Two years ago, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard talked to me about West Ham, his childhood, immigration, war and how he thinks he could handle himself on Question Time.
As the son of a footballer did you have any particular heroes or memories that those of us watching from the terraces didn’t experience?
Well yes, I was lucky in that respect with my dad being at West Ham, my hero was the striker Frank McAvennie who had an amazing goal scoring partnership with Tony Cottee. Tony was more of a family man, more down to earth, but Frank was larger than life. So I’d beg my dad to let me watch the team run out from the side of the tunnel, which might not seem that big a deal but as a child it was. Being there I got see what Frank was like on the pitch and then going behind the scenes I was able to see what he was like there and with the models hanging round him and everything, that was a very clear insight into both sides of football, the game and the distractions. That was a good time for West Ham, it was past the era of Brooking and Devonshire, I never saw Alan Devonshire but my dad says he was a great player who maws probably a bit under-rated, should have played for England more. But there were quality players there, ray Stewart, the full back he scored a lot of penalties. Just a great place to grow up watching football.
When was the first time you knew you had made it? Was there a game early on where you felt that?
To be honest I never had that, not at school, not with the other teams I played for, not even with the youth team at West ham or when I’d broken into the first team. I didn’t truly think I’d made it to where I wanted to be until I signed for Chelsea.
You mention school, I imagine your school days were a little different to a lot of the people you play alongside now.
Well yes because first of all it was a private school and football tends to be more of a working class sport. My parents were very keen on me doing all I needed to do academically to get on in life. I wasn’t the brightest kid in the class but I did well enough to get O’levels and so on. I enjoyed school, it wasn’t a problem or anything. I wasn’t the bad kid or anything like that, I guess I respected the situation there because it was what my parents wanted for me. I was the best in my year at football but they’d only started playing football a short while before I joined, they did other sports like Rugby, cricket and so on.
People often imagine it must be easier going from school team to club schoolboys and professional youth teams if you’re dad was a player or works at the club but Nigel Clough and Scot Gemmil have both said it was a lot more difficult for them breaking through at Forest under their fathers?
Well there’s something in that, it’s better in that you have football around you, but the down side is when you come off the pitch for the school team you are being told ‘you should have done this or that’ all the way home. It doesn’t stop and you can’t argue about it because you know you’re right.
With that pressure did you ever feel like not pursuing football?
Well no, because I loved it and I knew my parents just wanted me to have as much opportunity to do whatever I wanted, that’s why they supported the football and the studying, both were important. I mean I had my little periods of rebelliousness but nothing too wild. I knew when my mates were going down the park for a beer when we were 14, that I couldn’t go down that path. There were no drugs about for me but I do know people who followed that route, drugs and drink. It just wasn’t an option for me with the football, I understood that so it wasn’t a problem for me.
These are the things you went through in preparing the groundwork for your professional career, are you doing the same thing for life after football?
Yes, the first thing is after I finish I don’t want to be involved with football, not as a manager, coach, agent or in the media. Not interested. I’ve been getting to know a lot about property, not just for me to live in, but as a business. That interests me, I’ve met a lot of people in that game, I listen to them and take on board what they can teach me. I’m learning about it and investing in it, I’ve got time in between football and family to do that. I don’t have any other major interests, I don’t play golf much or anything like that, so I’m preparing for life after the game now. I have a family to support, I know that might sound strange when you consider the money that’s mentioned but I want to have a career after this, I don’t want this to be everything. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life just living in the past.
You mention other interests and obviously you have a lot of opportunities that present themselves to you, do you see your off field earnings as a business? Do you set yourself targets for growth in earnings?
Yes, definitely. People only hear of agents as being involved in transfers but that’s what I have Steve Kutner for and Steve’s a b*****d and you need to have a b*****d because if it was just me I might be going ‘Oh yeah that sounds interesting’ and you end up being exploited or ripped off or getting involved in things you shouldn’t. We probably have to turn down 98% of the things offered, but there are some things that work. Like today I've been recording some video diaries for Orange. I do them every couple of months and they get put on the Orange website and phone for their customers to get a look at what goes on in my life off the pitch.
