IN the fourth edition of our new series, we get to know the journey that another of our QPR FC Women stars has taken to get to this stage of their career with the R’s.
Next up is teenager Merle Redhead-Ling, who has been with QPR for the last three years having joined the club’s Girls scheme from Crystal Palace aged 15.
Now an important member of Steve Quashie’s first-team squad, she reveals her football story and explains how she wasn’t short of sporting choices growing up.
Favourite position: Wing-back
Best quality as a footballer: Pace and composure
Best quality as a person: I am very high achiever and like to strive for the best
Sum yourself in five words: Relatable, supportive, dedicated, funny, good communicator
Nickname: Cuzzy (by the boss)
Favourite type of music: Gangsta rap and oldskool
Footballing role model: Ian Wright and Alex Scott
Something we don’t know about you: I have extremely good knowledge of all musical genres and always win at music quizzes and I’m proud of my heritage (Grenada and Barbados)
Merle Redhead-Ling is a natural competitor.
And it’s not just football that she enjoys competing in.
She’s had a will to win since a very young age; if you’re like her and were the middle child of three, with two brothers, then you would’ve needed it.
Growing up, whether it was a kickabout in the garden or a wrestling match in the living room, she always wanted to win.
That competitive streak has got stronger as she has become older, too. Wrestling with brothers Ezra and Irah is, of course, no longer on the agenda but her football for QPR and passion for athletics is.
As well as being an important part of Steve Quashie’s Rangers squad, she is a member of Crystal Palace Athletics Club and a keen heptathlete and cross-country runner.
That means there is certainly no shortage of competition in her life and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve always been really sporty ever since I was young,” Redhead-Ling – who won the Surrey Cross Country Championships aged 15 – told www.qpr.co.uk.
“With my two brothers, I don’t think I really had a choice – they would rope me in to everything they did.”
“My mum pushed me to do a lot of sports too and I just really enjoy it.”
Redhead-Ling’s first taste of competitive football came at primary school. Her school, Edmund Waller Primary School in New Cross, didn’t have a girls’ team and despite her young age at the time she set about changing that.
She said: “They didn’t want the girls competing with the boys because they thought it would be too rough, so I said to my teachers ‘why don’t we start a girls’ team’?
“The mum of one of the other girls used to play for QPR so she offered to help, and she used to train us after school.”
Having had a taste for competitive football, she then joined a boys’ team in Brockley but suffered a broken arm in a training session, which temporarily halted her enjoyment of football.
Athletics took over for a short while but by the age of 13 she would be playing football again, having been spotted sprinting by a coach from Crystal Palace Ladies.
“I trained on the track on Tuesdays and Crystal Palace trained not far from it on the same night,” Redhead-Ling remembered.
“I was quite a fast runner and one of their football coaches came over and said ‘have you ever played football?’. I said yes and they offered me a trial and then I joined them.”
Two years with the Eagles had rekindled her enjoyment of playing football but she then switched close-to-home Palace for further-away QPR. Why?
She smiled: “My dad is a big QPR fan and he wanted me to play for QPR, so he was very happy when I joined!
“Me and my brothers are Arsenal fans and he took us all to a game against QPR once. We were in the QPR end and when Arsenal scored we all had to keep quiet and dad was obviously annoyed that QPR had conceded a goal.”
This season was Redhead-Ling’s third campaign with QPR and her first in senior football, having progressed through the QPR Girls scheme alongside the majority of the Rangers squad.
The R’s looked set to be crowned champions of the London & South East Regional Women’s Football League until the season was declared null and void, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
They had also reached the final of the League Cup and although the season wasn’t played to its conclusion Redhead-Ling looks back on it with fondness.
She said: “This was the best season I’ve had. The amount of success we had as a team was better than any other age group I have ever been with. We were on track for multiple trophies and titles and I’m confident we would have won them.”
The reformation of the QPR Women’s set-up last summer saw the senior QPR Girls age group combine with a handful of players from the old QPR Women’s team to form the new squad.
Redhead-Ling and the others from the old QPR Girls group have therefore played alongside players of different ages for the first time this season and she believes that has benefitted her greatly as a person.
The 18-year-old – who is aiming to study a coaching degree at university – said: “In the team, we’ve all come from different backgrounds and have different personalities.
“I was only used to playing with girls the same age as me but that has changed now and everyone has merged so well together.
“I’ve just turned 18 and in normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t have friends who are 30 or over. Playing football has given me the opportunity to get to know people completely different to me, which is great.”