The 30-year-old had been in fine form for the Hammers this season, bagging two player of the match awards in 13 games. But she admitted the move to the south coast side – currently on standby to join the Women’s Super League - was one she couldn’t turn down.
“I had a few approaches come in for me this season including one from Millwall but I know there are quite a few players going there so I turned them down,” the goalkeeper told Blowing Bubbles. “Then Brighton came along and my initial reaction was that I would say no because it was too far for me to travel but their manager wanted to meet me and speak to me so I went down there to look around their set up.
“I’m at an age now where I’m starting to get a few injuries and as great as the physios are at West Ham, I think at Brighton I’ll be able to sort them out rather than maintain them. That was my thinking behind the move but the chance to play in the Women’s Super League, which Brighton are on standby for, was another big reason for moving to them.”
The former Charlton Athletic and Gillingham ‘keeper said she thought the current season would be her last but admitted if Brighton get into the Women’s Super League, she doesn’t know what she will do.
“I spoke to the manager [Mark Saunderson] and told him about Brighton and them saying they wanted me to go down there and he was great,” Toni-Anne continued. “He told me he didn’t want me to go and would be sad to lose me but that I deserve to be playing at a higher level.
“I also spoke in depth to Julia Setford [Director of Football] and she was great too because she looked at it from a West Ham point of view but also as my friend.
“I was told I had to make the decision the Tuesday after the Cardiff game [December 1] but by the time we were travelling to the game, I still hadn’t made up my mind because even though I knew deep down what the right decision was, I love this club.
“I was so upset after the game, which we lost 4-1, because I knew it was likely to be my last. On the Monday night, I sent a group e-mail to everyone explaining my decision to leave and I was asked if I could play one last game, which turned out to be the following week at home to Chesham United, and if I could be captain for it.
“They are a great bunch of girls and it was an honour to be captain. They really didn’t have to do that especially given the fact I’m going to be in the same league and playing against them in April.”
Toni-Anne, who has played on and off for West Ham for the past five years, still has high hopes for the Hammers in the future.
“They are building and working hard to get a better infrastructure in place with things like the Centre of Excellence to help bid for Women’s Super League in 2015,” she added.
“I think you can see from the likes of Liverpool, Brighton and Chelsea that the only way women’s football can progress is with the support from the men’s teams and for me West Ham doesn’t have that at the moment. But they do deserve to be in the Women’s Super League and I don’t think people on the outside appreciate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
“Everything is done for the players so that all they have to do is turn up and play their game and don’t have to do anything else. I’m really going to miss everyone at the club and I wish them all the luck for the rest of the season.”
The West Ham Ladies play their home games at Thurrock FC, Ship Lane, Aveley, Essex, EM19 1YN. They play Charlton on January 5 at home with kick off at 2pm.
By David Blackmore