Do you think the standard of opposition is better in the Champions League than when you play for England?
No, there’s definitely a difference. With the Champions League you’ll know who you are playing against and they’ll have their key players, everyone knows about them whereas when you play for England against someone from somewhere like Eastern Europe, Croatia, or somewhere like that, they’re all good. And you discover that as the games going on, there’s not a lot of weaknesses in the international teams so I’d say the standard is definitely higher.
I heard your favourite TV programme is Newsnight, is that true?
Ha ha, well no it’s The Sopranos, Tony’s my favourite and I really like Pauly but I do like programmes like Newsnight and Question Time. I’ve been asked to go on Question Time but I’m not sure if it’s right for a footballer to be on there. I think I could hold my own there, I’m interested in politics and what goes on. I know what’s going roughly with the usually subjects like Iraq and immigration and so on. I read the papers, I normally keep up with these things.
What papers do you read?
The Sun. Ha ha. No I read the tabloids because I think they’re pretty good for sport but if I’m in a hotel, I’ll read something else like The Times or The Mail. I’m not solely into tabloids. But yes I do watch Newsnight and things like that. I enjoy them.
What do you think about the situation in Iraq?
Well, in the beginning, I agreed with the idea of going there, but now I think it’s a mess. I’ve never met anyone who’s served there, but I’ve met people who’ve been involved in Afghanistan and Iraq before, and who know a lot about what’s going on in Iraq, and that kind of opens your eyes.
What do you think about immigration?
I have a big feeling now, because my sister’s boyfriend is a builder who is struggling to get work now, because people are under-cutting them big time. You’re talking about people who’ve been in the building trade all of their lives and now they’re thinking about having to develop another skill because the works not there anymore. They are being undercut, and they are not getting enough protection. Being a builder is what they know. That’s what they do with their lives.
But you can say the same about football. Years ago, there would have been one or two foreign players but now if you look at teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Portsmouth, Bolton the vast majority of the first team are imports. In Scotland they blamed the decline of the national team on so many foreign players at the top clubs there. Twenty years ago there might have been a right winger at Doncaster who could have been looking at a move to the top division, now that’s an exception to the rule.
If you are talking about increasing the skill level, so if we are talking about people improving the job that they are doing, I don’t think the Doncaster right-winger can play as well as Arjen Robben, they can’t give what he’s giving. And if you’re talking about football as an entertainment business, I don’t think that they’re giving the sort of value he does.
The same thing that allows them to come and play here is the thing that allows Polish tradesmen to come here and undercut British builders.
Yeah but your in a situation where my sister’s not getting fed, OK she’s still getting fed, but it could possibly be the mortgage not getting paid, and that’s for a fella who’s been working years in the same profession. The way I see it with football is, if they are increasing the standard then that’s good. Maybe I wouldn’t be the player I am if I hadn’t had to play and train with Zola. I had to raise my game to do that, and I don’t see that happening in the workplace, builders aren’t getting any better, the work’s just coming in cheaper. I understand why, If you are having work done, and a Polish builder offers to do the same job for half price, I know what the answer would be for most people and I know what answer I’d probably give.”
Who do you have doing your properties?
Actually come to think of it I’ve had a Polish bloke doing up one of mine ha ha ha. It’s human nature if we are given the opportunity to get the same thing for half price we’ll go for it but as I said I just think a bit more protection is needed for those that have to earn their living from it. Have I failed my Question Time interview?
You said you had a pretty down-to-earth life. How many cars have you got?
Two. A Range Rover and a Ferrari. Ha ha ha. I’d never driven a Ferrari, and I always said I never would. But I saw one, and then I fell in love with it. I've never had like five or six cars. I’ve got a Range Rover because I’ve got a baby and a dog. I’ve got a Ferrari because I like it, it’s bit of fun.
