn us over the volume will go up a bit. But really. If you go to an international tournament with Jagielka, Henderson, Welbeck and G. Johnson in your best XI, you’re a group-stage team. England fand really ought to be impressed that we came as close as we did to getting some sort of result against better teams.

    More importantly: not a great tourney for Chelsea so far. Diego Costa seems to have started his Shevchenko-style flop before even joining us, which is an impressive new twist on our failed striker narrative.

    Schürrle looked good at least. That’s something.

    • WorkingClassPost

      So too did Hazard against Russia, at least for the last quarter.

      Hoping that Costa’s lack of performance and bad temper is only down to a temporary fitness issue, though that seems not to be an excuse that Suarez requires.

  13. WorkingClassPost

    Still can’t get enthused about this WC.

    Enjoyed the Brazil game with a bunch of ex-pats and my ears are still ringing from the squealing girls and our host’s handy little air horn fired up for good measure – good fun in a noisy sort of way.

    Watching Mexico was weird, after all the Chelsea connections of Saturday, I couldn’t spot any in green, yet it was strangely like watching CFC. They dominated the match and played much the better football until they scored and sat back to defend a paltry 1-0 lead, allowing the Dutch to become rampant, and despite Robben’s ridiculous dive the result was inevitable.

    Saw the first and last bits of Germany and was torn between supporting the underdogs and wanting Schurrle to do well.

    Looks like we’re also parting with Ashley Cole and Eto’o.

    Good luck to them both, and it’s hard not to feel that had Cole played against Uruguay, the result might have been very different.

  14. Mike

    So. New season beginning. I’ve had a lovely break from football, largely skipping the World Cup. Feeling quietly confident about this season.

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