The image of Frank Lampard selflessly hurtling towards the ball and finding the finish to put it in the back of the net is a familiar one, and yet those from this Sunday’s game between Chelsea and ManchesterCity were decidedly bizarre. It was Lampard, he did work himself into a useful position, he made strong contact, and he scored. His shirt, however, was a lighter shade of blue.
For Chelsea fans it must have been the height of peculiarity to see Lampard in any other kit than their own, and even more so to see him line up for what appear to be their strongest title rivals this season. On loan at the Etihad from New York City FC, the new MLS outfit whose expansion rights are co-owned (alongside the New York Yankees) by Manchester City, Lampard was allowed to leave Stamford Bridge as his contract expired. Opting for New York, Lampard thereby became the second big arrival at the new venture after David Villa. Shortly after joining Manchester City announced he would arrive on loan, featuring for the club until January 2015 when he will return to New York for the start of the MLS season.
Having already featured for City this season, starting in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal, he began the game at home to Chelsea on the bench. It seemed destined from the outset, however, that he would play a part in the game, and when Chelsea took the lead in the 71st minute through Andre Schürlle, with City already down to ten men after Zabaleta’s dismissal, he began to warm up. On the 78th minute he came on, replacing right-back Alexandar Kolarov as City pushed for the equaliser, to rapturous applause from both sets of supporters. As he got to work with the kind of professionalism only to be expected, the City and Chelsea fans sang his name. Then, in the 83rd minute, it happened. The absurd, the unthinkable, the inevitable. James Milner, justly named man of the match after an excellent performance, created space on the left flank, expertly checked his run, saw the space and put a pinpoint ball into the box. Lampard, almost instinctively, ran for the ball, and volleyed home.
The roars from the Manchester City fans, on the road to what seems likely to prove a vital point, rang out in stark contrast to the deafening silence from the stunned Chelsea fans. Lampard, with a reaction allied far more to his old fans than his new, appeared almost sheepish in his reaction, head bowed in deference to his former faithful. Holding out a downturned palm, he tried even to mute the response of his onrushing City teammates. It was a dignified gesture of respect to the club he called home for 13 years, and more importantly to the fans who supported him.
The Chelsea fans were quick to demonstrate the same class. When the final whistle blew Lampard approached his former fans, and was met with the same singing and applause he had always received from them. Emblematic of Chelsea’s meteoric rise, the fans’ reaction, and that of Lampard himself, ensured his continued legacy as a Chelsea hero.
This decision to refrain from celebrating, while prevalent (Jonjo Shelvey received a similar reaction from the Anfield faithful when he scored for Swansea in last season’s 4-2 Liverpool victory), is often debated. Regardless of the pros and cons, what is certain is that gestures of grace from both players and fans ought to be celebrated. While elements of football are occasionally maligned, these acts of deference to former fans and players alike demonstrate an admirable sense of courtesy and respect. For Lampard, while he may feel a pang of vindication in proving his longevity to the manager who let him leave his former club, it was an opportunity to thank his Chelsea fans and teammates for their years of support, and an opportunity for the fans to respond in kind.
How might this respectful element of football be extended to further areas of the sport?