It’s been a good week for Frank Lampard. A few days before I met him at the club’s training ground in Cobham he had skippered the Blues to a dramatic victory over Stoke, scoring the winning goal with virtually the last kick of the match. The game had also been his 400th for the club, a landmark only reached before by nine other Chelsea players.
“I didn’t think I’d get to 400 games in this space of time, seven and a half years,” he says, settling into a chair in an annex off the main reception. “To captain the team against Stoke, albeit in the absence of John, to come back in the way that we did as team and to score the winner made it a very special day for me.”
At the end of the game Lamps celebrated with the fans almost in the style of a victorious Roman gladiator. Clenching his fists in triumph he rushed towards the Matthew Harding stand which responded by bellowing out a deafening chorus of his song, ‘Super Frank’. Few players, surely, can have such a strong bond with their supporters.
“I’m lucky in that I have a great relationship with the fans and I’ve had that for a long time,” he says. “But those kind of moments don’t always come around. It was a bit special getting that kind of reaction from the Matthew Harding end. Really, you want to thank everyone in the stadium for coming and giving their support but we’d scored both goals at the Shed end so I think the fans in the Harding deserved that moment!”
Preliminaries over, it’s time to crack on with the questions for Frank, which have all been sent in by ClubCFCnet members…
How close were you to leaving the club in the summer? And what was it that persuaded you to stay?
It was a difficult summer for me from start to finish. I’d always said that if I’d ever move from Chelsea it would not be to another English club, it would be to try something different, a completely new challenge. Now, I obviously had the option of going to Italy with a manager everyone knows I was very, very close to. But, after losing my mum so recently, I really needed the summer to get my head straight.
In the end, I came to my senses in a way – and I don’t mean that disrespectfully to the idea of going to play for Jose Mourinho somewhere else. But this is my home. I had long chats with my family about it – I’m a man who needs to be quite close to his family, especially after what had just happened. And the club has become my family as well.
For a few months my head was in a bit of a spin, from losing my mum onwards. In the end, though, I made what was certainly the right decision for me – to stay here and, I hope, to end my career here. I’m very fortunate to have joined this club at a great time and I’ve got such a bond now that to break that would, I’m sure, have been the wrong move.
Was all the support you received from the fans when your mother passed away a factor in making you decide to stay?
Jane B, West Sussex
That was a huge factor. The support I had from the fans was completely overwhelming. I had thousands of letters to my house and to the club which took me a long, long time to go through and I’ve tried to reply to them all. I knew Chelsea was a big club but I never quite realised the depth of the support. To get letters from all over the world, as I did, was very special to me.
So that was a factor, as was the response of the club. When I spoke to the board and to Peter Kenyon at the start of the summer and said I needed some time to get my head straight, they were fine about it. The press made out there was a problem between me and the club, but that often happens during negotiations. In fact, the club was fantastic with me throughout. So yes, the support of the fans and the club was a huge thing for me.
A lot of people will claim that a season without a trophy is a complete failure. More pragmatic people expect some form of progression with the team, for example an improvement in the style of play. What in your mind would constitute a successful season and what would constitute failure?
Well, I don’t want to contradict that opening bit completely, but for me a failure would be not to win anything. At a club the size of Chelsea, the depth of the squad, the individual international players we have, everything about the club now is set up for success. Last year we went through a season when, even with a lot of problems, we managed to come second in basically everything – but that is still a failure for a club like Chelsea.
You see Arsenal in recent seasons play fantastic football, progress and bring in great youngsters into the team…but I’m sure if you asked their fans to be honest, they would love to have won a Premier League, FA Cup or Champions League in the last four years.
So, there is a balance. You want to improve as a club, you want to play better football, you want to bring in some young kids and develop them into top players, but for us, and certainly for me personally, I want to win something – and for it to be one of the big ones.
If you could put your finger on the reasons for our recent run of poor form, what would they be?
It’s a very difficult thing to put a finger on. We just lost an edge that we had, because we were playing fantastic football and scoring many goals early in the season. Particularly at home we’ve lost points that we shouldn’t have lost – and I don’t mean against Arsenal and Liverpool, but against Newcastle and West Ham plus against Fulham away those six points we’ve lost would’ve put us top of the table.
So we lost an edge, we lost confidence at home, for sure, because we couldn’t break teams down – maybe we were lacking a bit of magic that we should have produced, because we’ve got the individuals who can produce it. It was a general dip that meant we lost about 15% of our game.
To turn that corner you need a) to work hard and b) a little bit of luck and, hopefully, we’ve done that now. At Southend, albeit in a game we should always have won, we went there and did the job. Against Stoke, the way we won was significant because teams like Liverpool and Man U had won a lot of games in the last five minutes, but we hadn’t until then. And winning games late on like that can win you the title.
You always seem to come to us away fans after a match. Do you really notice the vocal encouragement we give, and does it make a difference to your game or the team as a whole?
I always notice it. I think our away fans, particularly, have been fantastic for a long, long time. They are always very vocal and supportive of the team.
