An 11-year-old is posing in a team photo for his first appearance at the Boleyn Ground.
But no one could have predicted what Mark Noble, the lad second from left in the back row, would go on to achieve for his football club.
It will be an emotional day and the end of an era for a club legend. To mark the occasion, The Athletic has spoken to his manager and some of his team-mates from that under-12s side to find out what made Noble stand out.
Back row left to right: Chris Cohen, Mark Noble, Tom Chapman, Matthew Reed, Darren Behcet, David Cummins, Ohran Stewart, Dean Neville, Richard Ketchell, Glenn Harvey.
Bottom row left to right: Daniel Glozier, Sean Ridgeway, Craig Hales, Danny Nicholls, Tony Stokes, Nicky Axford, Greg Barwick
Manager: Colin Reid
Current job: Football coach
He played in the age group below but one day Tony Carr said to me, “We have Mark Noble playing this week and he’s going to be a great player.” We played Crystal Palace and I played him but I thought he’d be better as a winger. The other coaches disagreed with me so I played him in the middle.
He was a leader from that age and very driven. I went to West Ham a few years ago and he was kind enough to give me a signed shirt for charity. He was a pleasure to coach. Mark was up there with the best of them. It’s just sad he never got that senior England cap. I could see him managing the club in the future.
We played in the Nike Cup final and our first game was against Manchester City. The season before, the law had changed that you could score directly from a kick-off. We played at Newcastle United’s training ground and back then I used to call Noble “Nobley”. Before every game, I’d tell him to always look at the goalkeeper. Nobes ran up, kicked the ball and lobbed their goalkeeper. I asked the cameraman, “Did you record that?’ He said, ‘No, I missed it. It was too quick.” I was so devastated.
I coached Ledley King and Peter Crouch, Scott Parker and Kevin Lisbie. The top players stand out. They’re winners. The emphasis is always on development but Mark was a winner from a young age. My only worry for Mark was his lack of pace. He had everything else.
Player: Darren Behcet
Current job: First-team goalkeeping coach at Plymouth Argyle
We just played football for fun. Look how innocent we all look! Academies can be cut-throat because some of the guys in the picture got released early. Chris Cohen, Mark Noble and Tony Stokes played for the first team. So full credit to Mark for going all the way and becoming a club legend. We all know about his football ability but he’s also a good person. Mark always looks out for others.
We would’ve won the FA Youth Cup had Mark played. We reached the semi-final against Southampton who had Theo Walcott, Nathan Dyer and Leon Best. But the week before, Mark was training with the first team and Alan Pardew said he couldn’t play in the game. We lost 4-1 and we lost because we didn’t have Mark. When the lads found out he wasn’t going to play, most of us were down. When people ask me how influential he was I always bring up that game.
Both our dads are close so we would go to Mark’s house before training. I lived in Bermondsey so we would go past the A13 and get in Mark’s dad’s car and go together. Mark’s a bit of a joker so the journeys to and from Chadwell Heath (West Ham’s old training ground) cemented our friendship. Me being a goalkeeper, I always tried to make sure I was on the same team as Mark. Once he was on the opposition team and he lobbed me. I chased him around the pitch and Tony Carr shouted at me to get back in goal.
I’m very grateful I got to experience playing at Upton Park for the first time with Mark. I was there for the last game against Manchester United (in May 2016) with his dad. I felt lucky to be there — and I’m happy I’ll be there with his family for his last game at the London Stadium.
Name: Tony Stokes
Current job: Plays for Hullbridge Sports
I feel old looking at that picture. Mark’s hairstyle hasn’t changed over the past 20 years! It’s unbelievable where we started and progressing through the youth ranks with Nobes and still watching him on TV today.
Me and Mark often played up a year. We played a Nike Cup in Durham and Nobes scored from kick-off. It’s the best goal he’s ever scored! It’s a shame there’s no footage of it.
Mark was never afraid to speak on behalf of the players. He was our captain, he went on to captain the first team and the junior teams for England. He’s always been a leader. That’s why he’s been able to help players like Ben Johnson and Declan Rice. But then you have a lot of people in the photo who didn’t have a career in the game.
I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t get a statue. He’s the best team-mate any player could ask for.
Name: Daniel Glozier
Current job: Electrician
First of all, that’s a brilliant kit. We had so much kit given to us.
At that age, you feel like you’re the man. Those were some great memories for me, Mark and others. It reached a point where it got more serious and some of us got released, sadly. I played for a few other clubs but then you have to start thinking about life after football so I signed up for an electrician course and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I played with Mark before at a club called Heath Park. I have a shirt in the garage, our under-11 shirt. Then most of us joined West Ham. I was there for two years and got released at under-14s.
I haven’t spoken to Mark in years and it would be good to get in contact with him again. I used to see him loads when we were younger. My claim to fame is I played in the same team as Mark Noble! He loves that club so much. You don’t get players like that any more.
Name: Ohran Stewart
Current job: Works in finance
Mark fitted in straight away when he joined from Arsenal. We had a lot of talented players but Mark was special.
We used to train a few times a week and play matches on Sunday. I remember there was one training session Mark missed for the under-14s. It wasn’t a good session, we were poor that day. Colin, our manager, sat us down and said, “Do you guys know why we had a bad session today? It’s because Mark wasn’t there.” And we realised it was true.
He was more driven than everyone else. I’m the smallest guy in that picture but I bumped into Mark a year ago at a bar and I’m much taller than him now! He was with Mason Mount and Declan Rice, he noticed me and we had a great catch-up.
I used to live in Canary Wharf and West Ham stayed at a hotel nearby before home games. I went there for breakfast one day and someone kept shouting my name. I looked and realised it was Mark. He hasn’t changed one bit. He’s the most genuine, down-to-earth guy you’ll meet.
To do what he’s done over that period of time and be a club legend is unheard of. He deserves all his success. I’m more than proud of him.
Name: Dean Neville
Current job: Programme Manager at Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime
We beat Norwich 5-0 that day. Good times. My son is eight, he loves football and he’s going to play at Carrow Road soon. So it’s gone full circle.
I knew Mark before we joined West Ham. Me, Stokes and a guy called Tom Chapman played against Mark for our Sunday League team. The star at the time was Stokes. I remember him being highlighted in the match day programme.
We hit under-14 and Mark was amazing. Everything went through him, he was our captain, then all of a sudden he’s taking free kicks and penalties.
Nothing’s been given to Mark. He’s had to work hard to achieve everything in his career and it makes me so proud. He’s been at West Ham for 24 years. That’s a long time to spend at one club.
Name: Chris Cohen
Current job: First team coach at Luton Town
Mark has mentioned before I was the player he looked up to. But Mark was always ahead and myself and others wanted to be as good as him. When he joined the club, he set the bar to a new level. He was a role model for us in the way he played and conducted himself.
He was 11 but he behaved like a 30-year-old. Even at that age, he was everything you’d want in a first-team player. Mark will be humble and reference other players, but it was always him who was viewed as the promising prospect. He looks exactly the same now as he did when he was 11.
Me and Mark are still very good friends. Sometimes I don’t see him as much as I’d like because I live far away. But watching everything he’s gone on to achieve makes me smile.
We used to speak on the phone for 20 minutes every morning before training. The dream was to play for West Ham and we were both lucky enough to do it.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Mark. He’s had adversity at West Ham, whether it’s managers or ownership, but you can’t find one player who will say Mark doesn’t care about the club.
He wants what’s best for West Ham and the way he’s captained the team through good and bad times is exemplary. He gives all the young players in the academy hope. That’s the best legacy anyone could leave.
(Design: Sam Richardson)