Forget the international break, Mark Noble’s testimonial was all a lot of us were thinking about over Easter. In the build-up to the game, all the coverage and videos of Nobes’ career got me thinking about the very first time I met him at Chadwell Heath back in 2007.
He had returned from a loan spell at Ipswich a couple of months earlier and had just scored the opening goal, his first in the Premier League, against Tottenham. Perhaps typically, although not so much anymore, we ended up losing the game 4-3 but that moment finally secured him a place in the side. He hasn’t looked back since. Suddenly all eyes were on this kid from Canning Town and I was sent to find out what all the fuss was about.
That day at the training ground was one of my first interviews for Soccer Saturday and his first big sit down for Sky Sports, although you’d never know it such was his easy manner and confidence. He was the last one on the training pitch and, as this was back in the days when we could film whatever we liked, I told the cameraman to switch the camera on him.
We watched him kicking balls left, right and centre, working on different techniques, lobs, chips, curling the ball inside the post and penalty kicks. He was all over the field, long after everyone else had gone in. After about 20 minutes he went to collect the balls one by one and knocked them all into the basket with precision. He was so focused and driven he was completely unaware we were there.
His dedication was obvious and thankfully it has never left him. It is what has made him the player he is today. As for the interview he was cheeky and engaging. A typical Cockney, he chatted freely about being a fan and he had an infectious excitement about going from singing in the stands with his mates to playing on the hallowed turf of Upton Park. At that moment neither of us could have predicted how long his time with us would last but he is still living the dream and the remarkable thing about it is he has never taken that for granted. He knows how privileged he is to be the man to lead our team out.
He has been our one true constant during some pretty lean years! We’ve had our high and low spells but he’s never let us down. He has always given his all. He’s a dyed in the wool Hammer and it shows. Our Mr Consistent. He is West Ham. He’s one of our own. Since those early days we’ve watched him develop into not only a fine footballer but a decent human being.
He has always been mature beyond his years but he has grown into a terrific ambassador and a consummate captain for our beloved football club. He leads by example on and off the pitch. His commitment to the West Ham cause is obvious but his charitable efforts behind the scenes, donating all proceeds from his testimonial to Richard House Hospice, Help For Heroes and the DT38 Foundation show what a credit he is.
He is now at his peak and Slaven Bilic has helped his game reach new heights. We are all enjoying some incredible moments this season thanks to everyone involved at West Ham United but undoubtedly Mark’s attitude, work ethic and leadership encourages every team mate to give their best for the shirt. Sadly he hasn’t served his country at the highest level but he’s certainly served his club and that’s good enough for us. I’m so pleased that he had this special day at a very special time for all the supporters at the Boleyn Ground.