PUBLISHED: 07:51 04 February 2014 | UPDATED: 07:51 04 February 2014
Frank Lampard is the archetypal Essex boy made good. Although, ‘good’ may not cover it for a footballer who has won everything possible at the top level of club football and made more than 100 caps for England
Frank Lampard, the Romford-born footballer who plays in midfield for Chelsea and England, has worked his way up to become one of the standout players of the Premier League era, but it could all have been so different as he started his career with West Ham United back in 1995.
Rather than a seamless transition into the first team at Upton Park, Frank, whose dad was manager Harry Redknapp’s assistant, stood accused of being a beneficiary of nepotism, making for an awkward start to his football career.
‘I guess at the start of your career you just want to keep your head down, stay out of trouble and play well. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that easy for me, because there were family ties that people felt were influencing my selection for the team.
‘It was difficult, but it just made me even more determined to show them I was there on merit. I was only 17 and when you’re getting stick from grown men it’s not something you expect, but the whole thing was very character building – people shouting, “Go and sit back next to your dad on the bench’”and all that stuff. At the time I hated it, to be honest. I really, really hated it.
‘Looking back, Harry was brilliant for me. He was very good, because it wouldn’t have been easy for him either. My dad was his assistant and I was a young player coming through. Sometimes I deserved to play and other times I didn’t. He had to juggle that situation.’
Lampard left West Ham for Chelsea in an £11million deal in 2001, a move which angered many hardcore Hammers fans. It was an experience that left the England man in no doubt that football supporters could be an unforgiving bunch.
‘They certainly can be,’ Frank says with a laugh. ‘But that is just part and parcel of the game. I did feel aggrieved when I left there, because I was so young and I took what people were saying to heart. But like most things in life, as you get older, you cope better with criticism and setbacks. You grow as a person, just as you do after winning titles or even suffering disappointments in major tournaments. It all adds to the making of the person.’
The Essex-born star continues: ‘At the end of the day, I did move to a rival club and I did become very much a Chelsea person, but it was just part of my education. They still boo and sing some songs, but it doesn’t feel the same. When I first went back, it was really hostile. They hated me! But if I meet West Ham cabbies or the man in the street, they are generally nice. When you go onto the pitch, it is more like theatre now. I can handle that and the moment you smile and laugh, you take the sting out of it, no matter what they are calling you.’
If Frank bears no grudge, it’s undoubtedly got something to do with him benefitting from such a safe and measured upbringing, something he’s embedded into the family life he now shares with partner Christine Bleakley and daughters Luna and Isla.
Lampard attended Brentwood School, where he achieved 10 GCSEs and was by his own admission, ‘a homely, mummy’s boy type’.
When he reached the last set of trials for a place at the former FA School of Excellence at Lilleshall, aged 16, he secretly wasn’t too disappointed about not making the grade.
‘I didn’t really want to make the grade there,’ he admits. ‘It would have meant leaving home and I was always very homely. Sure, I am competitive and it was a really competitive atmosphere – kids from up north who were big and strong and who would bash you around – but home meant more to me.
‘I just didn’t fancy it and it was a relief to go back to normality. I don’t think it did me any harm, though.’
Wind forward two decades and Frank’s career is almost at a conclusion. With retirement not far off, the England man admits to being relieved at the prospect of spending more time at home. In preparation for the change that is to come, he is already starting to turn his hand to other projects, notably as an author of children’s literature.
Frankie’s Magic Adventure is a five-part series about a goalscoring, time-travelling footballing kid, with the first book, Frankie vs. The Pirate Pillagers, selected for the Summer Reading Challenge 2013.
‘It’s an idea I came up with quite a few years ago and it developed as a result of reading to my kids. Obviously I grew up as a football-loving kid, and through reading with them and seeing their interaction with literature, I was left to think there wasn’t really anything out there that was football based, slightly educational and fun.’
Did Frank read much as a child growing up?
‘Yes I did. I wasn’t really put under pressure to read by my parents and I don’t remember my dad reading to me in bed particularly, but I was quite diligent at school. I wanted to do well, so I would have read as a kid. I think literature is really important, maybe more so now than ever before. There are so many other distractions for kids and I think it’s really important to reintroduce to them how fun books can be.’
So what does the future hold? Sure, he has Chelsea’s tilt at the Premier League title to maintain and the small matter of travelling to Brazil for the World Cup in June with England. But then…?
‘I’ve already got ideas for a second series of the book and maybe some other projects. I think it’s important to look forward rather than back and although I’ve had a fantastic career, I need things to stimulate me after football.’
Could a return to Essex life be on the cards?
‘Well, Essex holds so many fantastic memories for me through growing up there as a child. It’s a really special place with absolutely fantastic people, but for now we’re very happy living around Chelsea. You never know where life will take you next, though.’