West Ham Ladies captain Becky Merritt has followed goalkeeper Toni-Anne Wayne in quitting the club to join Women’s Super League hopefuls Brighton and Hove Albion.
The 27-year-old, who joined the Hammers in 2009, had been made captain following the arrival of Mark Saunderson as Ladies manager in the summer. But in an exclusive interview with Blowing Bubbles, the forward admitted the move to the South Coast side – on standby to join the Women’s Super League (WSL) – was one she couldn’t turn down.
“I am extremely sad to be leaving the club because ultimately I am a West Ham fan and it was such a great feeling pulling on that shirt every week,” she said. “Being captain ensured the decision was even more difficult because I would never want to let down the players, management or the club. I have invested so much time and effort behind the scenes in recent years to try and help take the club forward and this just reinforced my love for the Hammers.”
Becky, whose only goal of the season came at home against Chesham United in the league in December, said the decision to quit wasn’t one she took lightly.
“I can honestly say this has been the hardest decision in my football career,” she continued. “Ultimately I had two choices; stay where I was or move to face a new challenge. The offer from Brighton was too good to turn down. The club has an amazing vision so it is exciting to be a part of this ambition. Due to the nature of the approach, coupled with the fact that Brighton are keen to strengthen ready for potential WSL status, my decision had to be made within a certain time frame. I utilised every possible day to make the decision because I was so torn. But having experienced my first few training sessions as a Brighton player, I do feel as though I have the buzz back again, and therefore from a personal perspective, have made the right decision.”
The former Crystal Palace and Gravesend & Northfleet player announced her decision to the squad at the end of last month. “Everyone has been supportive of the move, from the players right through to the management and even the fans,” Becky explained. “Everyone seems to understand the opportunity is a good one, especially with the WSL expansion, and have wished me lots of luck in my new challenge. I have made some great friends throughout my West Ham journey and hope to remain in contact with them.
“I personally contacted players, staff and supporters individually to explain my decision because as captain I felt I owed them all an explanation and I wanted to wish each and every one of them luck for the remaining season.” The West Ham Ladies have endured a difficult season so far and currently sit fourth from bottom in the FA Women’s Premier League South. Becky continued: “The season has been a tough one as West Ham Ladies are a team very much in transition. There have been moments of frustration but also moments of sheer joy. The club has massive potential with a mix of experience and youth within the ranks.
“The club was obviously disappointed in not gaining WSL status and this makes for a nervous time for most managers within the league, as the bigger clubs look to take their pick of players. “With this in mind I have no doubt that the Ladies will survive the hardships and continue to be a success in the women’s game.
“The weather is proving to be disruptive but I know that once the girls have a run of games they will surprise a few teams. You cannot underestimate the passion and belief of some of these players, combined with the experience of others and therefore may become the dark horse. I sincerely hope that the club continues to grow into a sustainable and successful club. Hopefully they will be considered in the next WSL applications and can really kick on. The club has some amazing people working behind the scenes, and in women’s football, these people are gold dust.”
Reflecting on her time at the club, she added: “There have been so many highlights during my four years here. “Being a fan, pulling the shirt on every week was an immense feeling and that passion was transferred into my game. Scoring a hat-trick on my full debut against Fulham was pretty special, as was my goal in the County Cup final. But the overwhelming highlight has to be the captaincy. There aren’t enough words to explain my pride at that appointment. My only disappointment is not winning any silverware in claret and blue.”
Becky is, however, “extremely excited” by Brighton’s ambitions as a club. She concluded: “In my first conversation with the club’s officials it was clear to see they were going somewhere. There is a real intent in their actions and beliefs, and this inevitably transfers to the players who demand such high standards themselves. The opportunity to play in the WSL was an obvious attraction but the real swaying point was the knowledge and expertise of the staff, I realised immediately that I will only improve as a player and the staff can help add longevity to my career.”