The abuse began when he was a teenager warming up on the touchline at Upton Park, and the hissed allegations of nepotism, the contempt for a local boy, remain a mystery even to this day. No one really knows why West Ham's support came to dislike so intensely a footballer born into the tradition of their club but one thing is certain: when Frank Lampard returns there today he does so as a man who has found his place in the world.
The Premiership title, the certainty of a place in the England team, the Football Writers' player of the year award and a runners-up' place in the Fifa world player of the year poll, have seen to that. At 27, Lampard's priorities stretch much further than a parochial settling of scores at the dangerous end of Green Street, E13, but at lunchtime today, the most successful English footballer of the last two years will be transported back to a time before success and acclaim were his for the asking.
He left West Ham in the summer of 2001, shortly after his father Frank Snr and Harry Redknapp had been deposed as the management of the club, with a record of 24 goals in 132 Premiership games including three in his last four matches that helped stabilise the side in 15th place. Since that move to Chelsea for £11m he has been back to Upton Park three times and has lost on two occasions so this time there may be an important precedent to set, but nothing, Lampard said, to prove.
"I don't go back with anything to prove, far from it. I go back there as runner-up in the world player of the year and with a Premiership medal," he said. "Coming from the area, I know what people are like. I think they made their mind up early about me being in the team because of my Dad. I'm pretty stubborn, I come from that area and I know people there are stubborn and they didn't want to change their minds then, and they don't now.
"I just go back there with the peace of mind of what I have achieved personally. I speak to Paul Ince a lot and we reckon we are the most hated [people there]. I remember Incey saying that he was one of the most successful players to have left there and I feel in that same boat now. I would like it if people could respect what I have done since I moved on from the club." One of the greatest ironies about Lampard's treatment is that Rio Ferdinand, who left West Ham for Leeds one year after his own departure, was given a better reception at Upton Park in November than he has been afforded all season by the home support at Old Trafford.
As a West Ham footballer who made 660 appearances for the club and won two FA Cups there, it will be his father Frank Snr, Lampard said, who " takes it personally that they mistreat his son". "I think it might get worse but I think I'm a big enough man to take it," he said. " When I first went back there four or five years ago I was nowhere near as big a player or person as I am now. I'm more than ready to take anything they throw at me.
"I do thrive on it. I'm so used to it now. I took that for a long time from West Ham fans during my playing days there, and that wasn't so nice when you are playing for them and taking it. But when you are playing against them and taking it, it's much more of a drive and a motivation."
It is almost five years since Terry Brown sacked Redknapp and Frank Snr but it will be as a guest of the West Ham chairman that the latter takes his place in the directors' box today. His father has not taken another job in football since 2001, preferring instead to travel the country following his son's flourishing career, and it is a source of sadness for Lampard Jnr that this "West Ham legend" has been hurt by his son's treatment.
When the abuse was at its worst at West Ham, Frank Snr admitted that his son never really told him about it. "Some of it got really nasty," Frank Snr explained. "It went over the edge. I knew it was happening, but only after a while. Frank never really told me about it and just put up with it on his own."
Frank Snr played with the late Bobby Moore, and also under him during a brief spell at Southend, and he had no hesitation in comparing his son with the former England captain. "He has that same understated charisma - always polite, always got time for people," he said. "Only last week we went out for dinner near Harrods and girls were hanging out of car windows taking pictures of him with their phones. I said to him it was like Beatlemania."
There will be no less attention today, although for once Frank Jnr can be certain it will be of a less flattering kind. "Most of my closest friends are West Ham fans," Frank Snr said, "and they say they are embarrassed by the way Frank has been treated."Reuse content