It’s not always easy to go to the fans when you’ve lost 3-0 at Old Trafford, because you know as players you’ve let them down – we should go there and perform better than that. If players don’t go to the fans, sometimes it’s down to embarrassment – you feel bad and want to get off that pitch quickly. It’s not really the players’ fault. But I always go to show my appreciation for the fans travelling, for paying money, and for spending hours on the coach, because they definitely give everyone a lift.
How good are the Chelsea fans – both home and away – in comparison to other Premiership and Champions League clubs in terms of vocal support?
Ben Sirgreat, Fulham
I actually think Chelsea fans are the best, but then I’m biased because I have such a great relationship with them. OK, Stamford Bridge may not be as noisy as Liverpool or certain other grounds – Newcastle, for example – at their loudest, but the great thing for me about Chelsea fans is that they are very reasonable and well-educated.
I’ve been to grounds where, after ten minutes, the whole stadium can turn on a team or on individuals. I don’t think Chelsea fans do that. There have been players who have come here and struggled at times, and the fans will back them to the hilt. Of course, there will be occasions when there will be individuals who won’t but, as a group, the Chelsea fans are fantastic like that.
Generally, the fans at the Bridge are vocal. There are times when they can be a bit quiet, which I think has something to do with the fact that the club is developing. Because of the area we’re in there are lots of new supporters who come to the games and aren’t as vocal as, say, local fans in Liverpool. That’s just the reality.
But in terms of Chelsea fans supporting the team I can’t fault them. The prime example, for me, was when John Terry missed the penalty in the Champions League final. A lot of fans could have turned on a player for doing that, but our fans went the other way and supported John even more.
What was the most exciting moment in your football career? And what was the worst?
The most exciting was winning the league that first year at Bolton. Obviously, on a personal note, scoring the goals in that game was great. But for the team to win the league after 50 years and, knowing the feeling you’ve given to so many fans that hadn’t experienced it before, that was without a doubt the best.
The worst, for me, was losing to Liverpool in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2005. We were really playing well at the time, but we lost to a funny goal up at Anfield. We’d worked so hard and been so dominant that season that, maybe, we ran out of legs a little bit over the two games. So, it was frustrating that we couldn’t top that season off by going to the final. With the rivalry we had with Liverpool, too, it was very disappointing.
If you could have any player from the past playing in the same team as you, who would it be? And if you could have any current player playing in the same team as you, who would that be?
Ollie Scanlon, Croydon
The past player would be Maradona. When I was growing up, he was the greatest player of all time. I was fortunate enough to meet him for the first time after the Manchester United game recently. When you talk about creating a bit of magic in games as we’ve done earlier, we would certainly have done that.
On a similar line, because I find them quite comparable, I’d go for Messi as the modern player. For me, he is the outstanding player in the world at the moment. Ronaldo deserves to be World Player of the Year, but I’m predicting now with a lot of confidence that Messi will get the award next year.
Who is the best defender/defensive midfielder you have played against in your career?
Simone Francario, Rome
When I came through at West Ham and was quite young and naive, there were two players – and I can’t really choose between them – who I was in awe of, Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane. They weren’t purely defensive midfield players, but they had that tenacity about them in the tackle, and an aura about them so you were kind of in awe of them as you walked onto the pitch. I’ll never forget that feeling, although as you get older you don’t really feel the same way – now I never feel intimidated by anyone. But, at the time, those two just appeared to be light years ahead of me.
What is the match that gave you greatest satisfaction?
Simone Francario, Rome
I think, for a great team performance, when we beat Barcelona 4-2 at the Bridge in 2005. We were halfway through the season and doing very well in the league, but that was the first game where we thought we’d arrived on the world stage. The feeling we had in the first 20 minutes when we were 3-0 up, well, we just felt invincible. I don’t think you can ever feel that good again in a game at club level. So, that was a special one for the team.
What were the days like after Moscow, and how did you try to distract yourself then?
Well, obviously, we were all very despondent. We flew home together the next morning and it was a horrible atmosphere, as you’d expect. Over the next couple of days I was moping around, mulling over the disappointment and what could have been.
Then, I went away with my family. Luckily, I have children, because I think if I was still 22 I would’ve spent the whole summer dwelling on it, but when you have family and kids you can move on and realise there are things that are even more important. But, we went away with my sister and her kids to Dubai. It was a big family thing but it was nice and quiet, and it was a good break.
From what you’ve seen who, if anyone, do you expect to see progress from the reserve/youth team into the first team?
Chris, north London
The ones I think who are knocking on the door now are Michael Mancienne and Miroslav Stoch.
Michael’s been in the England squad, but I think Chelsea fans need to see him in action and hopefully they will do soon. He’s a very accomplished player, a bit like a young Rio Ferdinand, very cool on the ball. He, for sure, is going to be a top player.
Stoch, who came on and made a difference against Stoke, is now in that cusp of developing from a great youth team player into a first-team player. It’s a big step, but we’re starting to see that he can give us some real positives when he comes on.
