You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
This line may have been uttered in reference to Batman in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’, but it could easily apply to West Ham captain Mark Noble. It was only a few short years ago that he was revered almost universally amongst West Ham fans.
One of our own that’s ‘too good for England’.Today, the skipper is a polarising character, with a vocal section of the fanbase believing he should no longer be anywhere near the side. Being ‘Mr West Ham’ is now a stick to beat him with. And yet, during the lockdown – as he always does – Noble has proven that Mr West Ham is exactly what we need – both now and in the future.
Noble’s work within the community has always been a badge of honour for the player, something he holds as of equal importance as his on-field contribution. Be it his patronage with Richard House Hospice, his involvement in tackling poverty via the Player Project or his work to try to provide affordable housing, Noble has always shown that the work means alot to him. It resulted in him being awarded the Freedom of Newham in 2016.
The area, the people – many of them West Ham fans – matter to him.
During our pandemic-induced lockdown, the captain once again showed what marks him as different, Noble in name and character. He revealed in his Evening Standard column that he felt the Corona crisis had burst the bubble that players can sometime live in: ‘That bubble has been well and truly punctured, though, and now we have to forget our selfish ways and help the elderly, the vulnerable and the sick of our society and help minimise the effects of this illness.’
As a result of this, he promised to donate all the fees he had (and will) receive for the column to Newham Council Food Banks scheme. It also transpired that he had donated £35k to Basildon Council Community project to help the vulnerable in the area, after the council, not the player, shared the news on their social media accounts.
Similarly it was reported that he was one of the loudest voices amongst Premier League captains who discussed and debated the proposed player pay cuts. In the end, it was decided that the players should set up the Players Together Fund, which has seen the league donate money to the NHS and its need for resources and vital equipment rather than save their billionaire owners money.
And whilst some will hold the view that this was not the best way for players to help during the crisis, many will agree with the sentiments behind the action. It also highlights again the leadership qualities of the club captain. It is these leadership qualities that lead many to believe that Noble is destined to manage the club one day.
It is a view that former Manager Harry Redknapp certainly agrees with. When Noble went on (via Zoom) Jamie Redknapp’s Home Fixture lockdown show, the idea was put to him. Would he like to manage the club one day? Nobles responded that he would rather become the Sporting Director. It is a move that we should all get behind.
When we consider the pantheon of West Ham legends – Moore, Hurst, Peters, Brooking, Bonds – and how the club have utilised them once they hung up their boots; we could certainly do better. And who better to start with than probably the last ‘one club man’ we (and possibly the league) will see.
His connection to the community, the values that the club should hold dear, the roots that it should recognise, are incarnate in the boy from Canning Town. In an interview for The Times in 2018, he talked about the club being about more than results: ‘There are people at the club who’ve been there 40, 50 years, Pete, the kit-man, Jimmy Frith [training ground assistant], they’re part of the club. Once you lose them you lose a massive part.
‘If West Ham wants to keep its values, it has to keep people like that. It’s easy for new managers to come in [look at some staff] and go, “Who is that guy? We don’t really need them”’ Someone needs to let people know that is what West Ham is about, not just money and Premier League.’
On top of this, he is an academy graduate. He will recognise the value of what was once the jewel in our crown. Having grown up as a kid bugging Danny Williamson for advice, watching Lampard, Ferdinand, Cole, and Carrick break into the first team and after making the step himself helping Collison, Tomkins and now Rice follow those footsteps – he is well placed to recognise and guide talent, to breath life back into The Academy and ensure it retains its importance at the club.
These are all views and beliefs that many a West Ham fan will echo, and as the game moves forward, becoming ever more about money and business, having Noble keep the club’s values alive could be vital. Especially to a fanbase that has been undergoing an identity crisis since we upped sticks from Upton Park.
As a lad, Noble used to sneak into the ground to watch us play. As a player he has made just short of 500 appearances for the club. In both guises he will have enjoyed the ups and downs of being a Hammer. He knows our suffering. And more importantly will be just as driven to bring us success as a Sporting Director as he is now as a player.
As a manager, he would once again run the risk of becoming a villain. As a Sporting Director he could well prove once and for all that he really is the hero we need.