Although Mark Noble is destined to end his career as one of that increasingly endangered species, the one-club player, West Ham’s is not the only shirt he has worn in a professional career that began in 2004, because in the early days, he went out on loan, to Hull City and Ipswich.
Peter Taylor and Jim Magilton were the two managers who dealt with the fresh-faced Noble before he became an Irons first-team regular, and now he is at the other end of his career, they were both eager to tell Blowing Bubbles about the young man they encountered – and they had nothing but good things to say.
‘If you were running an academy and wanted to sign a youngster, you wouldn’t hesitate to hold Mark up as an example to parents of what sort of player you produced,’ said Taylor, who signed Noble on loan for Championship side Hull City in 2006.
‘The life of a footballer is one of the best you can possibly have, so I always tell youngsters to do it right, and they will have some great fun. That’s exactly what Mark has done, he’s the perfect example to follow for how to lead your life and manage your career.’
Noble’s West Ham debut came aged just 17, in a League Cup win over Southend in August 2004, with his league debut coming the following January.
He went on to become Young Hammer of the Year and runner-up to the vastly experienced Teddy Sheringham in the Hammer of the Year poll, and in February 2006, having rarely featured in the Premier League, Alan Pardew let him go to Hull on loan.
‘Even though Mark was so young I think Alan had so much respect for him that he wanted him to get out and play,’ Taylor said. ‘Hull had a new stadium, we were doing well and I think he trusted me to look after his player.
‘Unfortunately Mark picked up a back injury, possibly caused by all the driving back and forth, so we didn’t have him for as many games as I would have liked, which was a real shame, but I’m glad we had him for the brief time that we did, because even at that age, you could already see he was a captain and a leader.’
One of the things that set Noble apart was his enthusiasm for work. ‘There’s loads of players out there who love being a pro, but the most important ones are the ones who want to play,’ Taylor said.
‘Mark wanted to come to Hull because it meant widening his football experience. Lots of others are happy to train and have a happy life, but the hard part is when Saturday afternoon comes around, and he wanted to go out and do the job.
‘He was always available, always wanted the ball to show what he could do. We’d had a couple of good seasons and risen up the table, so in the Championship, some of our players might have respected the opposition a bit too much, but not Mark. He would say “give me the ball”, he had that confidence and wanted to show what he could do.’
It was not just on the training ground or the pitch that he showed confidence – or some might say cheek.
‘When he arrived, he was staying at a hotel where I used to go and use the gym, and at the end of my training session I couldn’t find my clothes – it turned out he’d hidden them,’ Taylor continued.
‘I’d only known him two minutes and there he was, hiding the manager’s gear. But he wasn’t showing a lack of respect, he was just a fun character, someone you can’t not get on with.
‘He knew to have fun at the right time and when to lead at the right time. That’s why he’s had such a good career, because he knows what to do at the right time.’
Taylor admits he cannot be 100 percent sure if he had seen Noble play in the flesh before signing him, but he knew the type of player he wanted, and he trusted Pardew’s judgement, and in Noble, he got exactly what he was looking for.
‘You wouldn’t be a quiet person and then have the confidence to hide the manager’s clothes – he was exactly how he is now,’ he said. ‘But if he hadn’t listened to what I was saying, I would have noticed.
‘He was always a thinker about what he was doing. I always say to people, don’t have any regrets, give your career all you’ve got, so if at the end you’ve done all you can, you can be satisfied.
‘Mark may not have been the quickest or the best in the air, but he’s done just that – he’s worked extremely hard to be a fantastic pro for so many years.’
Although injury limited Noble to just five games for Hull before his return to Upton Park, Taylor said the whole experience was a valuable learning process for him.
‘Even the injury probably turned out to be useful, because it taught him about recovery, and if you don’t learn about that, you don’t play games, and you don’t have a career,’ he said.
‘Being in a new area, with different people and playing in a different style, it all helped. If in the future he decides to go into coaching, I’ve got no doubt that he will do that the right way, too. I’m delighted with the way things have turned out for him.’
Noble’s second loan spell was less far from home, at Ipswich, a club with which, through the likes of John Lyall and Paul Goddard, West Ham have close ties.
Jim Magilton had just taken over as player/manager in August 2006, following the resignation of Joe Royle, and faced a lot of reorganisation with a limited budget, hence entering the loan market.
‘We had a list of loan targets and Mark was top of the list, and he never let me down – in fact he exceeded all expectations,’ he said. ‘Even at that age you could see he had the makings of being a top pro – he had the talent, a great personality, and was fun to have around the club.
‘All he needed was games to get him ready to challenge for a first team place at West Ham. It was clear he was using Ipswich as a stepping stone to establish himself at West Ham, but I was fine with that, in fact I respected it.
‘I knew that determination would have a positive effect on us, and I wanted someone to bring a bit of exuberance to our dressing room. A loan player has to come in and show appetite, and he demonstrated that he could play at our level and higher. We gave him the platform, and he made the most of it.’
Like Taylor, Magilton was as impressed by Noble the man as well as Noble the player. ‘The grounding he got from his family and club was excellent; even at that young age the people who had shaped him deserve credit for the good work they did,’ he explained.
‘He never shirked responsibility, which sometimes even got him in a bit of trouble, but that was because he would never hide, which is a great attribute to have.
‘So many players, when they cross the white line, get smaller, but he never shrank – even when he had a bad game, you could always rely on him. Regardless of the opposition or position, he’d give his all.’
Magilton was dealing with the challenge of going from player to manager in a dressing room full of his team-mates, which could be a difficult situation, so a bit of levity was always welcome, and Noble was in the thick of it.
‘He loved that atmosphere, weighing up people’s characters, and if there was mischief going on, he was always involved, but he got away with it because he always had a smile on his face,’ he said.
But Noble knew when to laugh and when to be serious, because he was at Ipswich to help them and advance his own career.
‘It was a steep learning curve in terms of the experience and the practicalities of being in such a competitive division, with so much expectation,’ said Magilton. ‘He was a good player who never gave the ball away, he improved his technique, he learned about fitness, and also toughened up mentally, so when it was time to go back and challenge for a place in the West Ham first team, he would be better prepared for what he would face. I think the experience he gained with us was hugely beneficial for that.’
Noble’s Ipswich debut was against, of all teams Hull, and the final game of his three-month, 13 league game stay at Ipswich was against Sheffield Wednesday, in November 2006, before he returned to West Ham, and became a part of the furniture ever since. Few people are as happy about that as Magilton.
‘Everyone at Ipswich is delighted he’s had such a great career,’ he said. ‘I bumped into him a few years back and it was like we’d just been on the pitch together, we picked up exactly where we left off, and I knew we would because he’s that kind of guy. No-one could be happier for Mark Noble about how things have turned out than I am.’