Talking Point

LISTEN: Fascinating Interview With Mark Noble

Mark Noble has done a fascinating two part interview with European football journalist Graham Hunter.

Graham introduces the first part on his blog

JUNE 20, 2007. That was the day England faced their Dutch counterparts in a European Under-21 Championship semi-final and were only sent home after an all-out penalty battle royal. A record was set, with the 25 spot-kicks required to separate the sides still standing as the longest penalty shoot out in UEFA history. It was also the day that Mark Noble, who scored twice in that shoot out, was left in tears as his side fell just short of the final. But don’t worry, the midfielder was later consoled by a few sympathetic northerners he met on holiday. He was happy to be put on the spot for his country in Heerenveen, having practised penalties repeatedly in training sessions before the tournament. “Every day after training, every player took a penalty and [head coach] Stuart Pearce stood there with a pad and pen and took notes,” Mark says in the podcast:
“Mark, scored. James Milner, scored. Tom Huddlestone, scored. He went through the line, bang, bang, bang, bang… I never missed.” It is a habit he has continued throughout his career, with Mark now established as the penalty taker for West Ham United – and in this Big Interview he gives a wonderfully honest account of how he handles that responsibility.

Listen to part one HERE

This is Graham’s introduction to the second part of the interview…

MARK Noble grew up with a football field for a back garden. Or at least he did once his dad had a secret gate installed behind the house, so that Mark could take a ball and sneak on to the grounds of a school. It was not too long before he was stepping out at Upton Park. Or should that be the Boleyn Ground? Either way, in Part Two of his Big Interview, Mark talks about that famous old stadium and the final game there, against Manchester United under the lights. Mark has kept a photograph from that night – a picture of the West Ham fans looking on as he shields the ball to help see out the game. He remains connected to his support, his community, and Mark talks eloquently about the social housing projects being undertaken by the Legacy Foundation, which he founded alongside two other London boys: Bobby Zamora and Rio Ferdinand. Mark is a good footballer and a good man.

Listen to part two: HERE

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Video

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud - The Day We Beat Man City 5-1

Mud, glorious mud. This is our 5-1 demolition of Manchester City (those were the days!) at Maine Road in 1970. I seem to remember the Boleyn Ground pitch could get pretty muddy, but surely not as bad as this.

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Player Analysis

What is our Strongest First Eleven?

OK, OK, it’s only Tuesday, but I’m already looking forward to Saturday’s away game against Watford. It’s the sort of game we should be aiming to get three points from. Given that we have virtually all our players available for selection – Sakho being the exception – I thought it would be useful to try to decide what our strongest lineup might be. There are various dilemmas for Slaven Bilic, not least who to play in midfield.

GOALKEEPER
I’m wondering whether Adrian might be nearing a recall given that despite some fine performances there are still the odd doubts about Darren Randolph. I’m probably wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

DEFENCE
Reid and Fonte are the clear first choices as central defenders in a four man defence. Cresswell is first choice left back, although Masuaku is a good challenger for him. At right back it is less clear. Personally, I think Sam Byram is a great player but he never seems to get a run in the side, either because he is thwarted by injury or the manager thinks he’s too young. Kouyate has filled in in this position in the last few games, but he didn’t have a happy game against West Bromwich Albion, and is clearly itching to get back to his preferred midfield berth. I give Byram the nod against Watford.

MIDFIELD
If we accept that Antonio and Snodgrass will play out wide, then there are three central midfield places up for grabs. Kouyate, Noble and Obiang would seem to be the obvious choices, although that might be considered quite a defensive choice. Sofiane Feghouli seems to be getting better with each game, and having scored against WBA he will feel hard done by if he’s dropped to the bench. Lanzini is back in form plus Andre Ayew is back and seems to be raring to go, but I can’t see how he can command a place unless we move to a 4-4-1-1 formation – but even then, that would mean he would play instead of Lanzini or Snodgrass. I just can’t see it.

Of course if we were to play a more attacking formation one of Noble/Obiang/Kouyate would have to be dropped. On current form you’d have to say that Mark Noble’s place might well be in jeopardy, but can you really drop your team captain? I know Zaman got a lot of flak when he retweeted another site’s tweet, which suggested just that, but I’m afraid it’s a route Bilic will inevitably have to consider going down.

STRIKER
Andy Carroll. Who else?

So if the entire first team squad is fit, this is my first eleven and bench…

Randolph, Reid, Fonte, Cresswell, Byram, Kouyate, Obiang/Noble, Snodgrass, Antonio, Lanzini, Carroll
Adrian, Collins, Fernandes, Sakho, Feghouli, Ayew, Obiang/Noble

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Guest Post

The Importance of Keeping Our Academy Stars

Guest post by Aleksandar Babac

NOTE FROM ZAMAN: The author has written a piece on the Academy of Football, and our current crop of youngsters. He is also the creator of the largest West Ham-based Croatian Facebook page.

