During Frank Lampard’s early days as a player for his boyhood club West Ham, some Hammers supporters were unconvinced about his bona fides as a top-level footballer.
Lampard’s father, Frank Senior, was a former West Ham player and also an assistant coach at the time his son joined the club, while then-manager Harry Redknapp also just happened to be Frank Junior’s uncle. Inevitably, there were suggestions of nepotism when Lampard fils began to make his name in the first team.
Famously, at a fan’s forum Redknapp was forced to defend Lampard’s place in his side. One of those in attendance outlined his belief in the superiority of academy player Scott Canham as a midfield prospect, a statement given short shrift by Redknapp:
Twenty-two years and many, many trophies later, Lampard was able to see the funny side:
Jake: "Was Scott Canham the best player you played with at West Ham?" ?
Lampard: "Naaa, he went onto Leyton Orient, that's the last I heard!"
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 20, 2018
But there was little doubt at the time that there existed a certain element of distrust towards him on the part of Irons supporters. It wouldn’t take too long to win them over, with Lampard eventually going on to excel alongside the prodigious crop of homegrown players emerging at West Ham in the mid-to-late 1990s.
In addition to Lampard, the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Joe Cole all passed through the youth setup around this time, with the under-19 team winning the Premier League Academy League in both 1999 and 2000. Ferdinand and Lampard had made their mark slightly earlier than this group, but by the turn of the 21st century Redknapp was presiding over one of England’s most gifted collections of local talent.
Harry made use of this group wherever he could, relying on the young bucks to fill gaps that his occasionally miscalculated transfer deals couldn’t plug. His side played exciting football: from the silken Ferdinand at the back to the frenetic Di Canio up front, millennial West Ham were an imaginative and free-flowing unit.
They finished 5th in 1998-99 and 9th in 1999-00, but things weren’t entirely rosy. Ferdinand was sold to Leeds in November 2000, and things gradually went downhill from that point, with Redknapp constantly demanding more funds from his chairman Terry Brown.
The Hammers slipped down the Premier League table in 2000-01, though Harry felt assured of his job security having provisionally agreed a contract extension with Brown. In May 2001, however, Redknapp and Lampard Senior were removed from their positions at the club, much to their surprise and dismay.
They weren’t the only ones who felt jilted.
“Frank Lampard will never play for West Ham again because he feels ‘totally and utterly betrayed’ by the departure of Harry Redknapp and his father Frank,” reported the Guardian shortly after the event, while Lampard’s agent Steve Kutner told the Sun: “As far as he is concerned, the sooner he is out of West Ham the better.”
Coach Glenn Roeder was promoted to Redknapp’s position, but he was forced to watch on as, three days before he officially got the job, it was confirmed that Lampard had successfully engineered a move elsewhere.
In truth, from the moment Redknapp departed there had been little chance of West Ham being able to keep the England midfielder at the club under a new regime. Within weeks of Redknapp’s and Lampard Senior’s exits, Lampard Junior was pulling on the blue jersey of Chelsea.
“When I left there I was angry, for different reasons,” he told Sky Sports in 2017. “West Ham fans will say, ‘why did you say these things’, but as a youngster I said things that I wouldn’t say now.”
Angry or not, leaving Upton Park didn’t exactly work out badly for Lampard. Two years after he departed, West Ham were relegated from the Premier League; at his new club, Lampard went on to win three league titles, a Champions League, four FA Cups and a Europa League.