Mark Noble cannot wait to lead West Ham out for their first Premier League game at the Olympic Stadium against Bournemouth. In an exclusive interview with Blowing Bubbles, the Hammers captain said he had been fortunate enough to visit the stadium on a number of occasions to see its incredible transformation before proclaiming that our new home is going to be ‘phenomenal’. The Canning Townborn star also admitted it will be a proud day for him and his family when he emerges from the tunnel to a deafening chorus of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ to kick start a new chapter for our claret and blue faithful
‘It’s the way the club had to go to move forward and keep up with the big boys in the Premier League,’ Noble told Blowing Bubbles. ‘But it still seems so far away because we haven’t actually pulled up on a coach outside the stadium yet or been able to get into the dressing rooms as a West Ham squad but I’m sure as soon as we can that, it’ll really sink in and will be pretty special for all of us.’
The 29-year-old looks back with fondness when he reflects on his 314 appearances for the club after stepping onto the turf for his debut aged just 17 in August 2004 in our 2-0 League Cup victory against Southend United.
But Noble, who also scored three goals in 20 appearances for the England Under 21s, believes he is the last of a dying breed of footballers who are loyal enough to stay with a top English club for their entire careers. ‘You can play for a club for 10 years for sure but when you are at the club that you came through the academy of, and live round the corner of, and supported all your life, that’s a different thing,’ Mr West Ham explained.
For me to have been given a testimonial after being here for how long I have been in the first team, you just won’t see it anymore because of the money involved in football today and the amount of money coming from overseas. ‘Whether it’s Asia, Dubai or Qatar, there’s so much money involved in the Premier League that players move from one club to another and that’s the way football is going. ‘I’ve said before that I think the grass is never greener on the other side. Sure sometimes it can be but, in my experience, it never has been.’ West Ham have been linked with several high-profile strikers over the summer but Noble says while it is an exciting time for the club, we’re still yet to land the player needed to take the Hammers onto the
next level. It’s just so hard in this market now. The price of players is just incredible and to get a striker who you are looking at spending £30 – £35 million on is a risk. You’ve also got wages on top of that as well. ‘I’m sure the chairman and the board are working really hard but we do need to sign a couple more players.’ But what about speculation that Diafra Sakho might leave the club this summer if West Ham do sign a new striker? ‘I’ve been here so long now that I understand players have their own agendas,’ Noble continued
They have their reasons that we probably don’t know about. But Sakho has been great for us where he stays here or not. ‘Obviously we would love him to stay because he is such an asset to our team but if he wants to leave personally then there’s not a lot you can do to keep him.’ The two-time Hammer of the Year missed out on a place in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2016 in France but his chance might yet come with the appointment of his former boss Sam Allardyce.
But Noble, ever the professional, remains coy at any suggestion a call-up is imminent. ‘Obviously it didn’t go very well at the Euros. It’s hard you know because I’m a player and I know what players feel like. I can assure you that the players don’t go there to lose games on purpose or get knocked out of tournaments but obviously something just ain’t right with England and the FA at the minute. We need someone in charge who is going to right them wrongs.’ Our conversation turns to his testimonial at the end of March where West Ham beat an All Stars side 6-5 in an enthralling game at the Boleyn. How did the longest serving player in our current squad feel after the game?
‘To be honest I felt worse than I do after a normal Premier League game,’ our first choice penalty taker replied. ‘You know [there’s a lot of] emotion and the stress when pulling something like this together. ‘I didn’t realise what goes on behind the scenes to get a game like this up and running and I can’t thank everyone enough for what they have done for me. It was a massive honour.’ But the former England under-21 star admits he had been worried about the turnout for his testimonial in the weeks leading up to the game and also on the day itself with severe weather and train issues causing problems for many.
‘I can remember I looked out the window
‘I can remember I looked out the window
and half my trees in my garden were over and I was a little bit worried to be honest,’ the former Hull City and Ipswich Town loanee continued. ‘I was worried for about a month about the trains and whatever was going on with them and I wake up and I’ve got a hurricane in my back garden, and the kids trampoline is next door. ‘But then when we got to the Boleyn, the sun started shining and 36,000 people turned up. ‘With everything that happened with the weather and the trains, to get that many people there was unbelievable.’ One of the standout moments of the testimonial was Dean Ashton’s exquisite overhead finish – much to the delight of the crowd, players and Noble himself, who has bagged 38 goals in his time at the club.
‘I think everybody just looked shocked to start with – it was Deano up that high doing an overhead kick! But you know with all he went through with his injury, I reckon he probably drove home feeling sad that he isn’t playing any more.’ The return of Paolo Di Canio was another highlight of the day for the club captain who has played more Premier League games for West Ham than any other player. ‘You saw the reception Di Canio had when he came on. I done that on purpose,’ Noble explained. ‘I’d asked him how long he wanted to play and he said he wanted to play 90 minutes. I had seven strikers to deal with!
‘He’s adored here and for someone like him to come back and play in the game, scored a great goal at the end that I was over-the-moon for him.’ And while Noble, who was the youngest player ever to play for the reserve side at 15, never got to start a game with Di Canio – he fondly remembers kicking a ball with him at the training ground when he was “just a kidâ€. ‘He was doing some extra training and I went outside to have a kickabout with one of my mates, he was there and he had a kick around with us,’ he recalls. ‘Some of the things he used to do on the pitch were phenomenal so to get the chance to play with him at my testimonial was really special.’ All in all, Noble felt everything came
together for his special day that, of course, included him not being selected for England for their friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands that would have certainly prevented him from making an appearance on his big day. ‘It was just a bit of fun for the players to enjoy. Nothing serious,’ he adds as he also reflects on the penalty shootout at the end. Noble didn’t miss, of course. He rarely does. That’s why he was once ranked in the top 10 penalty takers in the world – and in the top five in Europe. The Hammers stalwart continued: ‘When do you also ever see Adrian run 120 yards and score a goal? Even I was looking at it and thinking this is a bit much! But the fans loved it. Even though, knowing Adrian like I do, I’m sure he was gutted he blasted his penalty over the bar.’
Becoming a bit more serious, Noble explains how when he was awarded his testimonial, he sat down with his wife and agent to start thinking about the opposition. ‘I told them I didn’t want to get any old team that didn’t want to be there. Sometimes you have a testimonial and it’s just another game. A pre-season friendly but I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to invite a team to play here where 90 per cent of the players didn’t want to be here. ‘I wanted all my friends back, the players I’ve played with, and legends of the club. And as you see, the emotion and feeling that we had was much better than getting a team that no-one cared about.’
He added: ‘It was just a great day for me and my family, and I had three mates out there who I grew up with. Funnily enough one of them saved three penalties. I’m never going to live it down because I always tell him how rubbish he is. ‘But yeah, it was great day for everyone and it’s nice not getting 1,000 phone calls a day now for tickets and stuff.’ From his league debut against Wolves in the Championship in January 2005 and his first goal for West Ham two Januarys later against Brighton in the FA Cup to relegations, promotions, Europe and captaining the last team to play and win at the Boleyn Ground, it’s been quite a journey for Mark Noble.
But you can tell from his beaming smile that this is the most excited he has ever been in his 12 years at the club and he is determined to carry on his excellent form from last season because he has no plans to get off the West Ham rollercoaster just yet.