Last week one of the last men standing from England’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’ retired. Frank Lampard, goalscoring midfielder supreme, called it a day to bring the curtain down on a glittering career resplendent with goals, medals and trophies. It is natural to assume Lampard’s achievements were a consequence of natural, God-given talent – but his story proves otherwise, and Lampard’s legacy should be about sheer hard work and making the most of one’s talent.
In sport there is no hiding place
As the son of a West Ham legend and twice-capped England full-back, with Harry Redknapp for an uncle and Jamie Redknapp his older cousin, it would be easy to imagine Lampard had it easy. Indeed Uncle ‘Arry was Lampard’s first manager at West Ham and allegations of nepotism were never too far away. But in sport there is no hiding place and you cannot fake your way to the top.
In 1992, Lampard’s cousin, Jamie Redknapp, had “made it” – he’d signed for Liverpool and was the pin-up boy of English football. Lampard, meanwhile, was a chubby and shy 14 year old, desperate to follow in his idol Jamie’s footsteps. He was selected for the week-long national school trials for selection to Lilleshall, English football’s school of excellence, and alongside him at the trial was a cocky and brash Liverpudlian by the name of Jamie Carragher.
Three weeks later the letters were despatched. Carragher, then a striker believe it or not, had made it. Lampard did not.
I got the letter three weeks after the trial to tell me I hadn’t made it. I thought to myself, “How did that mouthy Scouser get through?” I tell my daughters about not getting into Lilleshall now. It was massive.
The setback was an early lesson for the aspirant footballer, and his now-famed resilience saw him knuckle down, and in 1994 he won an apprenticeship at West Ham – where his Dad was assistant manager and uncle Harry was manager. You can imagine what people thought.
First-team debut at 18 but still overcoming obstacles
Lampard made his first start for West Ham two years later, aged just 18, in a tame 2-0 defeat at Arsenal. His Dad remained the assistant and the manager who picked him that day was his Uncle Harry. Not long afterwards, at a fans’ forum, the hitherto whispered claims of favouritism were laid publicly bare when Redknapp, sitting alongside the young Lampard, was harangued by an irate fan.
Still only 18, Lampard is visibly uncomfortable but his Uncle Harry, however, batted away the protest with such conviction that the clip has now entered football folklore.
“I’m telling you now, he (Lampard) will go right to the very top. Right to the very top. ’Cos he’s got everything that is needed to be a top midfield player. His attitude is first-class. He’s got strength, he can play, he can pass and he can score goals. I couldn’t be more strong in how I feel about him.”
Lampard recently said of the incident:
I was there, it all happened right in front of me. It’s now popped up again on YouTube. I was there as one of four players along with the manager and a big group of fans. The fan was a father of one of the boys who was a couple of years older than me, and his son wasn’t getting in the team, whereas I had just got in the team, so he had an axe to grind.
This particular bloke was saying I was in the team because of family reasons. I was a shy kid, and it was absolutely horrible. I was very nervous, and I sat there really embarrassed that this fella was having a pop at me. Harry was a complete star, you should watch it on YouTube, he really puts the fella in his place. It is great viewing now, but at the time it was horrible.
And how prescient Redknapp proved to be. The career Lampard went on to enjoy needs no real re-telling. He won everything there was to win at club level and he is a firmly established Premier League great, and the respect he has earned from his peers is telling. His old pal and later rival Carragher said:
I have always said Steven Gerrard was born world class, whereas Frank became world class. That is not a slight. It should serve as an inspiration. He has had to contend with some knocks down the years but he kept bettering himself. His mental strength is one of his greatest assets.
Lampard, never the quickest and never especially skilful, forged a wonderful career at the highest level through sheer force of will, dedication and an unbridled desire not only to wring every last drop from his talent, but to prove the doubters wrong. In light of his retirement, the former West Ham academy director Tony Carr told The Guardian:
When Frank was a youngster, I can remember a lot of people saying: ‘What’s all the fuss? He’s a good player but he isn’t that good,”. He never got to play for England schoolboys and I can remember Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, asking me why Frank wasn’t playing for England youth, when he was a youth-team player at the club.
“Harry rang the England coach, who was Dave Burnside, and Dave said: ‘We know about him but we think we’ve got better.’ That sort of thing was a fantastic spur for Frank. With his bloody mindedness, his dedication, the way he constantly tried to improve himself – he made himself the ultimate pro. I’ve got nothing but complete admiration for him.
Among the feast of post-retirement tributes, his long-time Chelsea and England team-mate John Terry probably summed him up best.
You were the best trainer by a million miles every single day, inspiring me and everyone at the club. You stayed out after training working on your finishing – 20 goals a year wasn’t good enough for you; you wanted 25, 30 goals. I will miss you getting four cones and doing sprints after training – setting the example for the academy kids.
And that, folks, is how you make it to the top. Alongside supplying bespoke, custom teamwear and kit, our raison d’être is to share our passion for sport and to inspire as many people as we possibly can to get active, to play and to enjoy sport. You don’t have to be the most talented, the most skilful or the quickest. You don’t even have to do it with the express intention of ‘making it’ – enjoyment comes first. But Frank Lampard has shown every young boy and girl who plays sport and does dream of making it that, if you want it badly enough, it could be you.
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