Last week in a match between Southend United and Millwall, Anton Ferdinand made a crossed Hammers sign to the Millwall fans leaving the referee no choice but to give him a booking. But in all fairness, they were giving him abuse all match. Regardless, the Academy graduate needed to show his true colours of Claret and Blue!

These days, people think that they can call themselves fans by buying a replica kit. But it isn’t just the fans who couldn’t care less about club history. In fact, even most footballers playing in foreign leagues don’t seem to care much about it. By contrast, the Academy offers something else. Not only do the lads learn to play, but also learn what commitment and loyalty actually mean. As it turns out, these values (in addition to playing well) are good indicators of success at West Ham. For instance, Academy graduates Cottee, Ince, Potts, Ferdinand, Cole, and Noble have all been voted Hammer of the Year.

We have been fortunate enough to have extremely talented players go through our Academy. Whether they continued playing for our club or not, there is no doubt that our club has made the single biggest contribution to English football in recent decades. For instance, Rio Ferdinand is regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation, and is one of England’s best centre-backs. Although most of them are nearing the end of their careers with other clubs, they are testament to our club’s strong stance on youth development, starting off young, playing football in the same neighbourhoods as some of the supporters. Some may call them deserters, but it is worth keeping in mind that they gave their all whilst wearing the Claret and Blue jersey.

I think that this is an issue that we haven’t properly addressed. Just why did some of our famous graduates leave? To name a few, Moore, Hurst, and Peters left West Ham, in spite of the huge support they received from the fans. Money is the first thing that comes to mind. Rio was only 22 when we sold him to Leeds United for a then England transfer record of £18M. Last month, Frank Lampard Jr. announced his retirement. After 15 years since his move to Chelsea, the jury is still out on him. There was enormous pressure on him to deliver, being the son of Frank Lampard Snr. and the nephew of Harry Redknapp. But let’s remember that we did troll our very own Academy graduate. At the age of just 19, the lad was mocked after he broke his leg during a match against Aston Villa. Seriously, how can our fans justify that?

Some 18 years ago, our U19’s team demolished Coventry City in the FA Youth Cup final winning 9-0 on aggregate in two remarkable legs. In the second leg played at the Boleyn, there were more than 26,000 spectators. Maestro Joe Cole ran the show with Michael Carrick on the wing. The quality on show was just something else! That said, many of our Academy players decided to leave years later. Have we now got a preference for more expensive enforcements than home-grown youngsters?

Relegation in 2003 cost us dearly. We sold Carrick, Cole, Defoe, Johnson, as well as the the Academy skipper Billy Mehmet. It has taken us 15 years to recover from it. Our current youngsters are doing well, winning the U21 Premier League Cup led by Reece Oxford. But we need to remove our feeder club image. I’m sure that most of you will agree that we should keep our current youngsters. Let’s continue our legacy of producing young starlets!

When West Ham beat West Germany, Peters one and Geoffrey three, and Bobby got his OBE!


Talking Point

Can Gianfranco Zola Turn Things Around?

You’ve got to feel sorry for Birmingham City fans. A few months ago they could have reasonably expected that come the end of the season they would be there of thereabouts in the push for promotion. They had a highly rated young manager in Gary Rowett and after a few years in the doldrums things were finally looking up.

And then their Board decided to sack Rowett. At the time it seemed inexplicable, and a few months on it still does.

Within a few hours they had appointed Gianfranco Zola.

I yield to no one in my admiration for Zola. A prince among men. A king among players. Yet right from the off, the appointment left most of us scratching our heads. Zola to Birmingham? Really?

Having said that, I never thought Gold and Sullivan gave him enough of a chance at West Ham. They dispensed with his services far too speedily. I loved the way he managed our players and they clearly thought the world of him. He even managed to transform Carlton Cole into an England player. However, many people at the club thought that while he was a good coach, it was Steve Clarke who was the defacto manager. And you have to say that since then, Zola’s record as a manager is hardly stellar. He took Watford to the Playoffs in 2013, but resigned six months later. At Cagliari he was sacked after three months, and at Al-Arabi he lasted only 26 games.

At Birmingham, he has amassed a miserly total of 6 points out of a possible 36 since his appointment in December. The club have slipped to 14th place, 18 points below the playoffs. Zola is now seeking talks with the club’s Chinese owners.

Yesterday, after the 4-1 home defeat to QPR Zola said this:

“At the moment, I am feeling very low, but I take full responsibility. I am probably not giving enough and it is making me upset. I have committed myself to the club and I am doing it with a lot of passion. We do not like where we are at the present time, but I really care about this club and I want to help them.”

Even now I still hope it works out for Zola. If it doesn’t I doubt he’ll be given another chance in English football, which would be a great shame.

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