There’s a story about Frank Lampard that football fans of all hues enjoy telling. It emanates from the England training camp a couple of years back, when Joey Barton had been called into the squad.
The boul Joey has been called many things but ‘shy and retiring’ is not one of them.
And just before his surprise elevation into the national squad, the controversy-courting midfielder had questioned the wisdom of Lampard releasing his ‘autobiography’ so soon after yet another dismal England failure at the World Cup finals.
“Who wants to read ‘I went to the World Cup, I played sh*t, here’s my book...?’” was Barton’s eloquent public rhetoric on the subject.
Anyway Joey, attempting to make amends for the sake of entente cordiale in the England camp, sat down beside Frank in the canteen.
The aggrieved Chelsea player immediately took his plate and moved away, at which point Joey remarked: “Look, I wasn’t trying to steal your food, you fat pr**k.”
Nobody knows for sure if that story is true, but those who tell it desperately want it to be.
You see, no one likes Frank Lampard.
Indeed, if it wasn’t for the existence of his Stamford Bridge team-mate Ashley Cole, he would be the most hated footballer in Britain.
At first glance, it’s not easy to see why.
Rival fans, internet bloggers — and Joey Barton — call him ‘Fat Frank’ yet in reality he’s one of the fittest, leanest players in the Premier League.
Non-Chelsea supporters — and, indeed, many England fans — think he’s useless yet it’s not so long ago he was voted the second best player in the world, although he ruined the moment somewhat by declaring: “there’s no higher honour...”
So the wildly held impression is that he’s thick as well, a theory undermined by the fact that an A-star in Latin is among his impressive haul of GCSEs.
He’s also one of the few English footballers who can officially boast an IQ of 150-plus...
But women tend to like him, and the one who likes him most at the moment is our own Christine Bleakley.
Indeed, the pair spent much of the festive season checking out the delights of Northern Ireland, including — rather bizarrely, considering Lampard’s immense wealth — Poundland.
But in Ms Bleakley’s case, I think we can dispense with that old “what first attracted you to the multi-millionaire Frank Lampard?” joke.
As a co-presenter on BBC's The One Show Christine may not be in Lampard’s league, so to speak, but other attractive men who could buy and sell Surrey-based Frank have failed to find favour with the 30-year-old Newtownards rose.
So what has Frank got that the others haven’t?
Well, as a former football correspondent who has met the ex-West Ham starlet on several occasions, I can tell you he is approachable, helpful and polite.
He’s also very family orientated; his father is Frank Snr, who was himself a mighty fine player for the Hammers and England, his cousin is ex-Liverpool star Jamie Redknapp, son of Spurs' genial manager Harry.
And the most important people in the 31-year-old Essex boy’s life are his children Luna (4) and two-year-old Isla from his relationship with Spanish model Elen Rives, which ended about a year ago.
Every time Frank scores a goal — and he has 208 of them to his name — he looks up to heaven, where he believes his beloved late mum Pat, who died of pneumonia two years ago, now resides.
His England and Chelsea team-mates admire his skill, work-rate and tireless efforts on the pitch, and his camaraderie and fierce loyalty to fellow professionals off it.
Woman say they’d find him attractive even if he wasn’t a megarich footballer — so what’s not to like, Christine?
You could argue that only those people who don’t know Francis James Lampard, don’t like him. To know him is to love him, although his former fiancee Elen may well be an exception to that rule.
The problem for Frank is that those people, who don’t know him personally, do know that 10 years ago he ‘starred' in an amateur sex tape which was broadcast nationwide on a Channel 4 programme.
This led to a furious public backlash against over-paid, over-cosseted and over-sexed professional footballers — which Lampard, unfortunately for him at the time, epitomised.
To be fair, the man himself displayed great remorse at that shameful episode and quickly — and rather successfully, it must be said — cleaned up his act.
Of course, some people will never warm to ‘Fat Frank’ who, at one stage, looked like having only a slim chance of landing our Chrissie. But he challenged her to get to know him, she did — and now Frankie goes to Holywood for romantic meals with his new Ulster girlfriend.