This won’t be the last the London Stadium see of Mark Noble. He’ll be back. Of course, he will. Born in Canning Town and raised in the club’s famed academy, West Ham has been Noble’s past and present.
Expect it to be his future, too. Discussions are ongoing over how the club can best utilise Noble in a non-playing executive capacity.
Noble, it is understood, wants a position that he can sink his teeth into; a role that provides tangible responsibility in shaping the future of a club he’s dedicated his life to.
Mark Noble appeared teary-eyed following a tribute from fans before his last home game
He doesn’t want to make up the numbers – it’s not something he is used to.
During an 18 year senior career, the 35-year-old has lived and breathed West Ham.
His influence in the Hammers team for nearly two decades is unrivalled: the passes, the tackles, the energy, the hunger, the drive, the goals – all 62 of them.
Noble made his long-awaited entrance into the game with 13 minutes to go after coming off the bench
Quite why Noble was never afforded a chance at international level will remain one of English football’s mysteries.
West Ham coach Kevin Keen, who helped nurture Noble during the midfielder’s passage through the academy, put it rather bluntly at half time: ‘It’s a joke from the FA.’
Looking forward, Declan Rice is the obvious heir to Noble’s throne – but it seems highly unlikely the 23-year-old will dedicate his entire career to West Ham.
That’s no criticism of Rice, who should do what is right for himself.
The one-club man and West Ham captain was presented with a framed shirt after the match
Yet it emphasises exactly what West Ham have had in Noble. That’s what makes people like him so rare – the epitome of a one-club man.
There hasn’t been an ounce of sentiment attached to Noble’s selections because he’s a local lad; he’s earned and deserved all of his 540-plus appearances.
Indeed, David Moyes – just as the Hammers faithful were preparing to give their hero a good old fashioned Cockney send-off – turned his back on the occasion to start Noble on the bench.
Pep Guardiola gave Noble a warm embrace after full-time and had some words for the player
Noble wouldn’t have had it any other way. That’s why he’s hanging up his boots, he could have continued his playing career – West Ham would have, of course, extended his contract.
But that isn’t in Noble’s nature. He got on eventually, introduced for the final 13 minutes to help steady a West Ham ship that was rocking after surrendering a 2-0 lead to Manchester City.
Yet his non-selection didn’t prevent fans who have supported – and on the odd occasion abused Noble – bidding an emotional farewell to their captain.
Declan Rice is the obvious candidate to succeed Mark Noble but it is unlikely he gives his entire career to the east London club
Upton Park will always be Noble’s spiritual home; but here on Sunday the London Stadium rose to a man to salute the midfielder, who was sent out just before kick-off to receive the adulation.
The strain of the occasion was etched across Noble’s face as he strode on to West Ham’s home pitch for the last time as a professional footballer to be greeted with a fan mosaic that read ‘MN16’.
Eventually Noble broke; tears streaming down his face he sauntered back towards the tunnel to take his place on the bench.
Mark Noble paid tribute to the West Ham faithful after the game – saying he had 60,000 family members in the ground on Sunday
The day was devoted to Noble; a flurry of video messages from supporters was played on the two gigantic screens behind both goals before kick-off – one fan even confessing to naming his dog after the skipper.
Post-match, Noble’s last hurrah was in full swing, flanked by a host of his current and former team-mates – he took centre stage at the London Stadium one final time.
‘I’ve got a lot of family here today – and when I say a lot of family I mean 60,000,’ said Noble as he addressed the stadium.
David Moyes refused to bow to sentimentality and left his skipper on the bench until 13 minutes from the end
‘I hope in the last 18 years that I’ve done you proud.’
But it was left to one of the most recognisable Eastenders of them all to encapsulate exactly how West Ham feel about their departing leader.
‘One of our own, forever our boy,’ roared Danny Dyer on the big screens just before kick-off.
For once Dyer wasn’t acting.