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 his retirement last year aged 35, after a few months of inactivity and holidays with his family, Noble returned to the Hammers in January as to sports director.
This season has been spent struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League despite an impressive £160m summer spending spree, aiming for back-to-back top seven finishes.
But the club won the prestigious FA Youth Cup for the first time in 24 years by beating Arsenal last month; overcame Manchester United at the weekend to all but secure their top-flight status and now await a Europa Conference League semi-final first leg with AZ Alkmaar, a possible final in Prague on June 7 and a first trophy since 1980.
“You have to get the hard with the soft at West Ham, it’s always been like that,” 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 tears of joy.”
West Ham avoid managerial turnover
Moyes has felt the force of discontent, with fans turning on him, most notably during the 4-0 drubbing at Brighton on March 4, when they chanted “morning loot” at one point.
But President David Sullivan stood his ground. He reasoned that it would be counterproductive to get rid of Moyes and then try to find someone like the Scot who could rescue the situation.
It meant Moyes didn’t join record 14 top managers who have lost their jobs this season.
“No one has been hiding there,” Noble said. “The manager has been clear about that. 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 changed in the Premier League this year. It’s crazy.
“We’ve stuck with David and he seems to have got us out of trouble and we’re in a European semi-final, which is great. We can start looking forward now.”
The reduced lifespan of a manager it’s one of the reasons why going down that avenue has little appeal for Noble, even though he’s often been considered ideal for the role.
He’s not ready to sacrifice long-awaited time with his family and risk having to root for them for a job that might only last a couple of weeks.
Furthermore, 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 in the academy and I’ve never worn a badge,” he said.
“I love giving the youngsters pointers and telling them how they can improve, but I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and be sacked after six months.
“Once you’re sacked, there’s probably no way back for you at a club and I feel like I’ve still got a lot to offer, to keep improving it behind the scenes. Hopefully, once I have the longevity, I can affect it much more from the position I’m in than as a manager.”
Noble’s experience in relegation battles
When Noble returned to West Ham in January, it was clear that there was little money to spend.
So, as well as making changes to the club’s junior teams, 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 plaudits, finishing sixth and seventh for qualify for Europe. through their league position for the first time in their history.
“We weren’t doing very well in the league and it was a stressful time for a while,” he said.
“I was sitting on the sidelines when I was used to being able to help out on the pitch.
“It was a case of talking to the players and letting them know what it’s like to be there because, in reality, a lot of our players haven’t felt what it’s been like this year to be in a relegation battle.
“But I’ve been through it many times, so I tried to give them 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 have led the club to major trophy success, it means a lot to Noble that Declan Rice feels who has a worthy successor.
Rice’s ability on the pitch is unquestionable – Moyes described him as “probably the best English midfielder” this week. He is a key figure in Gareth Southgate’s squad and a potential leader for his country at some point in the future.
Rice is clearly a man in high demand too, although he has a year left on his contract, and the Hammers retain the option for a further season after that. arsenal is 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 seeing a young fan sobbing at the London Stadium after Manchester United’s win only because Rice was walking towards him.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Noble said. “That’s just the way he is. He’s got a really big heart.
“It gave me some comfort that he would stand in for me as captain. He continues with the morale that I have and the love for the club and the fans.
“It was a small 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 I spoke to the parents but he turned up and all the kids jumped on him.
“Dec is a better person than a player and that’s saying something.”