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Mark Noble came through the ranks at West Ham United and is now in his 16th first-team year

By his own admission, Mark Noble is approaching the final laps of his career at West Ham. It is natural that his thoughts are turning towards the future.

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Now 32, Noble grew up in east London and has been affiliated to his boyhood club since he was 11. Captain for the past five years, Noble is now in his 16th season as a first-team player.

So Noble understands West Ham. He understands its players, its supporters and those who sit in the boardroom. Understandably, he feels he may have something to offer when he is no longer playing.

Mark Noble came through the ranks at West Ham United and is now in his 16th first-team year

Mark Noble came through the ranks at West Ham United and is now in his 16th first-team year

Through relegation and promotion, Noble has been a constant since his debut 15 years ago

Through relegation and promotion, Noble has been a constant since his debut 15 years ago

Through relegation and promotion, Noble has been a constant since his debut 15 years ago

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‘I would like one day to be involved in decisions that the club makes,’ he says. ‘I feel I have enough experience to do that. I have been around so long. I know how the club works.

‘So I would like to be where you have decisions on all kinds of bits and pieces, and not just coaching the under-18s, if you know what I mean? Whatever happens, I am always going to be attached to this club. I hope so, anyway. It’s been blood, sweat and tears for West Ham for so long.’

Noble’s longevity at West Ham is impressive, and necessary. At a club that often seems in flux, the captain has been a welcome and enduring constant.

Mark Noble leads the way of the longest serving players at each Premier League club

Mark Noble leads the way of the longest serving players at each Premier League club

Mark Noble leads the way of the longest serving players at each Premier League club 

One-club men are rare in football these days. Ryan Giggs of Manchester United is the most famous, but he said this year it can be harder than it looks. When everybody suspects you will always be there, it’s easy to be taken for granted.

‘That’s a great point and is definitely true,’ Noble chuckles.

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‘My wife has had wallpaper on the wall for four years, but then she says she is bored of that and wants to change it.

‘It’s the same in football. Nobody wants the same wallpaper.

‘Look, I haven’t changed have I? I haven’t changed how I play. The fans tend to just live with it, it becomes the norm. They expect it.

‘We may sign a player that comes and does six stepovers and gets to the byline. But then he leaves our left back isolated and not everyone sees that. Giggs is definitely right. Being homegrown doesn’t get you in the team.

‘There are dozens who play a few games and end up leaving because mentally they can’t cope. But every minute I play now is special. There aren’t many playing regularly in the Premier League at my age. Look at Chelsea — the average age is 23!

The midfielder is keen to be involved at board level at the London Stadium in the future
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The midfielder is keen to be involved at board level at the London Stadium in the future

The midfielder is keen to be involved at board level at the London Stadium in the future 

‘But that’s the way it is, and I look at the boys who are 21 and think: “Thank God I am not that age any more”. Because I know how tough it’s going to be for them, how hard it will be to perform in a world where everything gets analysed to the max.

‘To play week-in, week-out under pressure, it does get really hard. Trust me, I know.’

Noble was born in Canning Town and grew up in nearby Beckton. It’s claret and blue territory. After he made his debut at Upton Park in August 2004, he walked home.

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His family lived in council accommodation and moved ‘six or seven times’. He recalls: ‘We moved because we either couldn’t afford the rent or there was a development going up and they wanted us out.

Noble has been a regular fixture in centre midfield and admits he hasn't changed his game

Noble has been a regular fixture in centre midfield and admits he hasn't changed his game

Noble has been a regular fixture in centre midfield and admits he hasn’t changed his game

‘Playing football meant I was lucky enough to get out of it. So many of the people I grew up with didn’t. Some are in prison, some don’t work and some have done well and have good jobs. I bump into people I grew up with and it makes you realise that without a good job, it’s hard to get out and be a success.

‘But you know what? We always had food on the table. Not everybody does.’

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Noble spoke on Wednesday from a seat by the dugouts at the London Stadium. Nearby, members of the local community gathered as West Ham celebrated the first anniversary of the club’s Player Project, a scheme they believe to be the most ambitious in English football.

By the end of 2021, West Ham hope to have invested £28million in their community. Over the past year players from all the club’s teams have given more than 300 hours of their time to working with 2,000 members of the local community.

Split into 11 strands, one area tackled by the club is poverty.

‘When I was a kid, I spent most of my time playing football in the streets, leaving my house at 8am and not walking back in until 10pm,’ says Noble.

Noble was speaking at a West Ham Players Project Anniversary event at the London Stadium

Noble was speaking at a West Ham Players Project Anniversary event at the London Stadium

Noble was speaking at a West Ham Players Project Anniversary event at the London Stadium

‘We didn’t have anything. But we had food. Now people haven’t.

‘That’s why we are here today, to let people know people are starving. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s a big problem round here.

‘The current government can’t even get along with each other, never mind tackle important stuff like this.

‘Today highlights what is happening in the borough of Newham.’

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Almost 60,000 households in London are registered as homeless, with Newham having the highest number of any local authority in England. The homeless charity Shelter says one person in 24 in the West Ham catchment does not have a regular place to live.

Noble has already been awarded the Freedom of Newham by the borough. The council says it is an honour given to ‘remarkable people’. So the father of two understands well the nature of the landscape, knows how it has changed.

The West Ham project aims to invest £28million into the local community by the end of 2021

The West Ham project aims to invest £28million into the local community by the end of 2021

The West Ham project aims to invest £28million into the local community by the end of 2021 

‘I lived in a road where nobody locked their doors,’ he says.

