A Different League of Grief

I wonder what Frank Lampard would have done if he’d missed the penalty in the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool. Would he have shaken his fist up at the sky at his mother?

I may sound heartless, but lots of working people have lost a parent, including me. You take a couple of days off, as Lampard did when he missed the United match, and then you go back to work to help both occupy your mind and start the process of returning to normality, as he did by playing in the semi-final. What you don’t do is turn your whole place of work into a theatre for you to display your grief, raising your black armband (at work? really? after a week?) to the sky every time you serve the right drinks to the right customers, get a long row of figures to balance or deliver a load of blocks to the correct building site. 

Because he’a footballer, though, his grief is by definition more agonising than anyone else’s has ever been, ever, and no opportunity must be missed to show us how great he is to be coping with it all. He certainly had no shortage of help from the media. Some eejit in the Times eulogised that Lampard’s ” bravery” in stepping up to take the penalty “after the worst week of his life” was extraordinary.  Then their feature writer, a guy called Martin Samuels wrote:

What a player. What a man. What an absolute diamond of a footballer. The critics, the haters, they cannot touch Frank Lampard now. Not after last night. Not after that penalty. He won, they lost. He stood tall, they skulked in the background.

The debate is over. The phone-ins, the message-boards, the sad little snipers from outside the arena; what do they matter when set against this, among the gutsiest acts from any athlete, across many decades?

It’s because bollocks like that gets written about footballers that they start to believe that they are something far more special than they really are. Only inside the rarified bubble that encompasses all those involved in football – players, managers and media – could an act which is merely mature be seen as so courageous. All bereaved people mourn, and then do the jobs they are being paid to do. That’s called being grown-up. It’s not just normal Joes that do it without fuss either. Bertie Ahern returned to the Good Friday talks directly from his mother’s funeral, and Bono played at Slane the week his father died. Both of these are targets for both contempt and ridicule from the media and the public (and me), but both are far better men than our Frank. 

Many people do show extraordinary bravery in their jobs. The firefighters of 9/11, for instance, who went into a burning tower past the body of their dead chaplain, were showing true bravery on what must have been the worst morning of their lives. The passengers of Flight United 93, who fought back against the hijackers and so died under their own terms rather than those of their captors, performed what truly was one of the gutsiest acts – not just among athletes – for many decades.

Perhaps Lampard now understands about grief and death better than he did in September 2001, when he and three team mates mocked a group of Americans at an airport, mooning them and waving their arms like aeroplanes in a shocking outburst of disrespect for the truly brave people mentioned above. He showed he didn’t value other people’s feelings then, so it is hard to feel sorry for him now.

Certainly, you’d have to be a saint not to hope that his mother is at this moment being berated in heaven by the spirits of the Twin Towers dead asking how she could have raised such an arsehole as a son.  


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