While there are various players in non-league who began or tasted footballing life at the higher levels, David Noble is probably part of an altogether more exclusive club in having had his ability lauded by Paul Gascoigne in one of the England icon’s books. The former Arsenal and West Ham United youngster was part of the Bristol City side that almost went from League One to Premier League in two seasons under Gary Johnson just over a decade ago, if not for the right boot of a peroxide Dean Windass in the Wembley heat for Hull City.
Nevertheless, his stunning effort in the dying moments of the semi-final first leg at Crystal Palace is still fresh in the memory for many Robins fans – a show-stopping live TV standout from the most enjoyable period in the Hertfordshire native’s professional career. Now 37, he can still be found in the engine room, three years into his time at St Albans City in the National League South. Even with full-time work and the arrival of his newborn daughter, like any crafty midfield operator, he found time and space here to scan forward and back in this ‘Players’ Bar’ Q&A…
Favourite team and player growing up
Arsenal; still is to this day. Player, I had two: I had Paul Merson from Arsenal, and a bit controversial, I also had Paul Gascoigne at Tottenham.
Favourite game(s) you’ve played in and why?
Crystal Palace, (Championship) play-off semi-final (May 2008 – David scored an injury-time stunner to give Bristol City a first-leg advantage); that one just comes instantly to mind. The other one maybe above that was the season before, last game of the season at Bristol City, we played Rotherham and had to win (to seal automatic promotion to the Championship) and I scored two (in a 3-1 home victory).
As well as that play-off goal at Palace there was also a pinpoint free-kick against Sheffield Wednesday for Exeter that sticks in the mind. Are there any other personal favourites?
I didn’t get loads, but obviously those two, without a shadow of a doubt. I would say those two and the two in the Rotherham game I was talking about. I got a good one against Sheffield United (for Exeter in a 4-4 draw at Bramall Lane, October 2011), and my first, I suppose, Watford v Grimsby (in a 3-0 away win for Gianluca Vialli’s Watford, October 2001).
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
I couldn’t have had a better start really under my (Arsenal) youth-team coach, who was Don Howe; he was absolutely brilliant. I never had a better coach throughout my football career than Don, manager or otherwise; not even close, in fact. He was special. I couldn’t have even told you how old he was then – he was old – but his enthusiasm and how well he got on with kids between 16 and 18, everybody loved him. You weren’t scared of him, but you had a bit of fear about him. His knowledge of the game was ridiculous. Sessions he put on, coaching, all relevant to modern football. I mean, how many decades did he play and coach and manage in? I’ve heard people older than me that have been coached by Don say exactly the same thing; in their era he was absolutely magic. George Armstrong at Arsenal was another really good coach.
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your career (or give more than one example)
There has been a few, but I don’t think there’s a bigger character than Graham Stack; teammate at Arsenal and still very good friend to this day, one of my top muckers. You ask anybody who knows him and that’ll be the first name that’ll come out of their mouth for that question.
Who’s the life and soul of the dressing room at St Albans?
For one that’s been there the whole time – Tom Bender, he’s a crack. When I first went, there was a few more characters; Lee Chappell, Ben Martin, Sam Corcoran’s another character, and Bally (Matthew Ball).
A player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level
(Thinking) That couldn’t be more apt for me, that. I don’t know, because there has been loads of players, proper players; I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of them through the years. I think nowadays it’s starting to change and people are taking it that more serious now. That should be the number-one thing (ability), in my eyes; you can build the rest. You can’t take an athlete and make him a footballer, it doesn’t happen. I can’t think of any that spring out, but there is loads.
Gazza gave you a mention in one of his books after your brief time together at Boston United (2004). Do you remember hearing about that or reading what he said?
He said I had all the talent in the world but it was hard to motivate me; it was something like that, wasn’t it? I never bought the book but I think I did read it. He only put a couple of pages in there, because I suppose it was a time he’d like to forget, as would I, at Boston. I do remember seeing it, I absolutely loved it. People still talk to me about that, and him being one of my heroes, it was amazing for me. It was more the fact where I was and who the manager was at the time that was hard to motivate me – Steve Evans, who you obviously know about – because it was a disastrous time.
