Frank Lampard is the epitome of what it means to be a Blues legend. He became Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer, made the fourth-most appearances and won a stunning 13 trophies in 13 years at Stamford Bridge.
Now back as a head coach, it is no surprise he is worshipped in west London. Whether it be his place on banners and walls around the Bridge, the familiar sound of his name being sung or just his status as one of the club’s greatest ever players, Lampard is a loved man in SW6.
While Lampard became the great that he is at Chelsea, it is across London where it all began.
Lampard joined West Ham as a youth player in 1994, a club which had huge significance for him. His father, Frank Lampard Senior, played for the Hammers for 18 years, as his son prepared to follow in his footsteps. He only had to wait a year to join the first team, signing his first professional contract in 1995.
As a fresh-faced 17-year-old, Lampard came into a team with some notable names. England legend Peter Shilton moved to Upton Park the same season, albeit without earning a single appearance. Julian Dicks was a key defender in the squad, while a teenage Rio Ferdinand also made the step-up into the seniors.
Lampard likely did not expect to be a regular from the start, but he would have to wait for his West Ham debut. Needing first team football and valuable experience, manager and uncle Harry Redknapp decided to send him 200 miles away to Wales, on a loan deal to Swansea City.
Lampard spent just two months with the Swans, returning to east London in early 1996. It was a valuable experience nonetheless, as he made 11 appearances and scored his first goal in professional football. He reflected on his time in South Wales when he was Derby manager, ahead of a game against Swansea in 2019.
Speaking to RamsTV, Lampard said: “I had just passed my driving test, I got my first car – a Fiesta – and I was driving four hours to Swansea along the M4 from Essex. It is important to take young players out of their comfort zone and push them and that was certainly a two-month eye opener for me, but I enjoyed it.
“We played at the Vetch Field and it was a fantastic experience for me. Character building in many ways and it was great. It was brilliant for me and actually very well welcomed by people behind the scenes at the club and fans alike, so I have always looked out for Swansea a little bit.”
Lampard came back with that added experience, benefitting from his loan spell in the long term. Just 30 days after returning from Swansea, he made his West Ham debut at the Boleyn Ground. A 10-minute cameo in place of John Moncur marked the occasion, helping the Hammers see out a 3-2 win over Coventry City.
Having made his Premier League debut, Lampard would have to again wait for his next appearance. But when he had patiently lingered for two years to even earn his first, this would be a bit easier to handle.
Appearance number two came on the final day of the season, with West Ham on course for a mid-table finish. After falling as low as 19th in the early stages of the league campaign, an improved run of form saw Redknapp’s side move themselves away from the relegation zone and up the table.
West Ham finished the season at home to Sheffield Wednesday, leading 1-0 thanks to Dicks’ header. Lampard and Ferdinand both came on with five minutes to go, with the former replacing Tony Cottee. The visitors equalised with a minute left on the clock, forcing the Hammers down into 11th to conclude the season.
For a 17-year-old Lampard, it was not a bad debut campaign. 13 appearances for West Ham and Swansea, making his first steps into the first team. To even make his debut before entering adulthood was an achievement, earning a loan to develop and grow as a player in his early days.
Fast forward 24 years, and Lampard has achieved it all. From lifting the Champions League trophy as captain, overtaking Bobby Tambling to become Chelsea’s all-time greatest goalscorer or earning 100 caps for England, the English midfielder had a wonderful playing career.
Now in management, there is nothing that Lampard cannot achieve. A Champions League finish and FA Cup Final is a fantastic start to life at the helm with Chelsea, following on from guiding Derby to the Championship play-off final. He has the time, potential and football intelligence to achieve great things on the touchline.
Looking back on a beautiful career, it is a sweet sight to see how far Lampard has come. To Chelsea fans, he will always be a Blue, but without that early opportunity at West Ham and Swansea, he would not be the legend he is today.
From a chubby teenager in east London to a true legend in west, he has earned the title of Super Frankie Lampard.
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