Mark Noble is laughing, even though the conversation has turned to West Ham United's traumatic experience against Manchester City in their Capital One Cup semi-final. Given that the wounds inflicted by City remain raw, it does not feel like a subject that is ripe for comedy at West Ham's training ground, rather one that should be approached with caution.
Yet Noble can see the funny side of losing 6-0 in the first leg of a cup semi-final. There is no point hiding from reality; better teams than West Ham have been thrashed at the Etihad Stadium this season. "It seems to be the phase," Noble says. "You go to City and it's four plus."
He laughs, a little ruefully, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. The second leg is at Upton Park on Tuesday and one does not need to read between the lines to know that Noble is not expecting to be part of the greatest comeback of all time. "It makes it horrible for the second leg because you have to give everything," he says. "But you're 6-0 down." Another laugh.
Do not mistake Noble's attitude for defeatism or accuse him of not caring; it is merely an acceptance of reality. Although they might not like admitting it, West Ham know the tie is over and there is not much to be gained from a face-saving exercise. The main focus has always been to avoid a second relegation from the Premier League in the space of four seasons.
"You're in the semi-final of a cup and you're buzzing but you see what happened to Wigan last year," Noble says. "They go and win the FA Cup and it's amazing, but they got relegated. You want to play in the Premier League, full stop. You don't want to play in the Championship. I've played there and I don't want to play there again for West Ham."
In a season of lows, the defeat to City was the nadir, especially as it followed the 5-0 humiliation against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup. For the travelling West Ham fans, it was one embarrassment too far. They wanted the manager, Sam Allardyce, out. "We were at rock-bottom, we'd lost 5-0 and 6-0 and the fans were sick of it and let their thoughts and emotions out," Noble says.
The resilience shown in last Saturday's 2-0 victory over Cardiff City, which lifted West Ham out of the bottom three on goal difference, has restored optimism. Although West Ham lost James Tomkins to a red card, they held on and Noble, who captained the side in the absence of the suspended Kevin Nolan, sealed the win in stoppage time after being released by Andy Carroll.
Noble was relieved to see the £15m striker come off the bench to make his first appearance of the season after a heel injury and he may be required against Newcastle United on Saturday. "Some of his touches were rusty, he'd say so himself, but he made an impact," Noble says.
Having made 271 appearances for West Ham under five different managers and having started every league game this season, Noble can speak with authority about the club he supported as a boy. For Noble, hard work is key and he believes that the squad proved its character against Cardiff. "In the position we're in if you don't have your players working hard for you, you'll get relegated," Noble says. "Simple as. I think if you see the pictures and the shots after of the bench celebrating with each other, you don't get that, it's rare.
"There's a lot of pressure with the fans. They're an unbelievable bunch of fans but they let you know when you aren't pulling your weight. Everyone would say that. The players that come here and don't do so well and are under pressure, I've seen a lot of them fold at Upton Park and play within themselves. You've got to be able to grind through that and play the game. When it's going well and the crowd's behind you, like last season, it's an amazing place to play."
Supporters feel that Noble is one of them, though, that he is representing them on the pitch – they remember seeing him in tears after a 4-3 defeat against Tottenham in 2007. Noble grew up in Canning Town, made his debut when he was 17 and used to walk home after matches. Cut him and he bleeds claret and blue.
"I love coming in every morning," he says. "I love playing football. I always look at it as there's a lot worse things you can be doing than coming into a training ground in the morning and playing footy and having a laugh with the boys. When you get experienced players coming in they think I'm 32 or whatever – I'm only 26! I don't know whether that's because of the hairline or how many years I've been playing."
When asked, Noble struggles to think of players like him at other clubs and worries that young players are not being given enough opportunities.
"There aren't that many," Noble says. "Steven Gerrard … and that's about it. Obviously Stevie's a one-off, how good he's been over the years. He stuck by Liverpool and won the Champions League, so he can retire a happy man. He could have gone to anyone, but he chose to stick with Liverpool and it paid off.
"It's a lot rarer for young players to come through. You see young players coming on and it's their debut and they're 20 or 21. I played at White Hart Lane against Michael Carrick and Edgar Davids when I was 18.
"If you want to pay money for an English talent you pay way over the odds. You get players from abroad really cheap. You get athletes – strong, powerful and quick and technically very good and you pay one or two million for them. It looks like that's what clubs are going for now.
"I look at our Under-21s and most of them are 20 and haven't even played a league game yet. I'm not saying for West Ham, I'm saying for any club out on loan. If you're a manager of a League One or League Two club and you want to keep your job, do you go for a 17-year-old or a 30-year-old who's played 500 games? It is worrying for the English game."
Noble was still at school when he broke into the first team, an experience he describes as "surreal". "But after year after year of playing it becomes normal and you tend not to think about it being your boyhood club," he says. "You come in and you're more professional and you think right, I've got to win, it's not about enjoying games or playing for your boyhood club any more. It's about winning games." Starting with Newcastle.