Mark Noble’s playing career with West Ham United may have come to an end, but his name will be synonymous with the Club forever more.
The long-standing Hammers captain signed-off his incredible 18-year career in Claret and Blue with appearance number 550 on Sunday, away to Brighton & Hove Albion, having been honoured with a new training facility named after him at Chadwell Heath just a few days prior.
The Mark Noble Arena, a state-of-the-art, all-weather surface, has the FIFA Quality Pro mark and has been branded with bespoke artwork and imagery paying tribute to Noble’s career and status as one of the greatest Academy graduates of modern times.
Speaking at the official unveiling at Chadwell Heath, a moved Noble tried to put his emotions into words.
“It’s very hard to summarise my feelings,” he said. “It’s lovely that my ex-managers from the Academy, Academy staff, players and some of the boys all turned up for this. It’s a real honour. These things don’t just last one or two weeks, they last a lifetime. It’s a true honour.
“It’s what the young boys needed. I trained on this pitch as a kid and now, if they can get a little bit of inspiration from it and see that, if I trained here and lived my dream, why can’t they?
“It’s an incredible gesture from the Academy and the Club to do this for me. It’s been an incredible 18 years – a lot of highs and lows – and to end on this note, after the Manchester City game too, for me and my family it’s a true honour.”
As he was for the final home game of the season, against Manchester City, Noble was joined by his family for the unveiling of the Mark Noble Arena. His son, Lenny, scored the first goal on the new surface.
“I don’t know how I would have felt opening an arena in my name if it was my dad, but for my kids and my wife it’s been a really emotional month as well. To come here at the end, see the photos up, and have this incredible surface for the young lads to learn their trade on, it’s special.
“Hopefully we can see the next Mark Noble, Declan Rice or Ben Johnson come through and play and learn on this surface.”
Talk to the staff, the coaches, the parents and the young players themselves at Chadwell Heath, and you will often hear stories about Mark Noble popping up after hours, standing in the distance watching a training session, or chatting quietly with one or two of their number.
Such is West Ham’s importance to the man, Noble wants to make sure things are always done to the highest standard at the Academy of Football, and its young players are developing not just on the pitch, but off it too.
He continued: “It was important to me to be down here because of the way I feel the ethos and the ethics of a football club should be, especially West Ham.
“One of my biggest things is that it’s not always about football. You’ll see two or three footballers a season, if that, make their debuts, but they are hundreds of kids that don’t. For me, it’s so important that either remain at or leave the Club a better person than they were when they arrived. Their manners, their respect, that means so much to me.
“When it comes to me being a touchline parent, I’m quiet! I stand in the corner and just watch the game. I enjoy watching the young boys and the Academy.
“I love watching the way they play and sometimes when I’m here, if it feels right, I’ll give them tips. It’s so important that they get a chance and, if the Club captain did that for me when I was 12 or 13, I’d fully take it on board.”
While Mr. West Ham’s playing days are at an end, one thing for sure is that Noble will continue to appear at the Chadwell Heath training centre, if only to offer his support and guidance to Lenny, as he embarks on his own relationship with football at West Ham United.
“My son is obviously here so it’s important for me to support him, let him play free and watch him enjoy the game. So obviously I’m going to be around.
“I just hope he enjoys football. There’s so much pressure on him because of things like this pitch, but he takes it in his stride. He’s a great kid. I just want him to enjoy his football.”