In the general scheme of life nobody expects to retire at the age of 35, but for most footballers it’s the point at which they hang up their boots.
Mark Noble has ascended to the Hammers Hall of Fame with consummate ease. He is that rarest of species; a one club player who has rightly secured cult status. But Mark Noble is more than just a footballer who features in the back pages of the newspaper.
Every club should have a Mark Noble; a focal point for the fans, someone they can say grew up on the same streets as them. A product of terrace culture who was part of the same crowd as us. There are non-natives who have also served the club with distinction; but it’s the local lads that will often provide the finest role model.
He once said: ‘To wear this shirt, especially with the West Ham badge on it — it takes an honest, hardworking player that leaves everything on the pitch and plays for the crest on the shirt’. It’s a sharp reminder that Noble was a West Ham supporter long before he was a West Ham player and a passion for the club endures for this reason.
In 2016, with some relief he noted how the club’s administration had changed: ‘The club was run like a circus at some stages over the last ten years’. He knew only too well the instability caused by knee jerk reactions and bad choices.
He continued: ‘We’ve had different people in charge of the club, five or six different managers but now it seems like the chairmen… have done a great job of settling the club down, running it properly’.
There are very few players who could have got away with a statement like that. They are generally passing through and don’t have the interest or inclination to go on record. But Noble has an emotional investment in the club. He thinks like a fan and is therefore one of us.
Off the field
But Noble’s activities off the field are just as notable and show a commendable sense of social awareness. He has never rested on his laurels and always been active in the community. In April 2020, he made a donation of £35,000 to help provide food and medicines to isolated and vulnerable people in Basildon. A strong Hammers-supporting area, it was a great example of a player giving something back to the fans.
Some might say its pocket change for a man of his means. But it would be too easy to sit back on a wad of cash as he enjoys a privileged lifestyle. Like Marcus Rashford at Manchester United, he sees deprivation and does something about it.
You sense how well grounded Noble has stayed over the years. He appreciates the club’s position in the community but readily accepts how facile football can be.
When asked to comment on his penalty taking prowess, he quickly put the matter to bed: “I want to score but when you think of the soldiers in Iraq with bullets flying around their heads you realise a penalty isn’t something to get too worried about’.
The ability to voice the thoughts of others is important because Noble’s comments will be reported. Again he becomes one of us and not a footballer perched on a very high pedestal. He has never strayed far from his roots and mused on the simplicity of life in a recent interview: ‘I’ve got my mates still playing for Sunday league teams…I’m looking forward to just being able to say “you know what I fancy a kick about“.‘
No embarrassing mishaps
Noble is clearly relishing a more normal life where he’s not shackled by training or injuries that need to heal. It’s quite a feat for a Premier League footballer to steer clear of the pitfalls that inevitably come their way. There are no embarrassing mishaps doing the rounds or ‘why did I say that’ scenarios. Noble uses his celebrity in a positive way and recognises the responsibility that goes with it.
There could not be a more perfect choice to front West Ham’s NHS charity campaign than Noble. In his support for the Barts Charity ‘Wear The Badge’ initiative, he spoke movingly of his upbringing in east London and birth in an NHS hospital. It might sound like an obvious statement, but it shows an understanding of how good healthcare nurtured his own wellbeing.
He works with a number of charities particularly in the Newham area where poverty and homelessness is sadly rife. Noble has linked up with Caritas Anchor House, a hostel facility based in Canning Town where he grew up. He has also served hot meals to hungry children at Stratford Circus Arts Centre. This man truly appreciates the meaning of community and the notion of mutual support.
Noble’s fundamental decency was exemplified in his support for Isla Caton, who lost her battle with cancer in January. He helped raise funds for Isla’s care and accompanied her as a mascot in 2018. Along with Robert Snodgrass, he visited her whilst she was having treatment in Barcelona.
Little more could be asked of anyone in his position. It has to be said that Noble is not the only footballer to work for good causes. But his sincerity can never be doubted and his actions are anything but simple gestures. He appreciates the opportunities life has given him, and the idea there’s always someone worse off is part of his mindset.
Mark Noble is a sound individual who knows what really matters; he always has been and always will be one of us.