"I’ve been asked to go on Question Time but I’m not sure if it’s right. I think I could hold my own."
Where do you shop?
All over. I got this shirt from Vivienne Westwood. I go to Sloane Street and Bond Street, and the little shops, as well, from time to time. My missus is very good with that. She’s into fashion. She’ll sometimes come up with little shops that I’ve never been to. I like clothes. I like watches.
What’s that on your wrist?
It’s an Audemars Piguet Montoya. I have fifteen watches, some I’ve had since I was younger, first earning at West Ham. I do like my watches, it’s my one weakness I suppose. Other than that, I hate to waste money. I like films, I haven’t got a great collection. I watch them on GBox Office and in the cinema now and again. I watched Casino Royale recently, I liked that. I saw The Magician, I didn’t like that, Christian Bale and Bowie showed up in it. I enjoyed Munich. I like films a bit real, a bit of drama, not silly comedies or stupid action films. Casino Royale’s a bit action, but that’s different - it’s James Bond. It’s like that with TV shows - I like 24 and The Sopranos.
Nowadays you can get your portable DVDs and personal games consoles, do you remember the days when it was one screen in the bus?
Ha, I don’t really remember those days, but having said that I do wonder what we used to do before. I don’t really play computers, but a lot of the lads have games, so I don’t know what we actually used to do? Watch Match of The Day I guess.
Who’s the joker in the Chelsea team?
John Terry, and our masseur, he’s a total lunatic, he’s the butt of all jokes on the bus. If you’re talking ridiculous high jinks like school kids going into each other’s rooms to turn the beds over, we don’t don’t that so much any more. Just fights in the massage room with cream, we just smash cream over one another - it’s really good fun when you’re in it. It’s a stupid thing though ha ha.
Are you aware when people get resentful of your success.
Yeah. It goes with the territory. I hate it. It is something that’s there though. I don’t know if it’s human nature but it shouldn’t be human nature. Sometimes I think, especially with the way the football world is, with people writing about the money, and how we live, and the WAGS and all that shit, people paint a picture of us, rather than just seeing the bloke behind it all. I’m not saying that I’m the best bloke in the world, but if anyone met me they would see that I’m a decent geezer, I’ll always be prepared to say hello. I understand all the resentment from opposing fans, maybe someone in the street or from a radio phone-in. I don’t listen to those phone-ins but I think some players do. I did when I was younger, then after a while you realise it doesn’t actually matter at all.
What about resentment for the lack of success, the expectations are so huge for the England team.
I think probably every country has it. When it comes to the championships, when it comes to an England game people are expecting us to win. I think there is a resentment, we do like a scapegoat, something to pick on about the team.
Looking back why do you think we didn’t do as well as hoped in the last World Cup?
We lost on penalties. It’s a simple fact. Brazil got knocked out. France and Italy both got through to the final but both nearly went out in the group stages. What can you say? You can’t guarantee going and winning the World Cup. There are a lot of good teams there. When people become resentful afterwards, you’re upset because you think, ‘What, do you think I went there to fail?’
"We fight in the massage room with cream, we just smash cream over one another."
Do you the players ever get a say in picking the team?
OK, if you know your name’s on the sheet, do they ask you who you feel comfortable playing with?
No, never. They never ask my advice. Sometimes the press like to pretend that you do, with player power and what have you, but it never, ever happens. And it never should happen. Of course, they should come and talk to you about how you’re playing, and ask for an opinion on that, but the moment they come and ask you who they want to have playing next to you, that’s the moment you know you have a weak manager. It’s never ever happened to me.
What did you think about beckham going to America is that something you'd like to do?
It’s his decision, isn’t it? When he went, I thought, maybe he’s gone too early, but the more I thought about it, I thought, if that’s what he wants to do, let him do it. I’d like to go and play in America when I’m 36 or 35 but you can't take away someone’s right to go and play where they want.