End-of-season games frequently have an odd dynamic, a sense of being played at cross purposes. On the one hand, Manchester City was struggling for victory as they sought their fourth league title in five years. West Ham, on the other hand, is revelling in the spoils of a successful season and eager to commemorate the final home game of one of their finest recent players, Mark Noble.
You didn’t have to be a West Ham fan or a fan of their captain, Mark Noble, to find his farewell speech moving on Sunday.
The outpouring of emotion, the pomp and circumstance, spoke something about the current game. Noble never won anything other than promotion while playing for West Ham.
In 18 seasons, he was named the club’s Player of the Year only twice. No England caps, only one PFA team of the season selection, and that was in the Championship a decade ago. Still, he was adored, honoured, and idolised. Why? – because he stuck with them no matter what!
He could have made a little more money if he had grabbed a signing bonus somewhere. He chose to remain. These days, few people stay.
Fewer still come from Canning Town. Noble’s roots were broadcast live at the London Stadium on Sunday, as if he’d been discovered in Timbuktu.
That is what Noble stood for. That’s why Sunday’s celebration was tinged with regret. We adore our modern league and everything it stands for. But, at the time, ‘he’s one of our own’ wasn’t a boast; it was a fact so unimportant that no one cared to mention it.
Mark Noble – the last of his kind
“I feel like very rarely do people get their exit right, whether in work, in business – you always feel, ‘Maybe I will go again’,” Noble said.
“From the feelings I’ve had this year and what the players have done for us in the games we have had, it’s perfect. Because I know what I will do if I don’t and I keep on trying to play: I’ll regret it and I’ve never regretted anything up until now.”
“There were tough times but there was no way I was going to walk away and leave the club,” he said. “If I had done, I wouldn’t have had the moments I have had this year. Sometimes it is easy to go, ‘Do you know what? I can’t deal with this anymore and I am going to go to another club’.
“That is the easy option. I never had that thought in my mind. I was always going to strive to make the football club the best it can be, to drag the players with me, to help the staff here because everybody is affected when the club is not doing well and thankfully I have done that.
“It would have been a lot harder for me to walk away if the club was in a tougher situation or it was struggling because I always felt a responsibility to get us out of the rubbish, if you know what I mean. It’s a lot easier to leave on a good note.”