What would you say has been the happiest spell in your time in football so far?
Arsenal was unbelievable, my youth-team days; you speak to any pro and they would say they absolutely loved their youth-team days. Talking first-team football, it would have to be Bristol City, because not only did we have a great dressing room, great lads, everybody got on really well together, but we also had success. When you have that as well, you remember those times; in 17 years I had two promotions, so they don’t come around often unless you’re very lucky. We nearly got promoted two years in a row when I was there. Great times at Bristol, really good.
What is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine?
I work full-time Monday to Friday now; I work for my brother’s building firm. I’m full on, so 8 o’clock until half 4 every day, then train Tuesday nights and Thursday nights, obviously if there’s not a game on Tuesday. Game on a Saturday and literally collapse on a Sunday! I’ve just had my first baby girl as well two weeks ago, so it is full on for me at the minute.
In terms of other interests, is there room for much else outside football/family/work? Maybe earlier in your career when you had a lot more free time?
I’m not one who’s been into computers or anything like that. People might say I was a bit too much into nightclubs and parties! I like being with my mates, going down the pub when I get the chance, catching up, having the crack with my mates I’ve always been mates with. When I was playing full-time, sleeping was one; I’d like to get in and have a sleep in the afternoon. I quite like golf, I played a lot of golf when I was young and I’d like to do more of it.
Is there any change you think could be made to the game at this level? Anything the players talk about and think could be tweaked to improve things, like additional promotion places, for example?
I can’t work out how they do it nowadays with how many leagues come into it – you need a genius to do it, don’t you?! Going into different areas and who’s coming into where, three teams come up, it is crazy. I suppose if you increase the promotion places then there’d be five/six teams coming down.
How about the footballs, compared to in the EFL? It was said on here recently that they can be like heading plastic!
Not at our club, because ours are always soft! Obviously the equipment’s not as good but that’s par for the course. When I was playing in the Football League, I was moaning about the Football League balls every day! They would go out of shape; I think they’re better now but I would moan all the time. When the Mitre geezer came out one time to Exeter towards the end of my career, I told him about it. After a while the ball would turn to an egg and even if you rolled it on a billiard table it would start bouncing.
Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true? Did people generally have the right impression of you?
Millions. Millions, but you just get labelled, don’t you? I’m not so sure. I would say I don’t think people had the right impression, no, to be honest.
One singer/band/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist? Assuming that you don’t run it already…
Oasis all day.
Did you ever take over from Liam Fontaine, Marvin Elliott etc. at Bristol City on the changing-room music, or run it anywhere else?
No, I couldn’t be bothered with that, I’d just let them do that. I couldn’t be at home for two hours looking through songs, arranging a playlist!
What have you enjoyed most about St Albans City during your time here, and why should people come down and support, if they haven’t already?
I’ve really quite enjoyed my three years since I’ve left (professional football). I think it’s a really good club, really well run, ambitious owners that want the best for the club. I think they’re in the process and have for a while of trying to get a new stadium, which is well needed. It’s a lovely city and I get on really well with the manager (Ian Allinson). If I wasn’t enjoying my football I wouldn’t be playing, simple as that. I’m not one of them who’d just carry on for the sake of it. I think we’ve got a real good team capable of playing some really good football, and although the results haven’t gone that way yet, I think they will change.
Finally, what has this time in football taught you the most and has it changed you at all?
I suppose everywhere you go, your ambitions and dreams are gonna change, because at the beginning I was hoping I was gonna play for Arsenal. I don’t know, what has it taught me? I don’t think I’m that much different. I think it’s taught me that I can get on with people, the amount of different places I’ve been, and not be scared to travel and try new things. Getting on with people from all different walks of life, I’d say.
Interview by @chris_brookes