I have been living and playing football since childhood. There are millions of football fans and what unites them all is their desire for more and more football. There are many, including me for whom football comes first to any other thing in life. Though I am an ardent Arsenal supporter, I have respected and admired Frank Lampard (Chelsea FC and England) as a footballer.
The story of Frank becoming a footballer is very different as compared to others. His father, Frank senior played for West Ham and England and his uncle, Harry Redknap was the manager of West Ham. Belonging to such a family insured his start towards a football career at a very early age. He started practicing with his father. As a kid we all look up to someone for an inspiration, he did not have to go far for it .His cousin Jeame was a good footballer and his inspiration. He spent a lot of time with him and learnt a lot. His family played an important part in his becoming a star. He mentions that the most important thing for him in life was football and family.
Frank was a West Ham fan since childhood. He used to watch West Ham play and often dreamt of playing for West Ham. For him white was the color. He joined the academy of football at West Ham and trained with big names like Rio Ferdinand,Carrick,Defoe ,Joe Cole and Johnson. He made a good friend in Rio and mentions him many times in the book. Football is a very demanding game and requires a lot of physical fitness. It also requires a spurge of speed at moments. For a striker it is very important to practice the acceleration to break through. Frank practiced hard and many times he practices on the days that he got off. He went that extra mile to become what he is now. He aptly describes talent in these lines which I quote here, “Talent isn’t just the ability to do tricks and beat men. Yes that is a fantastic skill and may be some people are born with that ability whereas others aren’t .But there is also a different kind of talent which is how much you drive yourself inside to be the very best.”His hard work and perseverance paid off and was signed in to play for West Ham. He describes his emotion on being signed in these words, “Having signed my contract I could not have been happier. I was finally living the life I had dreamed for. After years of eating, drinking and sleeping football I was also paid to do it. It was the best feeling I can imagine.”
Being a professional footballer comes with its own sense of responsibility. Any act of defiance can lead to foreboding. Frank mentions few incidents where he acted wrongly and was scrutinized by media. These incidents made him morally strong and responsible.
Being the son of a famous footballer and the relative of the manager brought in difficulties of its own. There were many articles in news which said that he played in the team because of his coach and father. The saddest part was that most of the fans did not like him and found him not very talented for West Ham. He was booed by his own fans and the press was also very unsupportive. Even when he performed well for the team and scored goals they found a different fault in him and never appreciated the effort he put for the club. Frank was very committed to West Ham and did not let the banter show in his performance. In fact, the whole episode made him stronger and he worked even harder to win the heart of his fans. But not everything in life goes the way one wants it to be. His father and uncle were fired and soon it was the time for him to leave West Ham. On 21st April 2001 he played his 187th and the final game for the club he loved. On 3rd July 2001 Chelsea FC signed him for 11 million pounds.
It is hard to imagine great players like Frank being pressurized for their position in a team. Every team has at least 2-3 players to play at a position. Also the yearly signings adds to the pool and someone who had played for a complete season could be found on bench for most of the new season. This all adds to the pressure to perform. For Chelsea , he started in 160 matches without being dropped off and set a new record for EPL. But when he was not considered for the 2002 world cup he was heartbroken. It must be considered that Frank was trying to get into a team which had the likes of Beckham,Gerrad and Scholes in the mid field. This set back brought in a lot of introspection and hard work which proved detrimental in future campaigns. He also made in to the England team and played in 2006 and 2010 cups.
The role of a manager is so important for a team’s progress. To name a few like Arsen Wenger,Sir Alex Fergusson and Jose Mourinho who have played a big role in their team’s progress. Frank mentions about his coaches and also the owner of Chelsea and the part they have played in his life.Claudio Ranieri was the coach when he put on the blue shirt. Ranieri saw the team through its moment of crisis and brought it to the verge of victory. He was someone who believed in improving little by little. His aim for the season was to finish one place better. In 02-03 season the club was under severe crisis. It was at this time that Roman Abramovich decided to buy the club. Roman is a shrewd business man and has turned every business to gold.He was at good terms with the players and emotionally supported the team. In 04-05 season Jose Mourinho,the special one was appointed the manager of the club. He was under pressure to perform well and infused the spirit of winning in the team. It was under him that the club won the premiership after 50 long years. The attitude he took towards the players in the 05-06 season was detrimental in the club retaining the cup.
Frank belongs to a very successful team. Playing for Chelsea he won the Carling cup in 04-05, the premiership in 05,06 and 10 and many other important titles. Though there have been many wins and glory moments to cherish , there were also some moments of defeat. In the Euro cup of 2004 ,Frank was playing for England. Their first match was against France where they lost to a stunning display by Zidane.They won their matches against Switzerland and Croatia to qualify for the quarter final.The quarter final was against Portugal , a grueling and extremely exciting match. Owen scored in the first 3 minutes and they conceded with 10 minutes left. In the extra time Rui Costa scored.In the last 10 minutes it was do or die situation for England.Frank scored on a good pass from Terry.But they lost the game in the penalty shoot outs.He describes his emotion in these words, “I paused and picked up the shirt from the first match. I thought of the header moment, the joy and then the abject disappointment. This was what it’s like to get out of a big tournament. A thousand memories and moments of wonder followed by a million ifs and buts.” Another such moment was in world cup 2006 where they lost to Portugal again in penalties. This will always be a moment which will haunt Frank because he missed an important penalty.
It is a very well written book and I enjoyed every part of it. If you are a football fan , you will definitely love it.
To quote my favorite lines from the book, “For a footballer, there can be few trips in life as significant as the 60 meter path towards a moment that will remain with you as long as you live. Like the walk down the aisle to be married or a somber march to say a final good bye to a loved one who has died. In those circumstances, though, at least you know what to expect. The long walk to take penalty invokes a similar intensity of emotion but without a pre-determinant outcome. It’s the world cup quarter final and the hopes of your family,friends,and team mates, never mind those of a nation, weigh on your shoulders as you propel yourself towards destiny.”