Sam Pilger sat down for a career reflective with the former West Ham, Chelsea and England midfield general in December 2013...
What’s your favourite childhood memory of watching your dad Frank Snr play? Did you ever go and watch Uncle ‘Arry play much?
Gino S, via Facebook
It was watching one of his last ever games at Upton Park in 1985 when I was six, my Nan used to take me to the games. I can remember it was against the great Liverpool side of the time and I can remember watching Kenny Dalglish. But I never saw Harry play, he had left West Ham by then. He didn’t play as long as Dad, and he moved around a lot too.
When you get together as a family with your Dad, Harry and Jamie, is it all football talk? And what were kickabouts with that lot like as a kid?
Rob Pegley, Sydney, Australia
The four of us love talking about the game, the women of the family try to change the topic but it doesn’t work. When I was a kid the kickabouts in the back garden were amazing: there was my Dad and Harry, who had been pros and were managers, and then there was Jamie, who is older than me and was an established player at Liverpool. I used to idolise Jamie, and I knew how lucky I was to kick a ball with him. I used to see him as the pin-up boy of English football, he had made it, and I thought 'that's what I want too'.
You were seemingly very good at school, and I see you got an A* in Latin? Can you remember any of it?
Jamie Hart, London
I was pretty studious at school. I wasn’t the most naturally intelligent kid in the class, but I was fortunate to go to a very good school where they pushed you hard, and like most things I didn’t want to let anyone down, so I revised hard for my exams. I got that A* in Latin, but I can’t remember much of it now, just the common verbs. If I see a football club motto in Latin I can work it out, though.
You, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand… what was it about that West Ham academy that produced so many fantastic players?
Jake Daw, via Twitter
It is quite simple really: just hard work from the manager and the Academy. The way to bring through young homegrown English players is to give a lot of love and attention, if that doesn’t sound too soppy. But Harry [Redknapp] and my Dad put a lot of time in to it, as did the youth manager Tony Carr. Young players at 13 or 14 would be invited to train with the first team, they would go on the team coach to first-team games to mix with the senior players. Joe Cole had the chance to go to Manchester United, but chose West Ham because they had shown him that care and attention, and that was a selling point to other promising players.
I sat there really embarrassed that this fella was having a pop at me. Harry was a complete star, you should watch it on YouTube, he really puts the fella in his place!
I’ve seen that fantastic clip of your then-boss Harry Redknapp defending your inclusion in the West Ham team to an angry chap in a fans’ forum. What was going through your mind?
Bruce Rue, France
I was there, it all happened right in front of me. It’s now popped up again on YouTube (below). I was there as one of four players along with the manager and a big group of fans. [The fan] was a father of one of the boys who was a couple of years older than me, and his son wasn’t getting in the team, whereas I had just got in the team, so he had an axe to grind. This particular bloke was saying I was in the team because of family reasons. I was a shy kid, and it was absolutely horrible. I was very nervous, and I sat there really embarrassed that this fella was having a pop at me. Harry was a complete star, you should watch it on YouTube, he really puts the fella in his place. It is great viewing now, but at the time it was horrible.
I remember when you had a row with Paolo Di Canio over taking a penalty for West Ham in a crazy 5-4 over Bradford in 2000. What did you say to each other, and did you fall out over the incident?
Jackson Cray, via email
We didn’t fall out, and looking back Paolo was one of those characters you just had to give the ball to. He won the argument because he wouldn't have left the penalty area without taking that penalty. I realised that after 30 seconds! We were both the penalty takers; he had missed one, so I took the next couple and scored. It was probably right he took that one against Bradford. I was the young pup, he was the senior guy and he actually did score it. It is embarrassing seeing us argue over it now.
I read in FourFourTwo about when you went on loan to Swansea as a 17-year-old during their relegation battle in the old Division Two. What’s your strongest memory? Was it tough so young?
