Football England's profile of Peter Noble.
Despite spending almost all his career among relative footballing backwaters Peter Noble became one of the English games most recognisable and respected figures during the 1970's.
Noble began his league career with Newcastle United in 1964 after earning a dream move from Consett with his impressive displays there.
The dream turned into a nightmare, however, when a knee injury threatened to end his career before it had properly begun. Noble had shown promise at St James Park and already demonstrated an eye for goal but this injury halted his progress and caused him to slip down the pecking order at a crucial point in his development. It is also possible that the club had given up on Noble. He had been advised to quit and it was likely that his chances of ever making it at the top level were considered slim.
Despite the grim expert opinion Noble was determined to carry on. It soon became obvious that he would have to leave Newcastle to gain first team opportunities, however, and in January 1968 he made the long journey south to join third division Swindon Town for £8,000.
Peter Noble arrived at the County Ground at a wonderfully opportune moment, the move proving mutually beneficial to a remarkable degree. Swindon were putting together a more than useful team and the capture of Noble improved them still further. The club already had one gem in the dashing left winger Don Rogers, and this clever, hard working inside forward with a natural eye for goal gave the side a genuine cutting edge.
In Noble's first full season with Swindon the club enjoyed its greatest ever season, winning promotion from the third division as runners up and also capturing the League Cup after famously beating Arsenal 3-1 on a Wembley mudbath.
Peter Noble contributed sixteen goals in the league and four more in the League Cup. It was in the semi final of the League Cup that he really came to prominence. Swindon were paired with Burnley, then a first division side, for a tie that would eventually go to three games.
Noble struck a last minute winner in the first leg as Swindon returned from Turf Moor with a 2-1 victory, although Burnley then went to the County Ground and won by the same scoreline, neccessitating a replay.
This game was staged at the Hawthorns and it was Noble who decided it, striking in extra time to give Swindon a 3-2 victory. Although the final glory belonged to Rogers, Noble had contributed as much as anyone along the way to Swindon's outstanding triumph.
Having won the League Cup as a third division club Swindon were denied the right to take part in European competition the following season, but a special game between themselves and the Italian cup winners was arranged and they were also entered into the Anglo Italian Cup as a reward for their success.
Amazingly the club won both these trophies also.
They hammered Roma 5-2 in the one off game and then made it through to the final of the Anglo Italian final to face Napoli. Swindon agreed to the game being played at Napoli's stadium and, in front of 55,000 spectators, they turned in a magnificent performance.
By the 75th minute Swindon had swept into a 3-0 lead, Noble scoring twice, one of them a soaring header. Angry and frustrated the Napoli fans then started dismantling the terraces and concrete started raining down onto the pitch.
With over ten minutes remaining the match was abandoned but the result stood and, strangely, after the home side had left the arena and Swindon were awarded the trophy the trouble stopped and the visitors applauded from the field.
Peter Noble's goalscoring knack meant he was now sometimes employed at centre forward and his record remained impressive, even though he was not the biggest and his dodgy knee meant turning could present a problem.
This fine Swindon side began to break up, however, and with Noble approaching his thirties and relegation back to Division Three becoming increasingly likely he sought to move on. There was certainly interest in Noble but he was considered a gamble because of his age and the condition of his knee, even though he had scarcely missed a game for Swindon in over five seasons.
Finally it was Burnley, newly promoted to the first division, who took the plunge and they passed over £40,000 to take Peter Noble to Turf Moor, despite the assessment of the doctors conducting his medical that he had a knee "like a packet of crisps."
The move, Burnley's only acqusition of the summer, was viewed with scepticism by the Turf Moor faithful.
They were not neccessarily concerned about his ability but Noble was not exactly a signing to capture the imagination as Burnley stepped back into the big league. On top of that he was getting on a bit and he was still remembered as the man who had denied Burnley a place at Wembley back in 1969. Noble had some work to do to win the supporters over.
There was only a place on the bench for Noble as Burnley went into their opening game of the season at Sheffield United, the newcomer would have to wait for his chance. It was not long in coming. Late on in the game the Clarets full back, Mick Docherty, badly damaged his knee and would be sidelined for some time.
Noble, as the only substitute, had to come on, the question was where. He had never played full back before but agreed to give it a go in the remaining minutes. He remained there all season as Burnley finished sixth in the league and reached the FA Cup semi finals.
There was bitter disappointment as Noble and Burnley suffered defeat to his former employers, Newcastle, who won through with two goals from Malcolm MacDonald. The following season Noble reverted to his more natural midfield position after the departure of Martin Dobson for Everton.
Despite the fact that Burnley received a handsome fee for Dobson this was the kind of sale that usually kills a smaller clubs' chances of competing at the top level.
Peter Noble's contribution in stepping into midfield was crucial in keeping Burnley safe in the first division. He proved that his goalscoring touch had not deserted him and managed twelve during the season, including a hat trick against Newcastle, a game that Noble no doubt looks back on with great enjoyment to this day.
By this time there were no questions being asked about the wisdom of bringing him to the club. Noble's versatility, work rate and goalscoring ability had long since made him a firm favourite with the fans.
With his balding head, the supporters had taken to calling Noble "Uwe" after the German stalwart Uwe Seeler. Noble's uncanny ability to hang in the air and get above much bigger men also made the choice of nickname appropriate.
Noble had also taken over the penalty taking duties at Turf Moor after a couple of failures by Leighton James. By the time he left Burnley he had scored 28 out of 28; match that Matthew Le Tissier.
Despite another thirteen goals the following season, which made him the clubs leading scorer, Burnley were relegated. The majority of these goals came in an early season rush with a hat trick against Middlesbrough and all four in a 4-4 draw with Norwich.
Noble remained a crucial member of the Turf Moor side as they struggled to make an impact in the lower standard, despite now being in his mid thirties and he continued slotting in the goals with reasonable regularity.
In 1979 Noble got something tangible to show for his time with Burnley when he led the side to victory in the Anglo Scottish Cup, although his time with the Clarets was now drawing to a close.
With Burnley heading for relegation Noble moved on to Blackpool to see out the remainder of his career. Approaching forty, Noble was still able to overcome his damaged knee to turn in efficient performances in the fourth division.
Certainly one of English footballs' unsung heroes, Noble was the kind of player whose value to the team, if it hadn't already struck you, certainly became apparent on the rare occassions when he was missing from the line up.
Dodgy knee or not, for almost two decades Noble gave fantastic service wherever he went.