As West Ham were cruising to an emphatic 4-1 victory over Leicester they indulged themselves in one of those prolonged sessions of keep ball, with each successive pass greeted by the joyous olés of the home crowd. There were only two minutes remaining and it looked as though this could go on until the final whistle as 10-man Leicester had thrown in the towel and were reluctant to close their opponents down. However, there was one man in the stadium who was desperate for this triumphalism to stop and he wasn’t from Brendan Rodgers’ well beaten side.
Itching to get involved in the action, he was on the sidelines hoping that there would be a break in play to allow him to get on to the pitch. With barely a minute remaining the ball finally went out of play. This was the cue for Michail Antonio to be substituted to much acclaim. In the second half Antonio had surpassed Paolo di Canio as West Ham’s leading Premier League scorer with his 48th goal, before adding another for good measure. The orchestrated celebration with a cardboard cut-out of himself was almost justified.
Antonio had started the season on the same number of goals as one of the players waiting to come on. As Antonio and Said Benrahma left the field, on came Andriy Yarmolenko and another West Ham record holder who the fans admire and adore. Mark Noble was notching up his 404th appearance for the club and although he is 37th on the all-time list for Premier League appearances, he is one of only six players who have reached over 400 with one club – see table below – and he is the only one still playing.
Players with 400 PL appearances for one club
Player, Club – PL Appearances
Ryan Giggs, Manchester United – 632
Jamie Carragher, Liverpool – 508
Steven Gerrard, Liverpool – 504
Paul Scholes, Manchester United – 499
John Terry, Chelsea – 492
Mark Noble, West Ham – 404
This will be Noble’s last season, having started at the Arsenal academy in 1998 at the age of eleven, he joined The Hammers, the club he supported, a couple of years later. He became a member of the senior squad in 2004, making his league debut in January 2005 and came on as a substitute in the Championship Play-Offs Final in May when West Ham beat Preston to regain their Premier League status. In the opening game of the following season he made his Premier League debut against Blackburn when coming on as a substitute to replace Teddy Sheringham.
That substitute appearance was one of only fifteen during those first couple of seasons back in the top flight and he was loaned out to both Hull and Ipswich in 2006 before establishing himself in the side by the 2007/08 season. Over the next thirteen campaigns he has averaged 30 league games a season and aside from his impressive tally of matches, Mr West Ham has proved to be one of the most reliable penalty-takers in the Premier League. With 27 of his 47 goals coming from the penalty spot, he lies fourth equal on the list alongside Sergio Agüero – see table below.
Leading penalty scorers in Premier League
Player Penalties scored/taken
Alan Shearer 55/58
Frank Lampard 43/50
Steven Gerrard 32/39
Sergio Agüero 27/33
Mark Noble 27/31
Jamie Vardy 26/31
Harry Kane 24/27
Matthew Le Tissier 25/26
Thierry Henry 23/23
Wayne Rooney 23/33
With a conversion rate of 87%, Noble ranks as one of the most successful penalty-takers in the Premier League. For those who have scored at least twenty, only three have a better conversion rate. He is certainly keeping lofty company with three of the best players to grace the Premier League starting with Matt Le Tissier, whose only miss out of his 48 spot kicks in all competitions, was in March 1993 when Mark Crossley saved his penalty. Thierry Henry did not blot his copybook, boasting a spotless record from the spot with all his 23 Premier League penalties. Finally, all-time leading scorer Alan Shearer missed just three of the 58 penalties he rifled home for Blackburn and Newcastle.
During those long years of service Noble has inevitably had the odd fractious moment. There was the infamous incident in March 2018 when disgruntled fans invaded the pitch during the 3-0 home loss to Burnley. Noble did not shy away from physically confronting one of the invaders with a robust tackle that would have gone down well at Twickenham. “I wouldn’t say (I felt) endangered,” Noble said. “But you never know in this world. I’ve been at this club for a long, long time. I’m a West Ham fan myself and I’ve always protected it, but if someone approaches me on the pitch I’m gonna protect myself, full stop.”
Last year he was brutally candid about his displeasure over the sale of Grady Diangana to West Brom when he tweeted: “As captain of this football club I’m gutted, angry and sad that Grady has left, great kid with a great future!!!” In proving he is not a yes man, Noble deserves as much respect as his undoubted loyalty demands. As his two decades of service draw to a close a few others will be looking to follow in his footsteps. Cesar Azpilicueta celebrated his 32nd birthday with a 300th Premier League appearance against Liverpool on Saturday. There is talk of a new contract to extend his stay beyond next year so the Spaniard may yet get close to 400.
Another one-club man who started his career at the same time as Azpilicueta in 2012/13, is fast approaching 300 appearances and has the advantage of relative youth on his side. James Ward-Prowse is entering his second decade at Southampton and having just signed a five-year contract, the 26 year-old will have a chance to add considerably to his 272 appearances for the Saints. For the time being there is one leader with the others as mere pretenders to his crown as the Nobleman of the Premier League.