Mike Rowbottom

It was fitting in many ways that Mark Noble, who called time on his West Ham United career yesterday after 549 appearances, should receive a framed copy of his Number 16 shirt during an emotional farewell at a full London Stadium from Sir Trevor Brooking.

Like Sir Trevor, who played 528 times for the club between 1966 and 1984, West Ham’s 35-year-old club captain has been essentially a one-club player, albeit that he was loaned out a couple of times as a teenager on the fringes of the first team.

Like Sir Trevor, who in common with the former West Ham and England captain Bobby Moore was born in Barking, Noble is a local boy - even more of one, in fact, as he comes from Canning Town, just over a mile away from Upton Park, where the club played until 2016.

Like Sir Trevor, who was pursued by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur before signing up for West Ham aged 15, Noble started with the club at the same age, becoming the youngest player to appear in their reserves.

And like Sir Trevor he stuck with his club when they were relegated from the top flight and helped guide them back into it.

Mark Noble bids farewell after playing his 549th and final game for West Ham United yesterday at the London Stadium ©Getty Images
Mark Noble bids farewell after playing his 549th and final game for West Ham United yesterday at the London Stadium ©Getty Images

I remember seeing Noble come on as an 82nd-minute substitute in the 2005 Football League Championship Play-Off final at the Millennium Stadium, where they beat Preston North End thanks to a 57th minute goal by Bobby Zamora.

Noble, who had turned 18 less than a fortnight earlier, got a bonus big time experience as, excruciatingly, seven minutes of time added on were played before referee Mike Riley remembered where he had put his whistle.

In the space of the next 17 years this honest, committed, indefatigable midfielder has been a byword for his club, earning the nickname of "Mr West Ham", as players have arrived and departed with dizzying rapidity.

After relegation from the Premier League in 2011, Noble was a mainstay of the side that regained top status in the following year’s playoff final at Wembley with a 2-1 win over Blackpool.

Sir Trevor, who was only allowed to join West Ham on condition that he would be able to complete his school studies, always seemed a bit posh for a footballer. That was reflected in his elegant style, which he displayed to gorgeous effect for his club - helping them to win two FA Cup finals and scoring the winner in the latter - and country.

That impression was confirmed by his two main nicknames during his playing career. The most used was "Boog", a sardonic reference to the fact that he was not one of the game’s lightning fast movers - as opposed to thinkers - which reportedly referenced a slow baseball player called Boog Powell that the team had watched in action during a tour of the United States.

Later in his career he was sometimes referred to as "Hadleigh", a reference to the lead character of a 1970s television show of the same name known for his gentlemanly conduct. Sir Trevor was a model of sportsmanship throughout his career - and also resembled Gerald Harper, the actor who played the eponymous character.

Mark Noble follows in the noble tradition of West Ham legends Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking ©Getty Images
Mark Noble follows in the noble tradition of West Ham legends Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking ©Getty Images

Noble is cut from a different cloth. In terms of style, ethic and upbringing, he is maybe even closer to another beloved West Ham legend, Billy Bonds, initially a full back, later a midfielder, even later a central defender, and always...honest, committed, indefatigable.

Bonds, who captained the club to FA Cup wins in 1975 and 1980, earned a club record 799 appearances before retiring in 1988 aged 41 and followed Moore and Sir Trevor in having a stand named after him in February 2019.

Like Bonds, Noble was an England mainstay in the younger echelons, representing his country at under-16, under-17, under-18, under-19 and under-21 level, and captain in the latter age group, without gaining a senior cap.

Bonds was poised to add that accolade to his career when he was picked along with clubmate Alvin  Martin by his former club manager Ron Greenwood to play against Brazil in May 1981, only to break two ribs in a collision with his very solid goalkeeper Phil Parkes.

Noble’s West Ham career has not been plain sailing. In March 2017 sections of the club’s fans called for him to be dropped from the team. Noble described the season as "the most difficult of his career".

In March 2018, there were protests against the club’s majority shareholder David Sullivan and the West Ham United board during a 3–0 home defeat to Burnley which involved four pitch invasions with one fan approaching Noble on the pitch. In scenes described as "horrific", Noble grappled with the supporter, throwing him to the ground.

While he may have become known as "Mr West Ham", Noble was never "Mr Yes Man". A week before the start of the 2020–2021 season, as club captain, he voiced his anger at the sale of West Ham player Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion.

On Twitter, Noble wrote, "As captain of this football club I'm gutted, angry and sad that Grady has left, great kid with a great future". His views were supported by defender Arthur Masuaka and many West Ham fans who expressed dissatisfaction with the club’s co-owners Sullivan and David Gold.

Noble was in tears in the 16th minute when fans on all four sides of the stadium stood to give a minute’s applause and was struggling to contain his emotions again at his leaving ceremony after the 2-2 draw with Premier League leaders Manchester City, for which the bulk of the 60,000 sell-out crowd had remained.

Noble had also, rather interestingly, obtained tickets for two surprise special guests in the form of Prince Albert of Monaco and his wife Princess Charlene.

His address to the crowd was more from the School of Bonds than the School of Brooking, being short and to the point.

"I've got a lot of family here today... and when I say a lot of family I mean 60,000," he said, before thanking all those who had helped him in his career and then getting the crowd to applaud the backroom staff and other players.

With tears brimming, and voice quavering, he concluded: “Last but not least I hope that in the last 18 years I’ve done you proud.”

Speaking afterwards, West Ham’s manager David Moyes spoke about his ambition to keep West Ham up with the top echelon of the Premier League.

"I want to try and get in amongst it and upset it if we can,” he told BBC Sport. “But next season will be hard, especially when you are losing Mark Noble, who is so important in the dressing room."

That characteristic is intangible but essential to any team. It cannot be faked. It is never forgotten.

Given his experience and character, given the respect with which he has held, it is not hard to imagine that Noble will continue in the paths of both Bonds and, albeit briefly, Brooking in becoming a manager of the club with whom he has always identified so strongly. And vice versa.