West Ham’s long serving captain Mark Noble was honoured with a testimonial before a packed Boleyn Ground keen to see how some old boys had fared since retirement.
Huffing and puffing on the pitch were Julian Dicks, Rio Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham, Craig Bellamy and cult hero Paolo Di Canio in game that ended in an improbably entertaining 6-5 victory of Noble’s team.
The Canning Town born midfielder has made 358 appearances for the east Londoners – experiencing two promotions, two relegations, one FA Cup final and winning the Play-Off final on two occasions and the 28-year-old’s 12 years of service for the Upton Park outfit was suitably celebrated during the carnival All-Stars game.
The first shot of the game came from on loan striker Emmanuel Emenike as the Nigerian’s powerful strike from just outside the area was beaten away by goalkeeper David James, who served West Ham between 2001 and 2004 and still showed some of his sharpness.
After seven minutes, Craig Bellamy almost put the All Stars in front as the Welshman forced Adrian into a good save while Michail Antonio’s relaxed side footed attempt was comfortably stopped by James.
However after 12 minutes the Golden Boys of yesteryear were ahead as Bellamy – who scored nine goals in a Hammers shirt – made his tally to 10 with a superb finish from the edge of the area.
With 15 minutes on the clock, the veterans made four changes as current West Ham assistant manager Julian Dicks, midfielders Stewart Downing and Scott Parker and defender Elliot Ward were replaced by Daniel Gabbidon, Christian Dailly, Trevor Sinclair and legend and fan favourite Paolo Di Canio. West Ham also made a change as Emenike was replaced by fellow striker Diafra Sakho
West Ham scored two goals in quick succession. After James became the pantomime villain by denying the man of the moment Mark Noble, the centre midfielder finally claimed his goal before Adrian – with help from his teammates and James – ran the length of the pitch to score his first. The Spaniard was then replaced by Swiss shot stopper Raphael Spiegel.
Midfielder Alex Song – on loan from Spanish giants FC Barcelona – brought out the skills when his Rabona attempt at goal went a yard over the bar before the Cameroonian put West Ham 3-1 up.
A disallowed goal from Yossi Benayoun for the All Stars meant the game remained 3-1 as this celebratory match for Noble was seeing good goal mouth action.
Noble himself was denied a brace as the England hopeful rattled the left hand post with a powerful side footed strike with half time approaching.
Bellamy was also on the hunt for a second but was also denied by the keeper as the Welshman one on one chance was stopped by Spiegel, before Sakho made it 4-1 from close range.
The All Stars made a host of changes from their 35-man squad as Jimmy Walker, Steve Lomas, Matt Upson, Lee Bowyer, Marlon Harewood, John Moncur, Matt Etherington, Dean Ashton and Teddy Sheringham were introduced – while youngster Alex Pike replaced James Tomkins.
It was Tomkins for the All Stars who reduced the deficit to two goals as Sheringham tapped in a close range effort after 47 minutes.
Sakho made it 5-2 with a neat finish and the celebration was even better as the Senegal international took a selfie after scoring his second of the game.
Youngsters Grady Diangana and George Dobson were brought on in place of Sakho and Aaron Cresswell.
The All Stars had a second goal ruled out as striker Marlon Harewood was judged offside while Dean Ashton was denied by Speigel as the game remained 5-2.
However, Ashton redeemed himself in magnificent fashion – producing an acrobatic bicycle kick reminiscent to the one he scored at Manchester United in 2008 at Old Trafford, before the former Norwich City man tapped in his second of the game to make it 5-4.
It was 6-4 with 10 minutes to go as the fans got what they came for and witnessed Di Canio score at the Boleyn Ground for the very last time.
Taylor Tombides, the brother of Dylan Tombides who passed away last year of testicular cancer, produced a touching moment with a sublime finish in memory of his brother, with the fantastic West Ham faithful joining in on the memorable moment. Funds from the game will go to three charities – Help for Heroes, the Dylan Tombides Foundation and Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton.
The game ended in a 6-5 win for West Ham, with the penalty shoot-out ending in a 7-7 draw, concluding a magnificent tribute to Mark Noble and, not incidentally, a farewell from the Boleyn Ground to some of the names who have lit up the stadium over the years.