Gone fishing… with Mark Noble! Sportsmail joins West Ham’s star for a night by the lake as he reveals his passion for catching
Mark Noble is making his bed for the night and desperately hoping his sleep is disturbed. Usually any interruption would be due to one of his two children waking up, but as he unfolds a slim mattress he is a fair few miles from home.
If he rises once the sun sets this evening it will be because he has hooked a big one.
Noble is overnight carp fishing in the Essex countryside. It is the West Ham midfielder’s great release from the ‘million miles an hour’ game that is football; a relaxing, quiet pursuit to counterbalance the frenetic day job.
Hooked: Mark Noble, here at Honeypot Lakes in Essex, has rediscovered his love of angling
‘Some of the lads can’t believe I chuck them back’
‘You just switch off really,’ Noble says as he glances at his line in one of two deep pools that make up Honeypot Lakes. ‘It’s so peaceful. You’re concentrating on your rods so you tend to forget about everything else.’
That includes the mixed start his club have experienced in the Barclays Premier League this season, his impressive record from the penalty spot and his future as he approaches a decade of serving the team he supported as a child growing up in east London.
On this trip the 26-year-old will be asked to reflect on those topics, but for now they can wait. There is fishing to be done. It is a boyhood hobby Noble had forgotten until this summer.
‘I used to do a lot of fishing with my dad, usually in Beckton Boating Lake,’ Noble recalls. ‘That was a little bit different from this — there are no shopping trolleys here! Then I moved out and forgot how good it was. I’m pretty sure my mum sold all my gear.
THE NOBLE CAUSE
Only three players have created more chances than Mark Noble this season…
23 – David Silva (Man City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
21 – Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
20 – Mark Noble (West Ham)
19 – Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich)
18 – Adam Johnson (Sunderland), Adam Lallana (Southampton)
‘This summer I was on holiday in Florida, on an island called Boca Grande, and went fishing every day. That got me hooked again. We would do it all night from about 10 o’clock to five in the morning. It was one of the best experiences of my life.’
After Florida came a West Ham tour in Germany and a hotel chef with an eye for a meal. ‘There was a lake at the back that had never been fished. It was the middle of nowhere. The chef gave us one rod and we caught a little silver fish.
‘He came out, stuck that on a treble hook, and within about half an hour we had a 20lb pike. He wanted to cook it and kept saying, “I’ll put it on the buffet”. None of the boys wanted him to.’
Whenever Noble regales his team-mates with tales of big catches now, however, three players always have a question.
‘Modibo Maiga, Guy Demel and Momo Diame can’t understand how you go fishing and chuck them back,’ Noble explains. ‘They say, “Bring it in, I’ll eat it.” I say, “You’re not allowed to do that here!”’
Since the start of the season Noble has been fishing nearly every week, including a handful of these overnight stays, but only when there is no training the next day.
By the bank in front of us, there are three high-tech lines flung far into the pool. Each has a little red light that flashes and bleeps when the hook at the other end senses a strong movement. A receiver slung round Noble’s neck sounds an alarm when he needs to start reeling something in.
Last time he caught a 28-pounder during a torrential downpour at 4.30am. The following Sunday West Ham stunned Tottenham 3-0. It was a week for netting big fish.
‘I was kipping in my bivvy and my receiver started screaming,’ Noble recalls. ‘It was wind, rain, everything but I didn’t have time to put my shoes on. You’re concentrating on getting to the rod and making sure the fish is still on the line.
‘I had a T-shirt on and tracksuit bottoms and socks. It was soaking wet and so dark. I landed the fish, though, that’s the most important thing.
‘You can’t sleep after that, you’re just buzzing. When the alarm goes off it’s doubly exciting. It’s the equivalent of scoring a goal.’
He is not the only footballer spending hours by the water’s edge. Andy Carroll came on a trip a month ago and Lee Bowyer — ‘a top fisherman’ — regularly shares advice. Jimmy Bullard and Bobby Zamora both ‘love it’ and John Terry has built a lake in his garden.
