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When any list of ‘West Ham Legends’ is being drawn up, inevitably the names of truly great players such as Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds and Sir Trevor Brooking are the first to be penned. Such have West Ham’s fortunes fluctuated in the past three decades or so since Bonds finally hung up his boots, that it has not always been the easiest of jobs to make more recent additions to that list.
Although the names of Paolo Di Canio, Rio Ferdinand, Stuart Pearce and Joe Cole have their supporters, the truth is all these esteemed players were, for one reason or another, merely passing through.
No, in more recent years perhaps only the names of Julian Dicks and that of the current captain, the indomitable Mark Noble, really warrant inclusion on the list of West Ham’s Greatest.
Although still only 32, it is now more than 14 years since Mark Noble made his competitive debut for West Ham, and in that time he has gone onto to amass more than 450 appearances for the Hammers, twice winning the club’s prestigious ‘Hammer of the Year’ award as voted for by the fans.
Plying his trade in the centre of midfield, Noble has built a reputation for being the very epitome of professionalism and loyalty, developing a reputation that transcends that of cult figure and veers into the boundaries of heroism.
Signing as a schoolboy at the age of 13 after a spell training with Arsenal, Noble made history when he became the youngest ever player to turn out for West Ham’s reserve team just two years later at the age of 15.
Another two years later and Noble was making his senior bow in first the League Cup and then the Championship where West Ham found themselves in the mid-2000s.
West Ham secured promotion back to the Premier League that 2004-05 season courtesy of a play-off victory over Preston North End at the Millenium Stadium, a match in which Noble featured as a late substitute.
However, back in the Premier League, Noble found his opportunities limited and, only making five appearances all season, he was loaned out to Hull City in February 2006 as his parent club finished the season battling Liverpool to a penalty shoot-out in the FA Cup Final.
Early the next season once again saw Noble out on loan, this time at Championship side Ipswich Town where he was to spend the first three months of the campaign as a regular in the Portman Road side.
These two short loan spells aside, Noble has spent the rest of his career thus far as a one-club man. Deployed as a central midfielder, Noble is known for his tactical acumen as well as his ball-winning skills. Never one to make a habit of getting caught either in possession or out of position, Noble has developed a legacy based around dependency and reliability.
A dead-ball expert, Noble’s prowess from the penalty spot has seen him earn accolades as being one of the best in the business. With 25 successful Premier League penalty conversions to his name, Noble sits fourth in the Premier League all-time list behind Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
Although whispers have been heard very occasionally that Noble doesn’t contribute as many goals from open play as one would expect from a central midfielder, it is but a minor gripe when considered in line with what he contributes to the team.
A regular in the West Ham side from the 2007-08 season onwards, Noble has served under no less than eight permanent managers and has long been established as club captain.
Upon relegation from the Premier League in 2011, Noble elected to stay with the club despite interest from elsewhere and so was rewarded with an immediate return to the top flight a year later.
Despite never being capped at full international level, Noble represented England at every youth level from U16 to U21. Qualifying to play for the Republic of Ireland through Cork ancestry, Noble declared in 2014 that he would be open to discussions regarding playing for the Republic, yet nothing was to prevail as a result.
Noble is known as ‘Mr West Ham’ due to his longevity and loyalty, spending more than a decade at the club. It is not only amongst West Ham fans that Noble is admired and revered but large swathes of the footballing community at large.
In an age where greed and cynism are never far from the service, Noble is seen as someone who bucks the trend, thus allowing the person on the street to identify with him.
On March 2016, Noble was granted a testimonial when a West Ham team met a team of legends at Upton Park. In another measure of the man, Noble announced that all proceeds from the game would be donated to charity.
As West Ham look to build on the positive start they have made to the current season, it seems certain that continued success will depend to a large degree upon the continued fitness and form of Mark Noble.
A true West Ham legend.