As a West Ham fan, Bex Merritt always speaks of her pride at pulling on the claret and blue every Sunday to play for the West Ham Ladies.
So it was little surprise the forward beaming from ear to ear when she met editor David Blackmore after it was announced she was to captain her side this season. She said: “It was a great feeling when I was told I was going to be captain. “It’s massive for me as a West Ham fan to be given the chance to captain the side and I’m very grateful for the opportunity and for the new boss putting faith in me.â€
As well as continuing to lead by example on the pitch, Bex hopes her new role will further encourage the younger members of the squad to come to her with their problems. Bex continued: “I have always had a few of girls come to me about things off the pitch too and I think because I am one of the older players they come to me naturally for advice so I hope this continues now I’m captain.â€
As for pre-season, things didn’t quite go to plan for the 27-year-old despite the fact she started her training a few weeks before the squad first met. She said: “From my point of view it wasn’t the best because I missed a couple of games during pre-season — one was because I was ill and the other was with the development squad to try and get my fitness back — so the friendly against Nottingham Forest earlier this month, which we won 3-0, was massive for me.
“It was great to get 90 minutes under my belt before the Charlton game and It was a great game against Forest because I haven’t played them before and I’m not sure how long it has been since the club has either — if we even have. “Northern teams are always tough to play against because they are more physical and play a completely different style of football so it was good to play in that game.â€
She added: “Overall, I think it was a really good preseason for the club. “With the changes in management there were a lot of new faces about and we now have a great medical staff but everyone has settled in well. “Mark [Sanderson, West Ham Ladies manager] has been setting standards for us all pre-season and then when we hit them, he ups it again.
“We have had some good signings and the squad is really beginning to gel now and we are all beginning to understand how we all play.â€
As well as her new role as captain, Bex has also been given the task of adapting to a new role – a challenge she is thriving on. She continued: “I haven’t been given a goals target this season but personally I would like to at least equal my goal tally from last year — I think I got 15 in all competitions. “I am, however, playing a slightly different role this season which will allow me to wander a bit so I won’t be playing right up top which could impact the amount of goals I score.
“But I’m really looking forward to the season because I think this role suites my game better rather than playing as the top striker.â€ The Ladies didn’t get off to the new season off to the best start last weekend – losing 2-1 away at Charlton Athletic. But with games at home against Portsmouth and Lewes, the Ladies will feel they have a chance to kick their season into full gear.
Bex continued: “After Charlton we do have a few tough games coming up but there are no games in this league that are easy anymore because of the introduction of the Women’s Super League 2 has meant a greater range of teams have been brought into one league which I think will be better for us. “I think we play our best stuff when we are playing against tougher opposition rather than games where we are expected to win.
“It will be frustrating if we win the league this season and can’t get promoted to the WSL until the following year but we have a plan as a club which goes beyond this season. “We will very much be taking this season week by week and see how we go. “If at the end of the year we are picking up medals for winning the league and a cup competition than that will be brilliant and it’ll do wonders for attracting more players.
“The cups are always great to take part in because it gives us the chance to see how far we can go and it’s brilliant for the squad to travel together and play teams above us or in a strong position. It also gives us a test to see where we are individually and as a team.â€
And reflecting on how last season’s squad compares to thie season’s, she continued: “The difference is we have got a lot of strength in depth which a lot of other women’s teams don’t have. At the moment there is a brilliant vibe at the club and everyone is fighting for the shirt.â€ The West Ham Ladies play their home games at Thurrock FC, Ship Lane, Aveley, Essex, EM19 1YN. They play Portsmouth on September 1 and Lewes on September 8, both at home with kick off at 2pm