One man’s legend is another man’s traitor!
I ask any football fan “Have you ever booed a player of a rival team?” or “Does your blood curdle when someone boos your player?” If indeed I am talking to a fan and a passionate one at that, then at least one of the answers will be a resounding “YES”. Ever wondered “Why?” I, for one have thought about this facet of the beautiful game from time to time and here I have an opportunity to dwell on the reason behind the madness.
I am blue-blooded, which does not mean my ancestors lived in forts but it does mean that my team plays in one. Fortress Stamford Bridge. Over the last six years, Chelsea FC has been my closest friend, a friend which had and still has the power to elicit an emotional response in me.
Frank Lampard Jr. began his career at West Ham United, a club where once his father was a legend. He was talented and soon became a regular in the Hammer’s first team. He scored goals and was popular. Soon other young midfield prodigies like Joe Cole and Michael Carrick graduated to the first team and this coincided with Frank’s dip in form. West Ham at that time was managed by Harry Redknapp and Frank Lampard Sr., immediate family to the junior Lampard.
As it is with discerning managers, Rednapp did not drop Frank and persisted with him despite his poor form. This did not go down well with the fans and they started accusing their very own boy of nepotism. They failed to understand that perhaps their manager saw something special in the young Lampard, as opposed to merely showing favouritism to his nephew. The fans were not supportive enough and neither were they patient with him. The managing duo of Rednapp and Lampard Sr. were sacked and Frank followed them when Chelsea came in with an 11 GBP offer. The Hammers were happy with the money as they felt getting that that kind of money for an “average” player when they already have other potential stars at Upton Park, is a good deal.
Frank also did his bit to rub the West Ham fans the wrong way. While he was there, he made thinly-veiled comments about his ambition of playing at the “highest level”. Then his new club was one of the most bitter rivals of West Ham United. Being at Chelsea, he was quoted saying that Chelsea had better fans and they supported him. Maybe he had his reasons after what all he had to go through at his boyhood club but his comments were not appreciated by the Hammers. They started booing him at each and every opportunity they got, the intensity of which was directly proportional to Frank Lampard’s stature in the premier league and in world football. From his West Ham days, he improved beyond all measure and truly became a premier league great. Hammer’s dislike for him turned to hatred and it is visible even today, after almost nine years of spewing venom at him. His story might have its roots at Upton Park but the only fathomable reason for it to have continued this far is that West Ham fans are unable to come to terms with the Frank Lampard of today. They get riled up everytime they see his quality – a quality which they could not see as they were blinded by their belief that Super Frank Lampard was in the West Ham team only through nepotism. Has he proved them wrong? Just a ‘yes’ will not do justice to his contributions as a Chelsea Legend. Respect.
Moving on to another player I love and the others love to hate, Ashley Cole! He began his career at a club he supported as a child, Arsenal. After a loan spell at Crystal Palace, he made the left-back position his own after the then first team regular Sylvinho was injured. He was the fans’ favourite and won two premier league titles with the gunners and was a part of the “Invincible” which won the title in the 2003-04 season. He shared a telepathic understanding with Robert Pires and Thiery Henry and the left flank used to be on perpetual fire during those days. The relationship between him and the Arsenal fans showed the first signs of souring when Chelsea came looking for his signature in 2005. He was found guilty of meeting the then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and CEO Peter Kenyon in a “tapping-up” case and all the parties involved were fined. He moved to Chelsea in the summer of 2006 and Ashley became “Cashley” for the Gunners. Thereafter, few excerpts were published from his soon to be released autobiography, wherein he was quoted saying “Arsenal had fed him to the sharks” but Arsenal stand was that Cole had gone behind their back and attended the meeting with Chelsea at a London hotel. This was the final nail in the coffin for the relationship between the Invincible left-back and the Arsenal faithfuls. Ever since then he’s been booed every time he sets foot on the field.
Their hate is also directly proportional to one thing, our love for him. Since his move to Chelsea, he has become a crucial player for us and was deservingly voted the fans’ player of the year for the 2008-09 seasons. He was reunited with many of his England team-mates including Frank Lampard and John Terry at Chelsea, which might have also been a reason for his desire to move from the “French” half of London to the “English” half, rather than just a hunger for more wads. Arsenal fans may still have genuine reasons for despising Cole, but booing today has become a medium for letting out their frustrations. They have Gael Clichy and we have the best left-back in the world.
The rival fans’ behaviour towards Frank and Ashley ends up inspiring them to deliver ‘man of the match’ performances against their formal clubs. Am I complaining? I feel for my players, my blood curdles when someone throws something at them, I despise the Hammers and the Gunners for this but the irony is that I am also thankful to them to some extent. Thank you West Ham and Arsenal, the former for not realising Frank Lampard’s true potential and then inspiring him to hit you where it hurts the most and the latter for just bringing out the best in Ashley Cole.