Between 1982 and 1984, the Jamaican-born powerhouse made a total of 96 appearances for the team he supported as a boy and scored five goals.
When Ron Saunders left Villa Park to take over the managerial reigns at St. Andrew’s in 1982, he took a raft of young players with him. However, none left quite the impression on Bluenoses as Noel Blake. Affectionately known as the Zulu Warrior thanks to his hard-hitting, committed style of defending, Blake spent just two seasons at Blues, yet is still held in high esteem to this day, despite his roots across the city!
“Saunders was manager at the Villa and went to Blues and he already knew about all the young players at Villa; people like Robert Hopkins and me,” said Blake in an interview with the Blues matchday programme. “When he went to Blues there was a shortage of money, as there always seems to be, so he knew what we were about and took us across to Blues, which was a no-brainer for me.”
Saunders’ side played a direct style of play that took no prisoners and often led to Blues players getting close to the wrong side of the law. There are many tales about the exploits of Blake and his team-mates, but many are completely false.
“Everybody talks about that side of the team but it doesn’t even cross my mind. The people who talk about it don’t know anything; it just gets blown out of all proportion. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, people who don’t even know you or don’t know the circumstances. I’ve had people make comments to me who weren’t even in the country at the time and I’m just left thinking: where have you got this from?
“If we were supposed to have done half the stuff that everybody thinks we did, do you think we’d have played the amount of games that we did? Look at the individual games records of some of the players; look at the teams people like Hoppy and Big Mick (Harford) played for. We wouldn't have been able to have done that if we doing this and that, here, there and everywhere. But the bulk of us all moved on for more money than we were signed for, so if we were meant to have been messing around, would the likes of Alan Ball and Graham Taylor have paid good money for us? They’re good quality people in football.
“I don’t get angry with it any more, I just get a little annoyed with it all. We were good players and we played very well for the club. If people want to make assumptions and want to talk, that’s their prerogative and they can do. Of course we had a few scraps, but it was different back in those days. I’m a Blues fan, I played for the badge and that’s something that many people don’t get the opportunity to do. I’m proud of that. No matter what state the club gets in to, I’ll always be a Bluenose. That will never leave me.”
Blake’s pride at playing for the club he supported as a boy was always likely to make him a fans’ favourite and the aforementioned nickname sealed that. It was typical that the moniker was given to him after yet another dedicated performance.
He explains: “I knew where it stemmed from, it was from a game against Watford where I went off with a head injury and I came back on with loads of Vaseline on my head and that’s where it began. My favourite moment was signing for the club, simple as that. When you support a team and you get the chance to play for them, it is something that every Blues fan that you speak to dreams of doing.
“My favourite game would be making my debut against Coventry at St. Andrew’s. People mention my goal against the Villa but my debut is the proudest moment of my Blues career. I enjoyed my time at Villa, that’s where I got my grounding and learnt my professional trade. But as a supporter, making my Blues debut was massive to me. If I’d only have played that one game, it would always live in my memory. So to beat Coventry 1-0 in a local derby of sorts when we were struggling with Tony Evans scoring the winning goal; that will always be with me.”
Due to the financial situation at the club, Blake left St. Andrew’s to sign for Portsmouth where he first met Alan Ball. After four years on the south coast, he was on the move again; this time moving to Leeds United.
After finishing his playing career, Blake took control of the Stoke City youth team before being appointed manager of the England under-19s side - a role which he still fulfils.