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‘When I was 10, I would get out of bed, get myself dressed — and I had good parents, don’t get me wrong — put my tracksuit or uniform on, leave my house, go to the corner shop and get a white chocolate bar — because I thought it was a lot healthier — and a Ribena and cross the A13.

‘The thought of my little girl crossing that road now makes me feel sick. But I would run across that road, knock for my mate who was a goalkeeper and is still my mate now, jump over the fence and play football for an hour.

‘That’s not even an option these days. It would just be dangerous. But that was my life and why shouldn’t young people be able to feel that kind of freedom now?’

On match day, West Ham can feel different to how it used to. The move from Upton Park has not suited everybody. Noble is well-placed to judge. Is the club still the same?

West Ham's move to the London Stadium was not an immediate hit with the whole fanbase

West Ham's move to the London Stadium was not an immediate hit with the whole fanbase

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West Ham’s move to the London Stadium was not an immediate hit with the whole fanbase 

‘I would like to think the club has the same morals and values,’ he says. ‘As long as I am here I would like to keep that.

‘It makes me proud that people say they visited the club and saw Shirley, or Jimmy, or Peter the kitman, and they made them a cup of tea and made them feel welcome.

‘We must never go away from that. Yes, this place is a bit different but I would like to say that other important things are the same.’

On September 23, West Ham beat Manchester United 2-0 at home and moved to fifth in the Premier League table. Noble went home and started to worry.

He says: ‘I walk off, have a shower, see the family, go home and then sit there and immediately think: “We have got to win next week”. It never stops for me.’

As it happens, Noble was right to fret. West Ham have not won since and ahead of Saturday’s game at Burnley, they lie 13th.

After beating Man United, West Ham have not won since and lost to Newcastle last weekend

After beating Man United, West Ham have not won since and lost to Newcastle last weekend

After beating Man United, West Ham have not won since and lost to Newcastle last weekend

MARK NOBLE’S WEST HAM CAREER  

  • Appearances: 477
  • Goals: 57
  • Assists: 58
  • Yellow cards: 90
  • Red cards: 5

Statistics according to Transfermarkt 

It was ever thus. At the start of last season, Noble said he was fed up with ‘fighting fires’. He vowed just to enjoy his football more, to think less.

‘Well that ain’t happening!’ he laughs.

‘Listen, I think about this stuff every day. Sometimes I do sit there and think: “Wouldn’t it be lovely to win every week?”

‘But then I would still worry about how we were playing or how I am playing.’

Noble believes this constant introspection has driven him on over the years, and he may be right. It must be exhausting too, though.

‘Yes, 100 per cent, it does chip away at you, You think: “I have been through this for so long”.’

Last season was particularly difficult. Noble spent part of it as a shoulder to cry on for the gifted but wayward forward Marko Arnautovic. Noble was regularly phoning the Austrian to check on his state of mind, cajoling him into believing there was a future for him at West Ham.

Noble lost that battle, as Arnautovic moved to China in July, but he believes he wins others. His pastoral approach to team-mates seems pleasingly old-fashioned.

The West Ham captain tried to convince Marko Arnautovic to stay at the club, but to no avail

The West Ham captain tried to convince Marko Arnautovic to stay at the club, but to no avail

The West Ham captain tried to convince Marko Arnautovic to stay at the club, but to no avail 

But does it work in the modern age? Do young, wealthy, foreign footballers really listen to the counsel offered from the East End?

‘Yes, I think they feel it,’ Noble says.

‘Look, West Ham fans will never change. They are incredible, but if they are not happy they will let you know.

‘Some players find that hard to deal with. So it’s my job to make sure they keep training well and that their attitude is right when they play.

‘Fans are not silly. They can see someone who is trying hard and someone who isn’t.’

Noble once said that captains must be able to deal with pressure. It seems he can. Football has not taken a toll on him as it has others, but he knows not everyone is so lucky.

Reminded of something Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster said last season about the troubled minds of some modern players, Noble says: ‘It’s quite refreshing to hear someone say that. 

‘Because most people can’t see past the money side of things. Some players have that ability to move on from a bad result. You see players who have lost three- or four-nil, and they are in a nightclub. But many struggle too.

Noble sympathises with some of the mental issues players face when moving to a new club

Noble sympathises with some of the mental issues players face when moving to a new club

Noble sympathises with some of the mental issues players face when moving to a new club 

‘People say: “I would have depression for £50,000-a-week”. But you see all the major film stars. They have untold money and yet really don’t cope.

‘It’s hard for the foreign players. They come over, have no family with them, maybe they’re not in the team… they go home at night and really struggle.

‘The mental side of football — especially for the young players — is hard these days.

‘If you read a thousand good comments on social media you will go home thinking about the two bad ones.’

Noble speaks with the freedom of someone who has put in the hard yards already.

The captain of West Ham may yet be required out on the pitch for a little longer than he thinks, nevertheless it will be time for him to face some fresh challenges soon enough.

Just one thing, though. Why did he never leave?

‘Why would I?’ he asks. ‘You can be a really good player but move around a lot and end up being forgotten everywhere you’ve been.

The 32-year-old signed a contract extension last year, his current deal running until 2021

The 32-year-old signed a contract extension last year, his current deal running until 2021

The 32-year-old signed a contract extension last year, his current deal running until 2021  

‘A season here, a season there. “Yeah, he has done all right”.

‘But I have created some history for myself at this club and given that I was brought up round the corner, that’s pretty special.

‘Know what I mean?’