Do you get a chance to give your input into the development of young players in the youth and reserve teams?
Philip Rolfe, Hammersmith
It’s only really when they join the first team that you can do that. But, the English lads especially, went along to watch some of the games in the FA Youth Cup last year and once you’ve seen them play, you can have a quiet word with them down at the training ground. Then, when they come to train with us, you can take them aside in training and try to help them out. I’ll never forget the players at West Ham who took me aside and said little things to me, whether they were right or wrong, and I’ll also never forget the ones who never said anything. Handing down that responsibility is very important. We don’t get too involved in their day-to-day development but maybe we should do, because people like me, John Terry and Joe Cole have been through the ranks and know how much hard work it takes to succeed . I actually have a big bee in my bonnet about young players being pampered at too early an age, which can take away a bit of hunger. We used to scrub Julian Dicks’ boots and when they weren’t clean enough he’d throw them back at you, and you’d have to clean them again!
A problem I find with young players, and I’ve watched them a lot in the youth games, is that they play very well for the youth team but then they come to train with us and they lack the confidence to take it by the scruff of the neck. But that’s normal, and we’ve all been through that. Once they realise that they are good enough to contribute at first-team level, they can go as far as they want. Hopefully, Stochy, for example, will see that after his performance against Stoke.
You went out of your way after the FA Cup home tie with Southend to say ‘well done’ to the opposition. As a youngster, on loan at Swansea, did you get the chance to play a bigger side in the FA Cup and, if so, how did the ‘stars’ treat you?
I never played a top team while I was at Swansea but, all the same, going there was a big eye-opener into what real football is all about. I mean, the facilities were really poor compared to here, it rained every day, we washed our own kit, all that kind of stuff.
So I think it’s really important that when teams like Southend or Scunthorpe or whoever come here, the lads realise how fortunate we are and congratulate them if they put in a great performance, as Southend did to get a result at our place. Even when Burnley beat us in the Carling Cup it was never a problem to go in and say ‘well done’, because if you want to play for a big club and be a big player you have to realise you can’t always win and you have to appreciate the good performance of the opposition.
Do you chat a lot about football during the season with your uncle, Harry Redknapp? Is there an added incentive when you play against his teams or is it slightly awkward seeing him on the opposition bench?
Jane B, West Sussex
I do speak to Harry a bit more now that he’s at Tottenham. Sometimes he asks me my opinion on players that maybe he’s interested in, so he asks me ‘what do you think of him?’ So we’ve had those sort of conversations. I saw there was something in the newspaper recently about him talking to me about Wilson Palacios and, it’s true, I told him he was a good player a few weeks ago.
In terms of playing against him, I’ve scored a lot of goals against him when he was at Portsmouth. But, I think when we get on the pitch we pretty much switch off the family ties. Harry will look after himself, whether he’s at Portsmouth or Tottenham, because he’s a very good manager. Now he’s at Tottenham it’s slightly different for me – because of the rivalry, I just play against Tottenham to win.
Have you put any thought into what you will do when you stop playing? Would you think of getting into coaching/management, or would you prefer media work (maybe with your cousin, Jamie Redknapp)?
I don’t have an interest in doing media work, I’ll leave that to others. I admire people who do it very well, like Andy Gray at Sky, but I don’t want to do that.
At one stage I didn’t want to be a manager but now I wouldn’t mind taking my badges and, hopefully, be a manager in the future. The ideal thing would be to be manager of Chelsea, but it doesn’t always work out like that. Anyway, there’s a long time to go yet.
You’ve captained Chelsea on quite a few occasions now. Do you enjoy the added responsibility of being skipper and how would you say your captaincy style differs from that of JT?
Mark Colby, Holloway
I do enjoy the responsibility, but I actually think JT is the best leader out there. I’ve played with and against other captains and he’s the best for me. But I enjoy it. I have a different input, John’s probably more vocal and chest-banging. I try to do it my own way through example, by working hard, but I also have a word in an ear or do a bit of shouting in the dressing room now and again. I think that’s why we’re a good combination of captain and vice-captain, because we’re slightly different personalities in the way we go about things. I love wearing the armband, but I also love handing it back to John because I want to play alongside a great centre-back and captain.
Admittedly, there’s a long way to go but do you see beating Bobby Tambling’s all-time Chelsea record of 202 goals as a realistic target for you?
Dave Key, Peterborough
I’m about 80 behind and I’ve got it in my sights. I’ve got four-and-a-half years left of this contract and I’d love to get a couple more years after that – we’ll see how that goes. But, if I carry on scoring at the rate I’m scoring, I’ve got a good chance of doing it. Of course, that doesn’t take into account getting a bit older, possible injuries, this kind of thing. But, yes, I’d love to get somewhere near the record – whether I beat it, though, is a long way away.
Interview by Clive Batty, author of ‘The Chelsea Miscellany’, ‘Kings of the King’s Road’ and ‘A Serious Case of the Blues: Chelsea in the 80s’. His latest book ‘The Pocket Book of Chelsea’ (Vision Sports Publishing) is out in October.