Talking Sport with Neil Trainis
PUBLISHED: 16:28 01 May 2008 | UPDATED: 12:44 11 August 2010
2008 Getty Images
PERSONAL tragedy can inspire people in all walks of life to astonishing feats but at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night we saw it harden the resolve and courage of a footballer amid intense pressure. It would have come as a surprise to those who doubted w
PERSONAL tragedy can inspire people in all walks of life to astonishing feats but at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night we saw it harden the resolve and courage of a footballer amid intense pressure.
It would have come as a surprise to those who doubted whether Frank Lampard would be in the right frame of mind to take to the field for the second leg of a high octane Champions League semi-final encounter with Liverpool following the death of his mother at just 58 that he played with an unquenchable desire.
For all those Chelsea fans who have lauded him as one of the finest box-to-box midfielders in Europe in recent seasons but have never actually met the man, there may have been a nervousness on their part at seeing his name in the Chelsea starting line-up.
It may have been an anxiety brought about by the fact that the majority of the Blues' faithful have never held even the briefest of chats with their beloved number eight, much less held any insight into how he tries to prevent sorrow from engulfing all aspects of his life.
Passion and determination on a football pitch, of which Lampard has shown plenty, from his days as a raw youngster in the West Ham United youth set-up to more glamorous times with Chelsea and England, are no measuring stick for gauging how any footballer handles grief.
He was undoubtedly fired up for a fixture in which he would help Chelsea reach a first European Cup final, but Lampard himself may not have had a complete idea of the effect such a strong sense of loss would have on his sharp decision making and anticipatory skills in a game where there would be minute room for error.
There is an acceptance among professional footballers that once they cross the white line everything else melts away and they become almost machine-like in their transformation from men to fierce competitors before snapping out of their trance at the final whistle.
The same probably goes for Lampard, not to mention other combative midfielders such as Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Claude Makélélé and Michael Ballack, who all played their part in an engrossing clash.
Yet for the thousands draped in red and blue who packed into Stamford Bridge and the millions more who watched on television, there was a sense of intrigue and anticipation in discovering if the mind of an accomplished footballer would deteriorate just six days after suffering a traumatic loss.
Perhaps the Chelsea fans wondered if the decision to include the 29-year-old in the kind of game that demands every fibre of body and mind would transpire into a terrible error of judgment on behalf of the manager Avram Grant, one that would provide added ammunition or the Israeli's detractors.
After all, they recalled how Lampard unusually dwelt on the ball outside his box and gave away possession leading up to Dirk Kuyt's goal in the first leg at Anfield, a period when the condition of his mother, Pat, improved as she battled the effects of pneumonia.
Those with allegiances to Chelsea should not have feared. There was to be spectacular vindication too for Grant, a man who has yet to earn the trust and affection of the fans the way his predecessor, José Mourinho, did.
Lampard was inspired at the heart of Chelsea's play, often searching out the runs of Drogba with pinpoint accurate passes and driving his team forward with those trademark bursts from a congested midfield.
And of course, there was the 98th minute penalty which he stroked into the bottom corner past a wrong-footed José Reina to edge Chelsea ahead with the air of a man without a care in the world.
We knew that was not the case though as Drogba and Ricardo Carvalho raced to embrace Lampard, who pulled out a black armband and pressed it to his lips.
Victory provided some of his team-mates with a shot at unprecedented European club glory but for Lampard, a memorable triumph was a touching tribute to a loved one.
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