A Noble Year!

ASK Mark Noble how this season has gone and the reply is instant.

"It's been brilliant," exclaims the 17-year-old midfield sensation, who has taken the first-team by storm since making his first senior start in the FA Cup Third Round win against Norwich City.

At the start of the 2004/05 campaign Noble trained with the youth team while the senior squad toured Sweden. Now he is an integral part of Alan Pardew's first-team, having made 15 appearances, and a firm favourite of the Upton Park faithful.

But the England youth star still can hardly believe he is pulling on the claret and blue of West Ham United every week.

"All I ever wanted to do growing up was wear that West Ham United shirt," he confesses with a disbelieving grin. "I still can't believe that I'm playing for West Ham, it's like a dream that nobody can wake me up from.

"My Dad can't believe it either. He's been a West Ham fan since before I was born so imagine what it feels like for him to have his son playing at Upton Park. I look at him sometimes and expect him to give me a clip around the ear and tell me to wake up, because this really is a dream come true.

"It's just incredible the feeling of running out at Upton Park, I just can't describe it. Some of the other lads look at me before a game and think I'm mad when I'm in the dressing room singing 'Bubbles' just before we're going to go up the tunnel. To hear the Upton Park crowd singing my name as well - it's just fantastic."

Mark's meteoric rise from youth-team starlet to first-team regular has taken everyone by surprise, and the former England Under-16 captain is no exception.

"It just shows you how quickly things can change," he agreed. "It only started for me in January when I first played for the first-team and now I've played 15 games. I never imagined it would all happen so fast.

"I couldn't have wished for the season to go any better and now the icing on the cake for me would be to make those Play-offs and get the Club all the way to Cardiff.

"I went along to the Play-off Final last season, but wasn't involved. It would be incredible to go back again this time to play and hopefully win, and not just be there for the ride.

"That's the aim and we're all working towards that. I'm hoping to be available for the Sunderland game and if the gaffer picks me I want to make sure we get that Play-off place and then take it from there.

"We're eight games unbeaten now, including four wins, and it looks like we've started to play well at just the right time. The encouraging thing is we're passing the ball well too and playing better football than we were earlier in the season.

"Sunderland is going to be a huge game, probably the biggest game the Club has played in since the Play-off Final and I'm desperately hoping I can be involved."

A jarred knee picked up in training kept Mark out of the side last weekend at Brighton. But prior to the injury Pards had moved him inside to central-midfield, a move that has certainly pleased the East End-born teenager.

"Central-midfield is where I think I can really do my best," he admitted. "I mean, I'll give my best wherever the gaffer picks me, but centre-midfield is always where I've played and it's the position I feel most comfortable in.

"I've never really been the tricky winger type, although somehow I seem to have come across all these tricks and turns recently.

"I don't know where they came from to be honest. I think it must be playing in front of big crowds. You do a skill that you don't really think about at the time and the crowd gives you a big cheer. Then you think, 'hang on, I'll do that again in a few minutes' and then another cheer goes up. It's great!

"This season has just been brilliant, a dream come true. And hopefully it'll get even better over these last few weeks!"