I’m not sure there’s anybody who understands West Ham more than Mark Noble
I’ve always had a suspicion Mark Noble secretly time travelled from a bygone era to take his place in modern-day football.
Like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap, only still in the same body he had when he first played professionally in the late fifties.
Back then, he used to work Sundays at his father’s butchers and advertise cigarettes on the back of the Radio Times. I have no evidence of this but you’ll just have to trust me.
On the countless times I watched him play for West Ham United, he always stood out like a sore thumb, looking more like a soldier who’d just returned for some well-earned leave, than a multi-millionaire Premier League star. No fancy haircut, no September snood and no tattoo sleeve.
Actually, he did get one tattoo but that simply displayed the date of his last home game, placed exactly where his captain’s armband used to be. So, in fact, that is the most old-school tattoo you can have. A nod to a time when committing ink to your body was for a deeply important reason, and not just because you were going through a Pokemon phase.
So, why am I talking about Mark Noble, several months after his retirement from the claret and blue? Well, he’s back, and in a suit! There’s a photograph and everything. And, yes, he does look like a bank manager from your local Bradford & Bingley, circa 1964.
Starting in January, the boyhood Hammer is taking up his role as sporting director, with his broad job description enough to send West Ham fans running to a locked bedroom for five minutes of alone time.
Noble will work with new signings and academy players to ensure they understand the club’s philosophy and core values. He will be a sounding board for manager David Moyes when it comes to recruitment and future stars, and will also involve himself in staff well-being.
Reading between the lines, I think he’ll spend half his time in that suit, and the other half in a tracky, which sounds just right. The club has been priming him for this role over the last couple of years. He even spent a summer at Harvard Business School, completing an entertainment, media and sports business leadership course.
He said: ‘I’ve spent the last 24 years as a player here, first in the academy and then in the first team, and obviously have a deep knowledge and understanding of the club.’
That’s an understatement. I’m not sure there’s anybody who understands West Ham more than Mark Noble. He grew up within walking distance of Upton Park, signed as a youth player in 2000 and, bar a couple of loan spells for experience, has stayed there ever since.
The story goes that, when he was a teenager, his father said he could play for any team he wanted to, and not to feel the pressure of being from a West Ham supporting family, and Mark accused him of being mad at even thinking he’d be going anywhere else. Once the Hammers declared an interest, it was game over.
Keeping all that in mind, imagine being a young lad in the academy now, and rubbing shoulders with someone like Mark Noble, a club legend but as grounded as a three-pronged plug. By the way, one of those academy players is his son!
It is an inspired move, without a doubt, and the fans will feel like one of their own is involved at the highest level within the club.
Furthermore, it gives me a belated chance to pay tribute to a rare breed of player, who is not just loved by his own supporters, but respected by the vast majority of those who have no intention of ever blowing bubbles.
For certain, there is more than a little romanticising when it comes to one-club players, but in the case of West Ham United’s continued connection to Mark it is, indeed, a noble pursuit.