Saturday is Mark Noble’s 34th birthday and it’s official: half of his life has been spent in service to the West Ham first team.
A debutant at 17, Noble is now nearing the end. Next season will be his last in a West Ham shirt. The body may be slowing down – more on his diminishing pace rating on the console game FIFA 21 shortly – but the brain is as sharp as ever.
As Noble explains to Jamie Redknapp here, you don’t survive nine managers and make 402 Premier League appearances for one club without some street-smarts. Sportsmail‘s KIERAN GILL listened in.
Mark Noble has opened up to Sportsmail’s Jamie Redknapp about his service at West Ham
Noble will walk away from the Hammers after the 2021-22 season following 18 years at the club
JAMIE REDKNAPP: Happy birthday mate! Your 2004 debut feels like an eternity ago. What’s been the biggest change in football since you first pulled on that West Ham shirt?
MARK NOBLE: Social media, Jamie. I used to go to the pub with my old man. He’d stand there with a few of his mates and chat. ‘Oh, that Mark Noble in midfield, he had a nightmare today, that ain’t like him…’ And that’s it.
Now everyone has direct access to any player in the world. On a Monday afternoon if they’re not having a good day, they can think: ‘Right, he didn’t play well at the weekend, I’m gonna hammer him.’ He can do the same on a Tuesday, the same on a Wednesday, then maybe he’ll target someone else.
Noble made his debut as a 17-year-old back in 2004 and has spent half of his life at West Ham
I don’t know how you feel, Jamie, but I think everyone has got caught up now because of what you see on social media. The videos of players doing nutmegs, the around-the-worlds and all that. The kids of now have lost touch with what you need to become a player.
You get your Neymars, your Lionel Messis who are a league above everyone else, but that ain’t realistic. Young kids now take their players off FIFA ratings.
REDKNAPP: Then they argue back: ‘Yeah but he’s rated 85 on FIFA!’
NOBLE: ‘Dad, you’re only 50 pace on FIFA! That’s slow.’ That doesn’t mean your brain is slow.
I’m honest with myself. If you haven’t got a football brain and you’re playing at Premier League level, there is no way you survive. You’ll end up going out on loan, getting sold, going down the leagues.
Noble (left), who turns 35 on Saturday, claims a football brain makes up for a lack of pace
When you’re playing at the top level, speed and power will only get you so far. That’s why you see the top, top players now have got both, like Kevin De Bruyne or Phil Foden or Mason Mount.
REDKNAPP: So you’re 34 now and you’ve announced next season will be your last as a West Ham player. Are you planning on playing on somewhere else or is that the end for you?
NOBLE: I’ve said it will be my last year playing at West Ham and it will be, unless something crazy happens which I can’t see. It’s very rare in football – very, very rare – that you get to write your own destiny.
Normally when a player gets to my age, you’re scratching around for a year or two, trying to get a contract, asking your agent to find a club. To be able to say I’m going to call it a day on my own terms at the top level in the Premier League is very, very rare.
The midfielder insists he is fortunate to call time on his West Ham career on his own terms
REDKNAPP: Is the fact that fans haven’t been in stadiums this season – but will be back next season – one of the reasons why you’re calling it a day then and not now?
NOBLE: There was no way I was going to do 18 years in the first team for West Ham and go out with no fans. No way.
REDKNAPP: How strange has the absence of supporters been? I remember watching Fulham at Anfield. Second half Liverpool are attacking the Kop but Fulham are playing out from the back! I’m thinking: ‘You don’t do that if there are 20,000 Scousers behind you baying for blood.’
NOBLE: I call the Kop the ‘Hoover’. Because at some point, they suck the ball into the net.
Noble still finds it strange playing in front of empty stadiums after a year without supporters
Mate, you try to play out from the back there and you’ve got them boys pressing you, the crowd on you… you get the ball in midfield, you hear the noise and you think: ‘Someone’s coming. I don’t know where from, but they’re coming. I need to get rid of this.’ But now, you haven’t got that.
It is still so strange playing in empty stadiums. Even now, walking out at somewhere like Old Trafford and it’s just silent. We’ve had 18 months of silence now.
REDKNAPP: How about this scenario: the West Ham supporters come back and you bow out as captain of a club in the Champions League? I can see you smiling as I say that!
NOBLE: Even to put ourselves in this position now with four games to go, it’s immense. Just to be involved in a European campaign in my last season would be special. Not just for me, but for the fans and my family.
Noble (second left) is part of a West Ham side chasing Champions League football next season
There are so many Premier League players who come through academies with a bang, they’re there for two or three years, then they end up having to go elsewhere. My greatest achievement is playing almost 550 games under nine managers.
