West Ham captain Mark Noble matches milestone record of Steve Potts
- Credit: Griffiths Photographers
It may have lasted only a few minutes, but Mark Noble’s late substitute appearance in West Ham’s stunning 3-0 victory at Leicester City last week marked a very special double milestone alongside a fellow Academy of Football legend.
The 33-year-old has now made 506 first team outings in Claret and Blue – the exact same number that former defender, and now Under-23 Assistant Coach, Steve Potts reached during his own illustrious playing career at the Club between 1985 and 2002.
The staggering figure highlights the almost identical path that the pair have followed – both local lads who joined the Club from school, both represented England at junior level, both made their first team debuts at 17, both went on to captain the Club, both voted Hammer of the Year on two occasions and both still fantastic servants and ambassadors for West Ham United.
Noble, whose son Lenny is making his early steps through the Academy in the Under-11 age group, still spends much of his time at Chadwell Heath, often alongside Potts, passing on their experience, wisdom and knowledge to the youngsters, and the pair shared a special moment this week to celebrate their combined achievement.
“It’s quite something really,” says Noble. “I can remember training here at Chadwell Heath as a schoolboy of 15 just as Pottsy was finishing his career and now, here we are, almost 20 years later, and I’ve played the same amazing number of games as he did…something I would never dreamed would be achievable.
“It’s so important that people like Steve are still here at the football club. Every single young player who comes through the doors here knows that, if they want to speak to someone who has been on their journey, Steve is there.
“The same way they can speak to me if they need to – having that experience around is vital and, for me, it’s great to be able to pop in here and have a chat with Pottsy, spend some time with the boys and see all the fantastic work that goes on in our Academy.”
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It’s more than 35 years since Potts made his first team debut for the Hammers, against QPR on New Year’s Day 1985.
In 1,711 senior competitive matches played since that date, the fact that 1,012 of them have included either Steve Potts or Mark Noble in the line-up is testament to their standing in the club’s 125-year history.
Should Noble step out against Tottenham on Sunday, he will move up to seventh in the club’s list of all-time appearances, just 41 games behind the great Jimmy Ruffell in sixth place, and no-one is more delighted to see the current club captain reach that position than Potts himself.
“I’m obviously proud that I played 506 times for West Ham United,” he says, “but for Mark to pass that in this day and age is something truly special. The game has changed so much – when I started out it was more common for players to stay at a Club their whole careers, and there were a few I played with, such as Alvin Martin, who got to that level.
“But it is so rare nowadays, and that sums up what a magnificent servant Mark has been – and still is – for West Ham. When I was playing, I didn’t really think about it too much, the games just racked up – it was only when I finished that I had to pinch myself a bit and realise what an achievement it was to play than 500 games, and I’m sure Mark will feel the same.
“I hope he gets to 507 on Sunday at Spurs and then I hope he goes on to make many more appearances, because he deserves it for the service he has given to this Club.”
Steve’s youngest son Freddie is also in the Academy, having just joined the Under-18 squad as a full-time scholar – following in the footsteps of his older brother Daniel, who made 13 first-team appearances for the Hammers between 2011 and 2014 – and the 53-year-old admits that the spirit and sense of family values running through Chadwell Heath is something embodied by Noble.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Mark and what he does for this football club. Speaking from an Academy point of view, we couldn’t ask for anyone better to represent us.
“Despite the fact that he is still playing at the highest level, in the pressure of the Premier League, he is here at Chadwell Heath most nights of the week, offering advice, guidance and giving his time to everyone.
“And that’s not just with the players here. I see him in the car park, talking to parents, talking to the coaches and staff, and that is inspirational for us. No one can ever under-estimate what Mark Noble has done for West Ham United and we should all be very proud of him.”
Joint-Chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold also paid tribute to the pair, saying: “We are extremely proud and grateful that Steve Potts and Mark Noble belong to West Ham United, and we congratulate Mark on drawing level on appearances with Steve, a magnificent achievement.
“Steve and Mark are the greatest ambassadors our Academy could wish for, and the perfect role models for every single young player who steps foot through the door at Chadwell Heath.
“They have been a constant and reassuring presence for so many years at the football club, and play such an important part in illustrating everything that we stand for.”