It was 10 years ago today that Frank Lampard made his first big impact on the Champions League.
The midfielder, who was then a 25-year-old in this third season at Chelsea, had played in the competition before, but on 22 October 2003 at home against one of the big names of Italian football, Lazio, he scored a goal and Chelsea secured a victory that set the tone for many Champions League campaigns to come.
It was the club’s first season in the Europe’s top club competition since our debut four years earlier. Since then there had been some short and forgettable UEFA Cup runs but now Roman Abramovich had arrived on the scene and we were back in the continental big time.
Having successfully negotiated a qualifier against Zilina from Slovakia, the Blues under the management of Claudio Ranieri won our first group stage game, away to Sparta Prague. Lampard, along with John Terry, was named on the bench for that match but he came on at half-time and played an important part in an improved second-half display.
But then a defeat at Stamford Bridge by Besiktas really put the pressure on ahead of Matchday 3, as the Serie A side managed by Roberto Mancini arrived in London.
‘It was a fantastic night at the Bridge. It sticks in my mind particularly,’ says Lampard as his thinks back a decade.
‘I remember the Besiktas game, we lost 2-0, and those games can happen early on in the group stages as we saw against Basel recently.
‘That year we were a bit new as a side and the Champions League can show up inexperience in the competition but we knew we had quality in our team to really go for it against Lazio, and it was a mixture of the atmosphere the fans generated on the night and a really positive performance from the start, and we deserved to win by more than 2-1.’
A game that was already a test of character for a side containing many of the new signings from the summer, Glen Johnson, Wayne Bridge, Claude Makelele, Juan Sebastian Veron, Damien Duff and Adrian Mutu, became even more so when Simone Inzaghi put Lazio ahead not long before the interval.
The goal came from their first real chance and Chelsea had been the better side. Despite going behind, we continued to play well.
‘We had the players,’ says Lampard. ‘We had the likes of Marcel Desailly and Franco Zola for the first couple of years I was here but we weren’t really firing in Europe for some reason, but by 2003 our squad depth was so strong, and we had players used to playing at the top level in Europe.
‘I hit the bar just before half time and it was a left-foot shot I think. I was wearing new boots and I had never worn a different colour from black before. I wore silvery-grey boots and I was a bit nervous about that pre-game. I tried them on, hit the bar and scored a good goal so they stayed!’
Lampard’s leveller on 57 minutes is still up there as one of his very finest goals and can be seen in the video highlights above.
‘I was really pleased with the goal and when I look back on it now, to hit a ball coming across you isn’t easy, it can just jump but I was able to keep it down and it was my first major goal in Europe. I still get a nice buzz looking back at it.’
Mutu completed the job with the winning goal eight minutes later and although it needed some great defending from Terry near the end to keep Lazio out, Chelsea were worth winners.
We battered Lazio 4-0 when we visited Rome a fortnight later, at the time the biggest home defeat for any Italian club side in European competition, and progressed all the way to the semi-finals before eventually succumbing to Monaco who in turn lost to Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the final in Gelsenkirchen.
‘We had a quiet confidence,’ recalls Lampard as he thinks back to the mood in the dressing room following the home win over Lazio.
‘We knew we had a lot of ability in our squad. It was a mixing-in period for us but looking around the dressing room, all of a sudden you could really see a lot of quality. We weren’t getting carried away with ourselves at that point but I did feel we would have a good run that year.
‘I still remember that night and the atmosphere well, and it sold Champions League football at the Bridge to me. It was on fire and it gave me a real taste for it.’