The away fans chanted his name, then – perhaps under their breath and certainly with a guilty conscience – they cursed it.
Fate is funny sometimes. Frank Lampard will surely tell you that.
After 13 years at Chelsea, fate put the on-loan New York City FC Designated Player on the same field as his former club, only this time in the power blue of Manchester City. After 211 goals for the Blues, the club record, fate put him in the penalty box after a vintage late run, a game-tying goal one touch away.
Down 1-0 to his former mates in a match with major EPL title-race implications, the substitute poked in James Milner's cross in the 85th minute, stood up and refused to celebrate. It was Lampard's first goal for Manchester City and spoiled Chelsea's perfect start to the season following an Andre Schurrle opener aided in part by a red card to Pablo Zabaleta.
"I'm a bit lost for words – I didn't expect to score like that," Lampard said after the match. "I'm a bit stuck in the middle."
Widely considered Chelsea's best-ever player, Lampard shared a special moment with the away fans at the Etihad Stadium after the final whistle.
He became NYCFC's second Designated Player signing in July, inking a two-year deal to join Spaniard David Villa on head coach Jason Kreis' MLS expansion side. Lampard will remain with Man City until January then join Kreis and his teammates for preseason ahead of the club's inaugural season.
“It’s football. If you’d said that four or five years ago, I would have said it was strange,” Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho said before the match. “Even a few months ago, when he signed for the New York team, I was not expecting this. But it was his decision. It’s life. When he left for New York, I thought he was going there. But it’s his life, his decision, and he has my respect for that.”
All photos courtesy of Reuters.