By his own admission, Mark Noble is approaching the final laps of his career at West Ham. It is natural that his thoughts are turning towards the future.
Now 32, Noble grew up in east London and has been affiliated to his boyhood club since he was 11. Captain for the past five years, Noble is now in his 16th season as a first-team player.
So Noble understands West Ham. He understands its players, its supporters and those who sit in the boardroom. Understandably, he feels he may have something to offer when he is no longer playing.
Mark Noble came through the ranks at West Ham United and is now in his 16th first-team year
Through relegation and promotion, Noble has been a constant since his debut 15 years ago
‘I would like one day to be involved in decisions that the club makes,’ he says. ‘I feel I have enough experience to do that. I have been around so long. I know how the club works.
‘So I would like to be where you have decisions on all kinds of bits and pieces, and not just coaching the under-18s, if you know what I mean? Whatever happens, I am always going to be attached to this club. I hope so, anyway. It’s been blood, sweat and tears for West Ham for so long.’
Noble’s longevity at West Ham is impressive, and necessary. At a club that often seems in flux, the captain has been a welcome and enduring constant.
Mark Noble leads the way of the longest serving players at each Premier League club
One-club men are rare in football these days. Ryan Giggs of Manchester United is the most famous, but he said this year it can be harder than it looks. When everybody suspects you will always be there, it’s easy to be taken for granted.
‘That’s a great point and is definitely true,’ Noble chuckles.
‘My wife has had wallpaper on the wall for four years, but then she says she is bored of that and wants to change it.
‘It’s the same in football. Nobody wants the same wallpaper.
‘Look, I haven’t changed have I? I haven’t changed how I play. The fans tend to just live with it, it becomes the norm. They expect it.
‘We may sign a player that comes and does six stepovers and gets to the byline. But then he leaves our left back isolated and not everyone sees that. Giggs is definitely right. Being homegrown doesn’t get you in the team.
‘There are dozens who play a few games and end up leaving because mentally they can’t cope. But every minute I play now is special. There aren’t many playing regularly in the Premier League at my age. Look at Chelsea — the average age is 23!
The midfielder is keen to be involved at board level at the London Stadium in the future
‘But that’s the way it is, and I look at the boys who are 21 and think: “Thank God I am not that age any more”. Because I know how tough it’s going to be for them, how hard it will be to perform in a world where everything gets analysed to the max.
‘To play week-in, week-out under pressure, it does get really hard. Trust me, I know.’
Noble was born in Canning Town and grew up in nearby Beckton. It’s claret and blue territory. After he made his debut at Upton Park in August 2004, he walked home.
His family lived in council accommodation and moved ‘six or seven times’. He recalls: ‘We moved because we either couldn’t afford the rent or there was a development going up and they wanted us out.
Noble has been a regular fixture in centre midfield and admits he hasn't changed his game
‘Playing football meant I was lucky enough to get out of it. So many of the people I grew up with didn’t. Some are in prison, some don’t work and some have done well and have good jobs. I bump into people I grew up with and it makes you realise that without a good job, it’s hard to get out and be a success.
‘But you know what? We always had food on the table. Not everybody does.’
Noble spoke on Wednesday from a seat by the dugouts at the London Stadium. Nearby, members of the local community gathered as West Ham celebrated the first anniversary of the club’s Player Project, a scheme they believe to be the most ambitious in English football.
By the end of 2021, West Ham hope to have invested £28million in their community. Over the past year players from all the club’s teams have given more than 300 hours of their time to working with 2,000 members of the local community.
Split into 11 strands, one area tackled by the club is poverty.
‘When I was a kid, I spent most of my time playing football in the streets, leaving my house at 8am and not walking back in until 10pm,’ says Noble.
Noble was speaking at a West Ham Players Project Anniversary event at the London Stadium
‘We didn’t have anything. But we had food. Now people haven’t.
‘That’s why we are here today, to let people know people are starving. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s a big problem round here.
‘The current government can’t even get along with each other, never mind tackle important stuff like this.
‘Today highlights what is happening in the borough of Newham.’
Almost 60,000 households in London are registered as homeless, with Newham having the highest number of any local authority in England. The homeless charity Shelter says one person in 24 in the West Ham catchment does not have a regular place to live.
Noble has already been awarded the Freedom of Newham by the borough. The council says it is an honour given to ‘remarkable people’. So the father of two