Gareth Evans, Cardiff
It was tough, but in a really good way. My strongest memory was driving four hours down the motorway as I had only just passed my test at 17. It was all a real eye-opener. The football seemed very grown up compared to the West Ham youth teams. We were fighting relegation at Swansea, it was real men and it was cut-throat. We washed our own kit, the conditions were tough, it seemed to be raining every single day down there. Since then I have always kept an eye out for Swansea.
I’ve never understood how West Ham fans could dislike such a model professional as yourself. Why do you think they booed you? Did you hear them cheering when you broke your leg against Villa, and how did you feel?
Martin Lovell, Bristol
I did hear a few boos when I broke my leg, but to be fair it was just a few not very nice blokes, it certainly wasn’t a big group of fans. The fact is I was home-grown, I got in to the team young, and I didn’t set the world alight when I was 17 or 18, so there was that typical view from some fans that “he must only be in the team because of his Dad”. That was the basis of it all.
[FFT: Some West Ham fans have said they thought you saw the club as a stepping stone?] No, I don’t think so, because I was a West Ham fan as a kid, I just think east London is a tough area and the fans are very vocal. Some of the other players in the team got a lot of abuse as well, I remember Paulo Wanchope got it too.
We were fighting relegation every year, and I became a target. I hear people say it now about my nephew who plays for his Sunday team, and people say, “He’s Lampard’s nephew, that’s why he’s in the team”. I just think it's human nature to say things like that. I remembered all [the booing] when I left for Chelsea, and I showed my love for Chelsea instantly, because they took me in and looked after me. It isn’t easy to move across London. A lot of players get booed going back to West Ham, including Jermain Defoe and Paul Ince.
It has calmed down a lot in recent years. It seemed to be more vicious in the first few years I went back when it was a very strong atmosphere against me. I still get it now, but at 35 I have a lot more perspective about it. When I was 24 and 25 I wanted to go back and beat them so badly. A lot of West Ham fans I see now, however, on the street are very complimentary and nice to me.
Much was made of Claudio Ranieri stumping up £11 million to sign you for Chelsea in 2001 – a lot of cash for them at the time – and it took you a couple of seasons to really find your feet. Once Roman Abramovich arrived in 2003, were you concerned you might slip down the pecking order? And does Roman still let you borrow his yacht?
Cody Price, Manchester
I was definitely concerned I would slip down the order. I was always grateful to Claudio and Ken Bates for spending that much money on me. First season here I did OK, and then I did a lot better in the second season. But when Roman arrived, I looked round and thought 'the big boys are starting to arrive now'. There was Claude Makelele and Juan Sebastian Veron – it seemed like every day they were signing a new midfielder! I can remember sitting on the bench for our first Champions League game that season next to John [Terry] and Eidur [Gudjohnsen] and thinking, “I’m not sure I like this Chelsea revolution!” And I haven’t borrowed Roman’s yacht for a while. I was very thankful for that, but I don’t feel he is obliged to me. I had one trip on it, and it was amazing.
You were voted the second-best player in the world in 2005, behind Ronaldinho and miles ahead of Samuel Eto’o in third. Would you say that season (2004/05) was your best? After all, you scored seven more goals (27 total) in 2009/10!
Josh Law, Edinburgh
That is a tough one in terms of a best season. That 2004/05 was my best up to that point – it was an arrival for me and we won the league. But actually, when I look back, my best season was in the Scolari and Guus Hiddink year, 2008/09. We got to the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona and should have won it, but did win the FA Cup. I reckon that would rival any year.
Seriously, how sick do you get of people saying “Lampard and Gerrard can’t play together in the same midfield”? Have you ever agreed with that sentiment?
Jarod Walter, USA
I don’t agree with that, and you do get sick of it. It is a valid argument because of what we have done at our clubs, but I don’t think we are similar players. It has become a talking point that has bored us. As England we haven’t won anything for a long time, and so when we were in the same team there was a lot of expectation, which didn’t quite happen, so people do look at us in the midfield axis.
