He plays in claret and blue; he’s West Ham through and through; now he should represent England too, Mark Noble, whooaaoo. Sorry for the extra line there, you really shouldn’t tinker with classic West Ham anthems. But I do think it’s high time our club captain got the international recognition he so richly deserves. It isn’t going to happen, of course. England manager Roy Hodgson made that perfectly clear when he was asked about Noble’s chances on Match of the Day.
Rather than give a straight yes or no, Hodgson preferred to talk about Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater instead. When he did refer to Nobes directly he sounded like a bloke telling a love-struck friend that his plug-ugly girlfriend had a nice personality. So Noble is behind Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jack Wilshere, Dele Alli, Ross Barkley and Drinkwater in the international reckoning, is he? I can only assume Andrea Pirlo would never have got a game for Italy if Hodgson had managed the Azzurri.
Even when I remove my claret and blue tinted glasses I can’t see the sense of England’s current selection policy. Those three big cats on the national badge need Specsavers more than Sixties superstar Clarence the cross-eyed lion ever did. Normally, I wouldn’t be too put out by a West Ham player failing to win an England callup, especially when it involves a major tournament because they usually come back knackered. Remember what happened when David James, Trevor Sinclair and Joe Cole returned from Japan and South Korea aft er the 2002 World Cup? Yep. We got relegated.
In Dean Ashton’s case, he barely came back at all. A tackle by Shaun Wright-Phillips during a training session shortly before Steve McClaren’s first game in charge effectively wrecked his career. But this time it’s different, Mark Noble deserves an England cap.
No one’s perfect, of course. Th ere is always going to be the odd pass that goes astray or the occasional free kick conceded in dangerous territory, and even the best of them get caught in possession sometimes – especially, as happens with Noble, if you are the sort of player who is always looking to find a better-placed team-mate, never shirks a tackle and relentlessly shows for the ball.
These days he gets it right far more often than he makes a mistake. It’s also not just him breaking up the play but creating goals for others and scoring a couple of belters himself. Several times this season I have walked away from Upton Park thinking Noble was man of the match. One of those performances, the league win against Liverpool, brought an unexpected reward when he captured a plastic bag that was blowing across the ground and played out the rest of the game with it shoved down his shorts, thus saving himself 5p the next time he went shopping.
Happily, his sold-out testimonial on Easter Monday will bolster the bank balances of the Richard House Children’s Hospice, Help for Heroes and the DT38 Foundation by considerably more than that. Even his post-match interviews are quality. When asked what Dimitri Payet is like in training, he replied: ‘Rubbish!’ He made his West Ham debut at the start of the 2004-05 season under Alan Pardew. It was Alan Curbishley who shackled his attacking instinct, claiming he was too slow to hurt opposition defences.
I believe that was a terrible managerial assessment, and a huge setback to Noble’s career. After the grim Curbishley years came Gianfranco Zola, Avram Grant, and Sam Allardyce, all of whom preferred him in a holding role. Super Slaven Bilic, of course, made him captain at the start of this season and has given him the chance to showcase his attacking skills as well as his defensive qualities.
Increasingly, he reminds me of a certain William Arthur Bonds. And I don’t say that lightly – Bonzo is quite simply my favourite Hammer of all time. He, too, flourished when given the chance to play further forward. Billy Bonds never got to play for the full England side. There were a couple of under-23 appearances, and he was on the bench for a World Cup qualifier against Italy in 1977.
But at a time when some very ordinary players were being picked to represent their country and he was producing the best football of his life, he didn’t get a full cap. Bonzo was still turning out in claret and blue in his forties. Noble has been a regular at Upton Park for so long it’s easy to think he’s almost as old. In fact, he is only 28.
The chances are he will never surpass Billy’s in – credible 799 appearances for the Hammers – but having made more than 350 already he’ll certain – ly make a big hole in it. Like Bonzo, Noble got international recogni – tion as a youngster. He captained the England under-18 team, was a member of the England under-19 set-up in the 2005 European Cham – pionships, and then went on to captain the under-21s in the 2009 tournament, at which England finished as run – ners up to Germany. It kind of makes you wonder what the point of all that junior representative football is when someone with as much experience as No – ble doesn’t get a single cap for the senior side.
He is eligible to play for the Republic of Ire – land because of his Irish grandparents. He’s not ruled out the possibility, but it is clear his heart lies with England. Nobes does have some knowledgeable pundits championing his cause. Robbie Savage and Paul Merson both reckon he should get that elusive cap. So does Jamie Redknapp. ‘He is West Ham’s Mr Consistent,’ Redknapp wrote in the Daily Mail. ‘You would do well to find a player in the Pre – mier League who gives more for his team than Noble, but he’s a quality player, too.’ If there were any justice in this world Mark Noble would be going to France in June to represent England at Euro 2016.
If, as I expect, he is overlooked it would balance the scales for me if our captain spent the summer with his feet up preparing for a rather different European adventure – in which he would wear a badge with two crossed hammers rather than one with three cross-eyed lions.
* Brian Williams is the author of Nearly Reach The Sky – A Farewell to Upton Park, published by Biteback