Mark Noble’s recent announcement that next season’s contract extension will be his last as a first-team player was not a major surprise.
It has, however, sparked much debate amongst Hammers fans about Noble’s overall contribution, historically and going forward, and where he should sit in the pecking order of the illustrious list of former players.
I should point out that towards the end of his statement on the club’s website, Noble did say: ‘Next season is going to be very emotional for me, but right now is not the time for reflection or looking back on my career.’
Well, sorry about that Mark, but when you announce your retirement a year in advance, that’s exactly what is going to happen. I’ll do Mark a favour though and not pick over the statistics, or his finest and darkest hours.
Let’s hope his finest hour is still to come. I think it is interesting to have a look instead at the different viewpoints regarding his status within the club and what credit that should buy him in the years ahead.
I have seen suggestions that the Number 16 shirt should be retired and there should be a stand named after him. I find that ridiculous.
Equally ridiculous is the suggestion that appearances count for little without medals. As with most polarised arguments the true position lies somewhere in between. Let’s not forget that apart from starting his youth career at Arsenal, and short loan spells at Ipswich and Hull, Mark has only ever played for West Ham.
In the Premier League era that is rare indeed. Only Ryan Giggs and Jamie Carragher in recent history can claim to have been at one club. Even Giggs started his youth career at Manchester City.
So the first question is, having played at two other professional clubs, should the term ‘One Club Man’ be applied? I did a straw poll on one of my Facebook groups and the overwhelming response was: Yes, it should.
His spells at Ipswich and Hull were part of his development and part of any player’s learning process in the modern era.
It is quite odd that should be the case when you consider squad sizes and the number of games played, and the number of substitutes allowed that youngsters still have to go out on loan to get first team experience, but there you are.
The pressure of the modern game also means managers are reluctant to blood youngsters unless they are already the finished article.
It does make you wonder how youth team players managed to break through back in the days of one substitute and 22-man squads.
The other question that arises is Noble’s standing at the club is if he can he be mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard Senior, Alvin Martin.
I think not. Nobes has been a great servant to this club but he is not in the same class as those mentioned above, in terms of ability.
I think there is an important demarcation line between ‘Legend’ and ‘Icon’. Noble is a club icon, there can be no doubt about that. His name is synonymous with West Ham United. Like legends Bobby, Trevor, Frank Senior (and fellow icon Tony Cottee) he is a local lad.
I wanted to avoid using the phrase ‘He bleeds claret and blue’ but it can certainly be applied to Mark.
The club ‘legends’ mentioned above all achieved something more tangible in terms of silverware or developing the club’s status within the game. Icons are more a representation of the club in human form.
It sounds like I am not a fan of Noble – that’s not the case at all, I love the guy and I love him for what he has done for this club over the last 17 years since making his debut. But I think calls for the retirement of the 16 shirt are somewhat over-reactive.
Nobes’ leadership qualities were evident even before his elevation to club captain. When he first broke into the team as a regular during the Great Escape of 2006, he was an attacking midfield player who scored two goals from open play in that campaign.
But Curbishley saw his role somewhat differently and converted him to a more defensive role and awarded him the responsibility for taking penalties.
Both those decisions defined the rest of his career. Personally I would have preferred to see him stay in a more attacking role – I always saw that as his best position.
I have to question why is it that Noble was never heavily linked with a move to another club? I know Arsenal made overtures at one stage, but they haven’t signed a player from West Ham in living memory and it was never likely to happen.
No transfer links to speak of, and despite being capped at every other level for England, no senior cap?
Why? Because he was so synonymous with West Ham that other managers thought he could only function in a West Ham side? Or did other managers just think he wasn’t any good?
Certainly fans, if not managers of other teams appreciate his efforts.
After winning 1-0 at Spurs in April 2019, Spurs fans hailed Noble as the man of the match, and successive West Ham managers from Curbishley onwards have had him down as the first name on the team sheet.
That, to me, would indicate that his qualities are harder to pin down than just tackling, passing and shooting. They are more centred around leadership, grit and determination.
He was also lucky. David Moyes has now recognised Nobes’ best days are behind him – but in my opinion he was starting to feel the heat three years ago. A total of 522 appearances and 60 goals is not to be sniffed at though.
Sometimes it’s just not enough to be committed. It’s been noticeable since Tomas Soucek came into the side that the team has had more pace and energy. I feel that was the one thing that Nobes lacked, and the reason why he was never noticed elsewhere.
So there is one year left. I’m not looking back now, I’m looking forward. I want to see Nobes elevated from icon to legend before he retires.
There’s still time for a Mark Noble turn in the centre circle at Wembley in May 2022.
Then it would be great to see him added to the coaching staff to at the very least remind today’s transient playing staff what our great club is all about.
Robert Banks’ fourth book ‘An Irrational Hatred of Everything’ is available on Amazon or direct through him on Twitter. All profits to NHS Charities.