Football: Lampard makes name for himself

Premiership focus: A good display against Chelsea tomorrow may propel young midfielder into full England squad
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The Independent Online
MUCH OF the success of the "Friday 13th" films relied not so much on the grisly murders but on the quiet moments. In many cases the anticipation was more unnerving than the act.

This week there is another group of youngsters awaiting Friday 13th but this time it is in more in expectation than fear. The triskaidekaphobes' least favourite day arrives again this week and Glenn Hoddle will mark it by naming an England squad to play the Czech Republic at Wembley on 18 November. With no European Championship points at stake, several new faces are likely.

Among the leading contenders is Frank Lampard, the 20-year-old West Ham midfielder. A series of good performances for his club, and as captain of the Under-21s, have put him in the frame and he knows another, against Chelsea at Upton Park tomorrow, might seal it.

"Having grown up at West Ham, Chelsea's always been a big game because of the rivalry but, being the last one before the squad makes it even more important," said Lampard when we met at the launch of an autobiography by the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, in London this week.

"People keep asking me if I think I'll be in and I've read a few bits in the press suggesting it," he said, adding, "but I won't be too disappointed if I don't get in. I'll just keep playing my game.

"I never like to compare myself with players thinking: `I'm better than him, I should be in the team' or whatever. If I'm not in the full team the Under-21s is the next best thing.

"I'm fairly happy with my performances this season though there is room for improvement. I could score some more goals."

Lampard, who scored 14 goals last season, has only scored once for his club so far this term but has scored three times for the Under-21s. The desire for goals comes, like much of his game, from his father, also Frank Lampard, who won two England caps, bizarrely seven years apart, during a stalwart career of more than 600 matches with the Hammers.

"My dad was a full-back and he had 20 years as a good player but other people, the goalscorers, took the headlines," Lampard said. "My dad always said to me `they're the ones who get the glory' and that stuck in my mind."

That Lampard Snr, now West Ham's assistant manager, is best remembered for the extra-time diving header which won the 1980 FA semi-final against Everton is evidence enough of that, but Lampard Jnr also had to find out for himself.

He said: "I went through a stage as a schoolboy when I started to play the holding role but I came to realise that people who get the glory are the ones who score goals. I thought `I want a bit of that' and made an effort about it."

Having a father in the trade might seem an enormous advantage but it caused Lampard a lot of anguish in his early West Ham career, with the home support bluntly suggesting his selection had more to do with his father's position at the club than his ability.

"People looking from the outside might see it as an advantage but some of the stick I got when I first broke through at West Ham was disappointing to say the least," said Lampard. "I talk to people in everyday life who have dads who run their business and they realise how hard it has been for me. The only advantage is that it may have made me a stronger character."

It was only this season that the club programme, after a request by the player, agreed to refer to Lampard in his own right. They now distinguish them by calling his father `senior' rather than him `junior'. He said: "I feel I shook off the tag last year. I realised I had to do it otherwise it was going to plague my career at West Ham. It upset me a lot as an 18-year-old. I always wanted to do my best and didn't feel I was given a fair chance."

It did not help that Redknapp, though not a blood relation, is also Lampard's uncle. In his highly readable autobiography, the proceeds of which are going to a cancer charity, the West Ham manager recalled he had problems with both the supporters and Lampard's father when he first broke into the team. "The crowd were getting at me for playing him and Frank Snr felt I was not playing him enough," writes Redknapp.

But there are obviously some advantages to the football background, not nepotism, but inherited ability and encouragement. "Dad's my biggest fan and biggest critic and he always will be. We've had countless arguments and rows but afterwards I usually realise he's right. The rest of the family, my sister, my mum, have also been a support. It was always football, football at home and sometimes it could do your head in and I'd go to talk to mum just to get a release.

"I've moved out now. It would have been 24 hours a day otherwise. You have to get away from the football atmosphere a bit. The pressure's so great these days, you need to relax. I can't just turn up and play like some poeple can. I think about it all the time. I'm still very close to him, but I'm getting older and need some independence. I don't do much, just sit around with my mates in the flat watching telly and socialising, but it gives me my own time and space. I'm still careful to get to training on time, though."

Now another family link beckons, Jamie Redknapp, son of his club manager and a potential international rival, is a cousin. "We speak on the phone regularly," said Lampard. "It wouldn't be a bad thing if we were competing for same place. You're always scrapping for places at whatever level and it's better keeping it in the family." Alternatively they may complement each other. "You don't know until it's been tried but everybody says he's a delight to play with. He's had a tag of being a holding player, a passer, but recently he's gone forward more."

"To see them playing together for England would be a dream come true," says Harry Redknapp. He added, of Lampard: "He's going to be an outstanding player. He's dedicated with a great attitude and has come on a bundle. It is just a matter of time before he gets picked."

Should Lampard be named on Friday he is likely to be joined by team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Ian Wright. Three Hammers, a cool central defender, a goalscoring midfielder and a striker. Now, what was it again that England won the last time West Ham provided such a trio?