Such a fraternity doesn’t stop jokes being made at Noble’s expense in training, but more for his mode of transport. ‘I ended up buying a van to chuck all my fishing gear in because I couldn’t keep using my car,’ Noble says. ‘The lads have absolutely hammered me for that.’
All of a sudden, an alarm sounds 50 yards away. James, Noble’s close friend and fishing companion, has had a nibble.
‘Yes, we’ve got one,’ shouts Noble as he sprints to assist. But by the time we arrive, seconds later, the fish has wriggled free. ‘You’re joking,’ he says, crestfallen.
‘Sometimes you can lift the rod too early,’ James explains.
‘Gutted,’ sighs Noble. ‘Get it straight back out there.’
By now, the sun has gone down and the temperature has dropped. In a short while the pair will heat two cans of soup over a portable hob for dinner.
There is time enough to switch the conversation to football. The game has been Noble’s life since his dad cut a hole in the garden fence so he could wriggle through to practise skills on the field behind.
Mature: Noble was given his debut by Alan Pardew at just 17 when they were in the Championship
Born in Canning Town, a sweetly struck set-piece away from Upton Park, he joined West Ham’s academy at 13. This followed a couple of years under Liam Brady at Arsenal which came to an end because Mark Snr couldn’t get away from work in time to take his son to training in north London.
Alan Pardew gave Noble his debut at only 17 — ‘my shirt was so baggy I looked like a 12-year-old’ — and he has now made 258 appearances under five different managers.
There has been one relegation but two promotions.
His total of 172 Premier League games is the fifth highest by a West Ham player, behind John Moncur (175), Rob Green and Trevor Sinclair (both 177) and Steve Potts (204).
Last season he signed a five-year contract that should see him playing at the Olympic Stadium and there is a sense that this academy graduate can become a one-club local hero in the mould of Paul Scholes or Steven Gerrard.
‘I’m really happy where I am at the minute, playing good football and enjoying it,’ he says. ‘Players such as Scholes and Gerrard, Ryan Giggs and Jamie Carragher have consistently performed at the top level and played hundreds of games. It’s fantastic, I’d love that. But you never know what’s round the corner.’
Noble’s passing ability perhaps gets overlooked away from the Boleyn Ground but he has been a constant presence amid the flux of Pardew, Alan Curbishley, Gianfranco Zola, Avram Grant and now Sam Allardyce, collecting 20 England Under 21 caps along the way. His current role as midfield fulcrum is vitally important in starting attacks and breaking up play.
‘I’ve played under Sam for two-and-a-half years now. It’s fantastic,’ says Noble.
‘He has this reputation for booting it but he’s never told me to do that.’
Noble has a reputation for converting penalties. He has scored 23 since wrestling the ball from Craig Bellamy in August 2007, at Birmingham, late on with the match at 0-0.
‘Bellers looked at me and said, “You can have it but you better f***ing score”,’ Noble remembers. ‘I scored and I’ve always taken them since then.
‘I don’t know how many I’ve scored but I know how many I’ve missed: Hull and Chelsea. Frank Lampard has got a lot of stick from West Ham fans over the years but he was the first one to come up to me after that game and say, “Make sure next time you smash it in the back of the net”.
‘Obviously you’ve always got players in the team who think they should be taking penalties. Right now Ravel Morrison tells me, “If you weren’t on penalties, I’m taking them”. He wants to dink them down the middle.’
Morrison and Noble starred in West Ham’s victory at Spurs. But in 15th place, just one point above the drop zone, they need a few more results like that.
‘It’s started a bit tough for us this year, not picking up as many points as we wanted to,’ he concedes. ‘It was a blow when Andy Carroll got injured. But we’ll push on from here hopefully.’
In this instant, however, Noble can clear his mind of football and focus on angling.
‘I just want one of these rods to go, then you’ll see the fun in it,’ he says.
But the lake keeper has arrived to lock up and it is time for me to leave. Ten hours later, a text message reveals that Noble’s net remained empty on this occasion.
There will be other nights when he does not rest as soundly.