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Mark Noble interview: ‘West Ham has been my life, I’m going to miss it terribly’

M

ark Noble has come a long way since, as a kid from Canning Town, he used to wait until the steward was looking the other way, before ducking under the gate at Upton Park and then losing himself in the West Ham crowd.

On Sunday, at the London Stadium, though, there will no chance of keeping a low profile, not when it is the last chance for the club’s home fans to say goodbye to their club captain and talisman for so many years.

It may well be that Noble, who joined the club at 11 and is now leaving it 24 years later, will have to watch his team play Manchester City from the substitutes’ bench, since David Moyes and his players need more points from their remaining two games if they are to be back in Europe next season.

The majority of the 60,000 fans in the London Stadium will be disappointed, but this is professional sport — and Noble understands that more than most. He will be desperate to just be out there on that pitch again, either against City or at Brighton in the final game of the season, but he has always put the team first and that is not going to change, even at this 11th hour of his playing career.

Mark James Noble has never been one of those captains who just tosses the coin and does little else. He is the type who helped calm the storm which followed the club’s difficult move from Upton Park to Stratford in 2016; the type who, with other Premier League club captains, tried to minimise the severe financial consequences of Covid for clubs’ staff; and the type who helped Moyes with information and advice when the Scot returned for his second spell as manager.

“Mark helped me a lot when I came back to the club in terms of making things better more quickly,” said Moyes. “He has an eye on a different role at the club, maybe not so much on the coaching side. He is certainly someone who deals well with the players, a problem-solver for us if we have difficulties behind the scenes.”

West Ham fans will have seen an emotional Noble in recent weeks. There will, no doubt, be more tears in the next week or so — but relief as well.

“When we won games, I probably enjoyed it for a couple of hours, but then it was, ‘We’ve got to do it again next week’. Maybe some players are different, but that’s how I was,” he tells Standard Sport.

“There were times where I’d be sitting in the house and my wife, Carly, would say, ‘It’s like you’re not even here’.

“The amount of times when we’ve been in tough situations and I’ve been embarrassed, really. I didn’t want to go to a restaurant or even the petrol station, because I am West Ham and everyone knows that.

“West Ham has been my life since I was 11 and I’m going to miss it terribly. My son, Lenny, is in the academy, so I will get my ‘fix’ there. I honestly don’t know what I am going to do, but I wanted to finish on my terms and I will take some time to enjoy the family.”

Noble played at every England international age-group level except the senior side and was a regular in every West Ham team under eight different managers (nine if you count both of Moyes’ tenures).

No one in football has a bad word to say about him, although he can be feisty on the pitch, as when he furiously wrestled a protesting fan to the floor during a match against Burnley in 2018, or in the dressing room with team-mates.

“Yes, I’ve had fights and arguments,” he recalls. “I would always pick on the big ones for some reason. I’ve had fights with Marko Arnautovic and I love him to bits; Angelo Ogbonna nearly killed me, threw his phone at me, and Michail Antonio grabbed me by the hair once after I hit him with a bad tackle, but I have great relationships with them all.

The biggest compliment I can give Declan is that he is a better person than he is a player.

“Sometimes I’ve done it on purpose to get a reaction. I always shake their hand afterwards, because you’re going to need each other next week.”

Noble has “lived the dream of playing for the club I support”, but this season, as he has begun to wind down, the armband has frequently been passed to Declan Rice.

“I have incredible respect and even love for Declan,” he says “He has a fantastic family behind him and is one of the best in the world right now. The biggest compliment I can give him is that he is a better person than he is a player.”

Rice will surely appreciate that typically generous endorsement from his captain and mentor. As compliments go, they do not come much better than that.

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