The way he threw the punch I don’t think it would have done much even if it had made contact
You’ve had a number of coaches at Chelsea and played in a number of cup finals. What’s the most unique pre-match preparation you’ve done for one of these massive games?
Ian Shaw, Southampton
To be honest, I am quite superstitious, so I like to do my own thing. My pre-match is very particular; having a massage the night before the game, eating the same meal, fish and pasta. My belief is that no matter how big the game is, I don’t want to change that. The night before the Champions League final I blocked everything out and went about my own preparations.
I was at White Hart Lane when that gormless Spurs fan took a swing at you at full-time with the world’s worst punch. How do you think you would have reacted if he’d made contact?
James M, via Twitter
The way he threw the punch I don’t think it would have done much even if it had made contact. He was a bit worse for wear. How would I have reacted? I was surrounded by my team-mates, so I think I would just have tried to pin him down.
I’ll never forget you ringing up LBC radio station in 2009 and putting that presenter in his place. Was it important to you to defend yourself, and have you spoken to the presenter James O’Brien since?
David Phillipson, via Facebook
No, I have never spoken to him since. It comes with the territory in football that you get some intrusion into your private life, but I couldn’t accept anyone talking about my family and my kids. I have a good conscience on that. So when someone was saying I wasn’t around and not looking after my kids I had to ring in the show.
I was driving at the time, and my sister phoned me and said this fella on the radio is talking about you. In football you have to let these things go, but for some reason I thought, “No, I’m not accepting that”. A lot of people have told me they liked me doing that. There are a lot of single fathers who have had a tough time and said it was amazing I did that. I know Jamie Carragher phoned into Talksport, and it is good to do that, because it challenges people’s perceptions. People think, “Oh, they are footballers, they get their money and they drive flash cars”. That is certainly not true – we are normal people behind the scenes, and so it is nice to act like a normal person and say to someone, “Why are you saying that for?”
I knew it was a goal straight away. I don’t want to dig out a lino or a ref, but that was so far over the line!
That disallowed goal you scored against Germany in the 2010 World Cup still gives me nightmares. Do you think that woeful decision affected the England team, and how did you react when you saw the TV replay?
Ted Cameron, Hastings
I knew it was a goal straight away as I had seen the ball clearly bounce over the line. It was a horrible feeling. I hadn’t scored a World Cup goal, and I still haven’t because of that. It was such a huge game. We started so poorly and went 2-0 down, got one back against the run of play, but then my goal would have made it 2-2 and it would definitely have been a different game. We then had to chase the game in the second half against a very good German side. When I saw the television replay it amazed me that it hadn’t been given. I really don’t want to dig out a lino or a ref, but a close one I can understand – that was so far over the line.
You recorded one of the highest Mensa scores ever in Britain, with an IQ of 150. Carol Vorderman has an IQ of 154. What TV quiz show would you take her on in?
Nick Roberts, Hampton
The Chase, the show presented by Bradley Walsh. I have got it on my iPad and watch it when we’re travelling. I would take her on at The Chase, but she still might beat me. I was pleased with my result, but I don’t know how IQs relate to that. She would definitely beat me at anything to do with maths though.
You’re one of the most consistent and fittest players I’ve ever seen play, yet some people still like to call you ‘Fat Frank’. How do you feel when you hear that from the crowd?
Paul Rogers, Cheam
I’m fine with it now; it actually makes me laugh. But when I was younger it used to upset me, it was a stick to beat me with. It started at West Ham, and I can remember going back to Upton Park about seven years ago and a really overweight woman stood up in the chicken run and shouted “Fat Frank” at me. That was the moment where I realised this was getting ridiculous, so I just laugh at it now. There are a lot of really nasty things fans say to players – stuff about personal and family issues – and I don’t like that at all, but I am more than happy with “Fat Frank”.
It was widely reported that Andre Villas-Boas didn’t get on with everyone at Chelsea. How was your relationship with him?