It shows I didn’t just play for West Ham because I’m a homegrown boy and support the club — that’s rubbish.
REDKNAPP: Speaking of Europe, I have to ask about the Super League fiasco.
NOBLE: Players like myself, teams like West Ham, fans of all different clubs dream of playing in the Champions League and hearing that music. I just thought it was greed.
Noble and the other Premier League captains were up in arms over the Super League project
We had a few texts around the (captains) group about setting up a Zoom call. Within two days, it fell off a cliff.
The dreams of West Ham, Everton and teams like that, to be able to qualify for the Champions League are massive. You start every season with dreams of Europe. It was a sad time for English football. I thought it was a terrible reflection of our game.
REDKNAPP: My old man used to say: ‘Mark Noble, he’ll be a manager, you watch.’ Is he right?
The midfielder has replied ‘never say never’ when asked about a venture into management
NOBLE: I’ve done no badges yet or anything like that. Never say never. I remember sitting next to Scotty (Scott Parker) at the back of the bus when he was at West Ham and he was saying he didn’t fancy it at all.
I don’t know mate. It’s not on my radar right now. I’d love to still be involved in football, at West Ham in some level, but I don’t know what that is yet.
West Ham trail fourth-placed Chelsea by three points in their push for a Champions League place. David Moyes’s signings have proven instrumental this season, from £15million Tomas Soucek and £5m Vladimir Coufal to loanees Jesse Lingard and Craig Dawson.
Coupled with the fine form of Declan Rice — a candidate to replace Noble as captain if he stays — and Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio, West Ham are fighting for their first-ever Premier League top-four finish.
NOBLE: We went away from the typical West Ham signing of a big name senior pro who wants to live in London for a couple of years. Jamie, you must remember playing with players who went under the radar but you’d think, ‘I’ll play with him every week.’ Why? Because he gives everything and works for the team.
Noble praised Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount (middle) who ‘works his socks off’ every game
Mason Mount plays under every manager because he works his socks off. Maybe if he didn’t run around and he had his collar up and thought he was Jack the Lad, everyone would say he’s the best player in the world. But he doesn’t. He gets on with it and the boys love him for it. We’ve got five or six of them in our team at the minute.
REDKNAPP: Has it been bittersweet for you? You’ve been in and out of the team.
NOBLE: Not a problem, Jamie. Lockdown was super stressful, arranging everything with captains’ meetings and doing things with players, with the club, (wage) deferrals. I was on Zoom for six, seven hours a day. Coming back for a relegation battle, I was knackered, mentally exhausted.
I said to the gaffer, ‘Look, boss, I’m never going to be banging on your door at the age of 33, 34, asking why I’m not playing. I’m here, I’m your club captain, I’m here to support the players, you, and keep driving training.’
The Hammers captain claims he does not mind stepping aside for the likes of Declan Rice (left)
That’s what I’ve done, and do you know what? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. As soon as Jesse came into the club, I was on him straightaway, brought him into the lads and he loves it.
REDKNAPP: I was impressed by his dance moves on Instagram the other day. I’m waiting to see you bust out some moves like him.
NOBLE: Oh, mate. You know what? I tried to do it in my kitchen that night, what he did. So bad. I looked like an octopus on skates. But he’s been phenomenal. When you’re playing well, it’s like autopilot. When your confidence is gone, that’s a bad place to be as a footballer. But he looks so comfortable in a West Ham shirt.
The midfielder admits he helped on-loan star Jesse Lingard (right) settle into the club this year
REDKNAPP: Are you all doing a number on him to make sure he stays instead of going back to Manchester United?
NOBLE: It’s a tough one. You know what it’s like Jamie — money is important but when you’re playing well and enjoying your football, nothing else matters. We’d love to have him back. We’ve got four games to go, and we need four more big ones from him.
REDKNAPP: You’ve shared a dressing room with some special players. If you could bring one player back from all the time you’ve played for West Ham, who’d it be?
Noble branded Paolo di Canio (left) as his favourite West Ham team-mate from his career
NOBLE (long pause): Paolo Di Canio. My reason is partly because I sat in the crowd and watched him. The fans adored him. Paolo in his prime.
REDKNAPP: Dimitri Payet wasn’t bad.
NOBLE: He was a genius, Jamie. But Paolo is still absolutely loved at West Ham. What a guy. He played in my testimonial. I’m sad Jesse hasn’t witnessed West Ham fans. You know what it’s like when they love someone. It’s madness. They idolise him, like they’re a God.
REDKNAPP: You should know mate!