‘Loyalty is the quality of staying firm in your friendship or support for someone or something’.
That dictionary definition can only make you think of one current player, which is of course Mark Noble. If it was anyone else, don’t read on!
Our beloved Mark pops up on Twitter every now and again to share club-related content, the latest of which reminded us just how loyal the London-born midfielder is.
He shared an image illustrating the ‘most loyal players in the top five leagues’. Noble proudly sits at number two, only behind Lionel Messi.
They share the same amount of years, months and days at West Ham and Barcelona respectively – one can only assume that brief loan spells put Mark behind the Argentinian by default.
At the time of publishing, the stats showed that Noble had spent 16 years, nine months and 23 days at West Ham, making his debut in 2004 at the age of 17. To coin a cliché, what a rollercoaster it’s been for him and the club since then.
In very recent times, Noble has shown his true dedication to the Hammers’ cause, mostly off the field. His very public outburst at the sale of Grady Diangana was brave and heartfelt.
He was supported in his views by teammates and fans mostly applauded him for his passionate rage, something that we all shared at the time.
We don’t know the full extent of any reprimands Mark faced for those actions, but it’s clear that only players with such a deep connection to a club would attempt to speak out against the owners and hope to get away with it.
It hasn’t always been rosy for Noble. As a collective group of fans, we have unconditional love for him. But there are some who still chose to make life difficult for one of the best modern English players to never play for England.
I distinctly remember him getting booed at Wigan in May 2011, the day we were relegated (again). Even as a young woman surrounded by shouty men, I let out a yell of ‘oh come on guys!’
Then we all remember the heavy criticism he faced from fans in the 16/17 season. In disgraceful scenes, fans booed Noble after a string of, admittedly, poor performances by his standards.
With the celebration of 500 appearances under his belt and fans taking to social media to congratulate him and share their favourite memories of his time at the club so far, I hope two things; that the fans who booed him apologised out loud, or they weren’t bold enough to share how much they’d always loved him.
There is a huge difference between criticising and booing.
Deemed ‘Mr West Ham’, Mark is the heartbeat of this great club, but he won’t be playing forever. We’re certainly seeing signs of him becoming a squad player this season and he hasn’t had the opportunity to be effective.
At 33 years old, he’s slowing down and handing over the captain’s baton to the very capable Declan Rice.
There’s absolutely no harm in having Mark on the bench though; in a scenario where a game needs some spirit, passionate tackling and a measured pass, he’s the man for the job. I just struggle to see him getting 90 minutes any time soon.
It’s been really pleasing to witness Rice’s growth under the tuition and mentorship of Noble. There’s no longer a panic when Mark’s not on the team sheet or in the starting line-up, because we know that Declan’s got this covered.
As fans, we can only hope that much of Mark’s loyalty and fanatical prowess has rubbed off on Rice.
This is still a key role for Noble as a squad player – to continue to encourage and support Rice from the bench or the dressing room, but also to act as a reminder to Declan that his mentor is watching over his shoulder!
As a fan, I see no reason to panic at the thought of Noble retiring if Rice is on board. But that’s a huge ‘if’.
Looking further ahead to his inevitable hanging up of boots, we know that Mark isn’t keen on the idea of managing West Ham.
Clearly he is also noble by nature! The romance of a former player managing their boyhood team is lovely, but the reality is very different. Especially a club that can’t boast stability as one of its strengths.
Noble has indicated his preference to take a Sporting Director role, or similar. It seems only right that the club should give him that opportunity without hesitation.
He knows the club inside out. He knows what it means to graduate from an academy player to a first team regular. He knows what it means to be a passionate fan.
In times where disconnects exist between the fans and the club, he’s the perfect link.
Despite the occasional frustrated outburst, he’s got the temperament to deal with angry fans and a demanding board. He could be a huge influence in so many decisions.
Loyalty isn’t temporary. We can be confident that Mark Noble’s commitment to West Ham is lifelong. We are looking at his twilight playing time, but his duties can easily extend past his playing days. We all hope he’s given the chance to hang around for years to come.