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Frankly speaking

He was back in the headlines this week for a throwaway remark about new bride Christine Bleakley, but it was a rare mis-step for Frank Lampard, who has made a career out of confounding the footballing stereotype

By Steven Beacom

Frank Lampard has made headlines for the best part of two decades ... usually for scoring sensational goals to win important football matches. The former England international was in the news again this week - though not for anything he did on the pitch.

It related to a completely different "perfect match", on December 20, when he wed his long-term partner Christine Bleakley - one of Northern Ireland's most popular television stars.

Lampard was labelled a "dirty dog" and "naughty boy" after posting a happy picture on Instagram of himself and Christine in their wedding car. The 37-year-old Londoner's caption read: "2 weeks ago today I finally took her up the aisle" - followed by a cheeky winking-face emoji.

The post was described as crude in some quarters, saucy in others and something best kept in private elsewhere as social media had its say.

There was also a theory that Lampard, who proposed to Christine on a beach in Los Angeles in the summer of 2011, didn't think about the innuendo at all.

Whatever, he's been on safer ground since, posting more messages on Instagram from his honeymoon in Dubai, sharing a sweet photograph of Christine and his two young daughters Luna (10) and Isla (8), from a previous relationship, with the touching caption: "My three girls". Definitely more in keeping with the Frank Lampard we have become familiar with in recent years.

What is evident in all the pictures and messages that Frank and Christine have made public is how happy they are.

It's been that way since they met at the Pride of Britain awards in 2009. Back then, Christine was the popular presenter of BBC's The One Show, having seamlessly made the transition from Northern Ireland telly to the network, while Frank was a respected Chelsea star, renowned for scoring numerous and vital goals from midfield.

Newtownards woman Christine (36) recalled that first meeting in an interview last year. "Frank came over and said, 'I watch you on The One Show'. I said, 'No, you don't. Who was my guest last night?' And he was able to tell me," she said.

"I just laughed and we both giggled about it. And then that was it. He somehow got my number and I had a withheld-number call on my phone on the way home. I picked up and it was him.

"I said: 'Wow, you're keen' as a bit of a joke and we chatted and he said he enjoyed meeting me and would like to stay in touch. It was very relaxed.

"And then he went away with England the next day, so I didn't see him for a couple of weeks. But we spoke on the phone every single night while he was away and one night we spoke for four hours.

"I knew straight away it could be serious, because I knew we could be mates and he made me laugh. We laughed a lot on the phone."

In his wedding speech, the Chelsea legend was emotional when recollecting those early conversations telling how he knew Christine was his special one.

Theirs is a modern-day love story - the famous footballer and the bright, bubbly and beautiful TV star. You get the feeling this particular tale will have a happy ending.

It better had, or else Frank will be in trouble with the people of Northern Ireland, who have taken Christine, that warm smile and her down-to-earth nature to their hearts.

It's been that way since she first started appearing on our screens, in local shows such as Town Challenge. Her big break came as a presenter on The One Show alongside co-host Adrian Chiles.

They both moved to ITV in a high-profile channel switch in 2010 to host Daybreak and while the early morning show did not work out as planned, her star has continued to shine as a presenter on Dancing on Ice and This Morning, plus travel documentary Wild Ireland.

On trips home to see her family and friends, the pair have often been spotted out and about enjoying restaurants and sightseeing, including a trip to Scrabo Tower in Christine's native Ards. There were double takes all round when the couple were in Poundland in the town, showing that, despite their millionaire status, they like a bargain as much as anyone else.

While Frank has been welcomed with open arms by the Bleakley clan, the Lampard family - especially the footballer's dad of the same name - have taken a shine to Christine.

Since the pair began dating, she has also become extremely close to Luna and Isla, whose mum is Lampard's former fiancee, Spanish model Elen Rives.

Later this year, the newlyweds will fly to the Big Apple, where Lampard is seeing out his successful career by playing Major League Soccer with New York City.

This may be his final year as a player. When he calls it quits, he can look back with great pride at what he has achieved, especially as in his first few years as a professional at West Ham accusations of nepotism came sweeping down from the Upton Park stands with his uncle, Harry Redknapp, the manager and his dad, Frank Senior, the assistant boss.

There were other fans who felt the younger Lampard was too fat and not fit or good enough to wear the famous claret and blue. The fact that he had attended a public school in Essex probably didn't help his cause, either.

Lampard was a clever boy, obtaining 11 GCSEs - one of which was in Latin. In the years that followed, an IQ test proved he had the intelligence of a Mensa member.

That didn't stop him doing some stupid things as a young footballer, however.

He was involved in a sex tape, filmed in Ayia Napa, along with fellow footballers Rio Ferdinand and Kieron Dyer and was thrown out of a hotel at Heathrow, with a few other Chelsea players, for shocking behaviour in front of upset Americans just a day after the 9/11 tragedies.

Quizzed about those incidents, Lampard said: "I made mistakes along the way and I think a lot of kids do, too, who go to work in a bank and it obviously doesn't get put in a newspaper."

West Ham loaned Lampard out to Swansea when he was a teenager before he returned to the East End to start building a reputation that grew and grew.

He joined Chelsea in 2001 for £11m and won everything, including Premier League titles, FA Cups and the Champions League in 2012, when, due to John Terry's suspension, he captained the club in the dramatic penalty shoot-out final victory over Bayern Munich.

Lampard went on to become Chelsea's all-time leading scorer, with 211 goals. From April 2008 onwards, following the death of his mum, Pat, he would often raise his hands to the skies in tribute to his mother after he had found the net.

He departed Stamford Bridge in 2014 after 13 success-laden years, joining New York City ahead of their Major League Soccer debut in 2015, with an agreement in place that he would play for Manchester City until then.

There was embarrassment all round, though, when it was revealed Lampard was actually under contract to City and not New York City, as previously claimed by both clubs.

In his first match against Chelsea, he scored an equaliser for City, but that did not stop the Chelsea supporters from applauding their hero (and in my book the club's finest player of all time) as he left the pitch.

Lampard played 106 times for England, scoring an impressive 29 goals, but never went beyond the quarter-final stages in the World Cup, or European Championships. He retired from the international scene in 2014.

He is a published children's author, with books about a young footballer called Frankie, and has been a team captain on ITV sport panel show Play to the Whistle.

He has also worked as a pundit for Sky Sports, proving himself articulate and enlightening. Once Lampard's time with New York FC is up, he will return to England with Christine. Don't be surprised to see him work as a pundit on a more permanent basis.

In years to come, you could see both Frank and Christine on our television screens.

There may also be children for the pair ... and no doubt further happy posts on social media, with words chosen a little more carefully in the future.

A life so far

Name: Frank Lampard

Date of birth: June 20, 1978, London (age 37)

Status: Married to Christine Bleakley

Occupation: Footballer

Clubs: West Ham, Swansea (on loan), Chelsea, Manchester City, New York FC

Country: England - 106 appearances, 29 goals

Frank on Christine: "She's my best friend. She's made me content. That sounds soppy, but I've been very happy since I've been with her."

Christine on Frank: "We just click. When we're away from each other for a day, I still get really excited to see him again."

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