Trevor M, via email
My relationship with him was OK, but it wasn't as close as I have had with other managers. I wasn’t particularly close with Fabio Capello either. He didn’t work that way, and I don’t think Andre wanted to work that way either. I don’t know what his philosophy was with the club. He didn’t seem to want me playing regularly in the same position, and I went along with that.
It was a funny season, we got some bad results midway through, and it didn’t really work for him at the club. I was very close with Jose when he was first at the club, but it was different with Andre. I don’t want to sound critical of Andre, because he was trying to do his thing; I just think it was a difficult job for him at our place at such a young age. There is no bad blood between me and him.
What did annoy me was when he left people loved saying "it was the players that made that happen". That certainly wasn’t the case. The players tried to get results whoever the manager was, whether it was him or Scolari. I have no problem with AVB at all.
I’ll never forget your penalty in the Munich shootout. If you’d missed, we’d have been as good as out, and you put it inches under the bar. Was that the most nervous you’ve been on a football pitch, or do you find shootouts easier to handle if you’re involved in them?
Brent Sammons, Melbourne
Penalty shootouts are my least-favourite thing in football. That one the most nervous I had been on a football pitch because Manuel Neuer looked so big in the goal, and we had already missed one. I had it in my mind that I was going to hit it exactly there high up in the goal.
As acting skipper in Munich for Chelsea’s Champions League final, did you mind JT gatecrashing the party and lift the cup with you? Personally, I’d have been more annoyed with Jose Bosingwa ruining the moment by pushing to the front!
Rowan Welch, via Twitter
[Laughs]. I certainly didn’t mind John. A lot was made out of that, and John took some stick for that, which I think was really bad. For so many years John had tried to win that competition and we had got so close, and I remember him and Gary Cahill played an unbelievable game in the first leg of the semi-final against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
As club captain, John had every right to be there. To miss just one game and then not deserve to get the Cup would have been ridiculous. It was up to him, and he deserved that moment. As for Bosingwa, he obviously knew what he was doing as he is in all the pictures! That is typical Bosingwa – that’s fine, I’m not bothered about that.
Your consistency is incredible, with you missing not a single league game for Chelsea in three years. How do you do it? What did you make of Rafa Benitez’s assertion last season that you could no longer play twice in a week?
Matt Shield, Surrey
The consistency comes down to fitness and looking after yourself, and I have been lucky with injuries. I don’t think Benitez made that assumption – I did play twice in a week quite a few times, he just didn’t play me as much. But that was a rotation thing, which was his way. I didn’t have a problem with that at all, we all knew where we stood with him.
At 34 it was understandable I wasn’t going to play every game. People jumped to conclusions that I would be upset by it, but I wasn’t, and it helped us to get to where we wanted to be. I had a great last six months with him, winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League.
Congratulations on winning your 100th cap for England. Which was your best game? And which was the most heartbreaking?
Paul Lucas, Winchester
Euro 2004 was amazing, I couldn’t really pick one game, the atmosphere was amazing in every game we played. That was my favourite era playing for England. My worst moment was missing my penalty against Portugal in the shootout at Germany 2006. It meant we were going home, and I haven’t had many worse feelings in football than that.
What’s been your most satisfying goal in a Chelsea shirt: your second at Bolton in 2005 to secure the title, the equaliser in Moscow in the 2008 Champions League Final, or goal No.203 at Villa Park earlier this year? And what was your best goal? I think the chest, turn and volley against Munich in 2005...
Charlie G, Staines
My favourite goals are that one at Bolton and then the 203rd at Villa Park for the celebrations and what they meant to me. Technically that goal against Bayern Munich was my best, or the one against Barcelona when I chipped it over the keeper from the byline.
If every team-mate (club or country) you have played with had one huge fist fight, who would you bet on to be the last man standing?
Shawn Armstrong, via Facebook
[Laughs] That is a good question. The first name that springs to mind is Branislav Ivanovic. John Hartson and Neil Ruddock would be in there too, but modern day it is probably Ivanovic.
