Frank Lampard and Chelsea's awkward yet beautiful reunion
Every once in a while in sport, something awe-inspiring happens – something that envisages the true spirit of sporting ethos. The beautiful game that is football is filled with such episodes of shear emotional brilliance that help give the sport a human face, which not only can we relate to but also idealise.
It was the 78th minute in the Etihad stadium, the hosts not only trailed their rivals by a goal in a match that could have a lot of bearing in the title race, but also were a man short. It was in that moment that Manuel Pellegrini looked inside his proverbial hat for an odd proverbial rabbit. The number 18 who replaced Aleksandar Kolarov at that crucial moment seemed well out of place. The sky blue donning 36-year-old got a vociferous standing ovation from the royal blue donned away end of the stadium. It was something beautiful. It was loyalty and affection at its finest. And it wasn’t without reason.
Frank James Lampard is a legend with few equals in English football. His record breaking career overlapped one of the finest hours in Chelsea’s history. 211 goals in 13 years, the only midfielder to have scored more than 150 goals in the Premier League, Lampard exudes an aura of being more than just a club legend. His flabbergasting statistics are only further complimented by what the former Chelsea number 8 stood for, both on the field and off the field. He is a rare breed of role models with exceptional work ethics and no nonsense attitude that the game badly needs but unfortunately lacks nowadays.
The nouveau riche London club has to thank a sugar daddy for investing big sums for its sudden change of fortunes, yes, but one of the greatest things that could happen to Chelsea happened a few years before its acquisition by the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Lampard came to Chelsea in 2001 for a sum of £11 million and the rest as they say is history.
Unfortunately, this past year Lampard moved on from the club he served for 13 years to get the first team football that he deserved in the major league soccer (MLS). The parting was a tearful moment in the history of Chelsea, a sudden realisation that one day Chelsea is going to be without one of the most revered old guard, alongside Captain John Terry and Didier Drogba.
Although fans had good news of an unbelievable reunion with Drogba, everyone in their hearts knew that Stamford Bridge is never going to be the same without Lampard. But a sudden string of events led to Lampard’s quick return to the Premier League from his new MLS club New York City FC. Chelsea’s title rivals Manchester City surprised the football stratosphere by acquiring the ex-Blue legend from their sister club for a 6 month loan period while the MLS had not started in America.
Chelsea is a club very easy to hate for other European rivals. A rich successful club that is often derided for its less impressive history than other peers and its ability to offer huge sums for stars who supposedly act as hired mercenaries for a club they seemingly “don’t care for” is the reputation Chelsea has. Its fans are equally ridiculed for being “plastics” and bandwagoning glory hunters who would switch for any club that is successful.
Yet on September 21, Chelsea fans, along with one of their greatest legends, reached a new moral high ground in terms of loyalty and selfless affection and by doing what they did, they broke a lot of Chelsea based stereotypes in the minutes that led up to another wonderfully awkward moment for the club.
The standing ovation and chants that followed Lampard’s arrival cemented what he meant for the people in the away stands. It was a clear contrast to reactions of most fans who often react to departures of legends with ritual shirt burnings, especially when said legends join title or traditional rivals. But even though Lampard joined City, there could be no one who could hate Lampard.
The chanting from the away stands continued for another seven minutes when suddenly shock replaced celebrations. Lampard did to Chelsea what he had done to a record 38 other Premier League clubs – he scored a goal. And it was his utter lack of celebration that followed that goal which cemented what Chelsea meant for Super Frankie Lampard.
Lampard’s equaliser might have only silenced the away stand at the Etihad Stadium for a while, but far away from the Manchester setting of the match, the goal had a much dire and permanent repercussion for a man who truly bled blue. The shock of seeing his legend score against his team was too much to bear for an otherwise healthy Fahad Musana, himself a professional football player from Uganda.
Though the passing of Musana is tragic beyond words, it in a beautiful way epitomises the heights of passion and sense of belonging people all around the world have for the London club, sometimes even at the risk of their own health. Musana lived and breathed Chelsea, and it was his love for Chelsea and its legend which ultimately proved too much for his heart.
In the Etihad stadium, the shock at the end was again quickly replaced with undying affection. Lampard was whole-heartedly applauded when he went to the away stand after the final whistle. Chelsea might realistically have left the Etihad Stadium with only a point, but in the hearts of its ever Blue supporters Chelsea won 2-0.
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