If anyone knows the ups and downs of life at West Ham United, it’s Mark Noble.
Born in Canning Town, a lifelong fan, a player from the age of 11 until retiring last year at 35, after a few months out and on vacation with family, Noble returned to the Hammers in January as athletic director.
This season has been spent struggling on the wrong side of the Premier League despite an impressive summer spend of £160million, aiming to build on the top seven finishes in a row.
But, the club won the prestigious FA Youth Cup for the first time in 24 years by beating Arsenal last month; defeated Manchester United at the weekend to virtually secure their top-flight status and are now looking forward to a Europa Conference League semi-final first leg with AZ Alkmaar, a potential final in Prague on June 7 and a first trophy since 1980.
“You have to take the tough with the smooth at West Ham, it’s always been that way,” Noble told BBC Sport.
“That’s why we all love the club. Sometimes it breaks your heart, it really does. But there are times when it brings you tears of joy.”
West Ham avoid management turnover
Moyes felt the force of the displeasure with fans turning on him, particularly during the 4-0 hammering away at Brighton on March 4, when they sang “sacked in the morning” at one point.
But Chairman David Sullivan stood firm. He felt it would be counterproductive to get rid of Moyes and then try to find someone like the Scot who could save the day.
This meant that Moyes had not joined the record 14 top-flight managers who have lost their jobs this season.
“Nobody hid it,” Noble said. “The manager was clear. The Premier League is a demanding league and we have been in a relegation battle for a long time.
“He knows the game as well as anyone. He knows the pressure he was under. Fourteen managers have been changed this year in the Premier League. It’s madness.
“We’ve stayed with David and it looks like he’s bailed us out and we’re in a European semi-final which is fantastic. We can start looking forward now.”
THE reduction in the life of a manager is one of the reasons Noble has little interest in Noble, even though he has often been considered ideal for the role.
He’s not ready to sacrifice long-awaited time with his family and risk having to uproot them for a job that might only last a few weeks.
Moreover, he is only interested in one club, and Noble believes he has more to offer in his current role.
“I’ve been at the club since I was 11, my son is at the academy and I’ve never done badges,” he said.
“I love giving young guys advice and telling them how they can improve, but I don’t want to stay on the sidelines and be sacked after six months.
“Once you’re sacked there’s probably no going back for you at a club and I feel I still have a lot to offer this one, to keep improving it behind the scenes. I hopefully once I have the longevity I can affect it a lot more from the position I’m in than I would as a manager.”
Noble’s experience of relegation battles
When Noble returned to West Ham in January, it was clear there was little money to spend.
So, in addition to making changes to the club’s youth squads, he took it upon himself to speak directly to a group of first-team players who, for the most part, had enjoyed two seasons of success and applause, finishing sixth and seventh to qualify for Europe. by their league position for the first time in their history.
“We weren’t doing very well in the league and for a while it was a stressful time,” he said.
“I was sitting on the sidelines when I was used to being able to help on the pitch.
“It was about talking to the players and letting them know what it was like to be there because in truth a lot of our players didn’t feel what it was like this year, being in a battle of relegation.
“But I’ve been through it many times, so I tried to tell them about my experience.”
“Declan Rice is a better person than a player”
Given that former West Ham captains include legendary duo Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds, who remain the only players to lead the club to significant trophy success, it means a lot to Noble that, in Declan Rice, he feels that he has a worthy successor.
Rice’s ability on the pitch is indisputable – Moyes called him ‘probably the best English midfielder around’ this week. He is a key figure in Gareth Southgate’s side and a potential leader of his country at some point in the future.
Obviously, Rice is also a man in demand even though he has one year left on his contract, with the Hammers retaining the option for an additional season thereafter. Arsenal are the latest club to be heavily linked with the 24-year-old.
But this week he went viral on social media for the way he reacted after spotting a young fan sobbing in the London Stadium after Manchester United’s victory only because Rice was walking towards him.
“I didn’t shock myself,” Noble said. “That’s how he is. He has such a big heart.
“It comforted me a bit that he was going to replace me as captain. He carries the morals that I have and the love for the club and the fans.
“It was just a small little thing, but when the Under 8s sign for the first time, we bring all the families in and give them a shirt with their name on the back and videos. They have a great day.
“I was there and talked to the parents but he showed up and all the kids jumped on him.
“Dec is a better person than a player and that’s saying something.”