There was a lot of talk about you passing Bobby Tambling’s Chelsea goals record last season… and you slowed down a bit towards the end! Did the thought of passing it ever affect your game? Did you ever shoot when you might have passed?
Hakan Davison, via Twitter
I never shot when I should have passed. Everyone was so behind me breaking the record that they would be telling me to shoot from 50 yards. I really didn’t want to come across to my team-mates that I was just shooting to break a personal record. Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of games where we were winning comfortably in the last 10 minutes when I thought I might have a chance to get forward more. I found the more nervous and desperate I got the more difficult it got, so I had to relax myself.
I've had a lot of good managers, but Jose’s motivation techniques are the most incredible, whether it be kicking the flip chart or building the team up.
In his book, Zlatan Ibrahimovic talks about how Jose Mourinho “built players up” before matches, saying: “It was like a psychological game. He might show videos where we had played badly... then gave the flip-chart a kick and sent it flying across the room. The adrenaline pumped inside us and we went out like rabid animals.” Have you ever witnessed such a scene from him?
P Ardell, via Facebook
Yes, kind of, and I read that book myself. Zlatan is a very outspoken person, and he was very dramatic in how he portrayed it, but I understand what he was saying. I have had a lot of very good managers, but Jose’s motivation techniques are the most incredible, whether it be kicking the flip chart or building the team up. He is always so confident. At half-time we might be 0-0, but you come in and he will say, “We are going to win 4-0, we are playing so well, I can just sense it”. And generally that would happen. It was the first time I had ever heard that because managers never say that sort of thing as they think it makes their players relax and think it will be easy.
There was much speculation over your contract last season. Was there ever a genuine possibility of you leaving Chelsea?
Cliff Z, via Facebook
Yes there was, because at one stage I was out of contract and I wasn’t going to get a new one. It was the first time I had been in that situation, so I had to open my eyes to going elsewhere. But I didn’t want to leave because I still have a lot to offer. If I had left I would have gone abroad, I just can’t imagine myself playing for another Premier League team after such a long career at Chelsea.
Who is the best player you played with or against?
Lee Pemberton, Beckenham
That’s easy. Lionel Messi. I used to love Ronaldinho, and I love Cristiano Ronaldo too, his goals record at Real Madrid is amazing. But having played against him at the both the Nou Camp and Stamford Bridge it has to be Messi. You just can’t get near him.
You have won it all, so what is there left to achieve at Chelsea?
Reema Babakhan, via Twitter
I really want to win the league again, it has been a few years since we have done it. I love that feeling of being a consistent club, like in the Mourinho days. When he was here first when we won virtually week in and week out, and also in the back end of our run to win the Double under Ancelotti.
What would you like to do after your playing career?
Jay Martin, via Twitter
I would like to do my badges, which I will do after my England career finishes whenever that is. I am looking to become a manager.
What made you want to write children’s books?
Kian Lams, Glebe U9 Pumas
I had been thinking about doing it for a few years. I read books to my two girls, and I love what they can learn from that, so I thought I would like to write a book as well. Football is such a global game, and there are little moral lessons in it, so it is good for kids to play sport and help them learn. I am really proud of the books, and I have had as much pleasure from doing them as a lot of the things I have done in football. I have gone out on a limb doing it. People would have expected someone else to write it and me just to put my name on the cover, but I have put a lot of time and effort into it myself.
How did you find the experience of writing a book and did you get writers' block?
Ian Voltaire, Holt
I got loads of writers' block, you have to choose your times to write. One of the reasons I wrote the books is because we spend so much time travelling, and I don’t play computer games like a lot of the lads. Sometimes I would think I was wasting my time watching an episode of 24 of my iPad when I could be doing something more useful. I wanted to do something creative, so I would write, and I found the best times late at night or early in the morning when I was away in a hotel.
This interview was originally published in the December 2013 issue of FourFourTwo.