Two hundred and eighty professional appearances, the Lionesses’ eleventh centurion and once forced to play ‘rock, paper, scissors’ at the centre circle, Steph Houghton’s dazzling career has been nothing short of eventful.
It could be a sad reflection of our society that the women’s game is often overlooked, but achievements to the degree of Steph Houghton are hard to miss. Indeed, Houghton’s name is probably one of the few female footballers that many of us could recall unprompted. But, just like this publication, she originates from the North East, and her accolades ought to be celebrated.
Let’s go back in time to the nineties. A young Steph Houghton first found her passion for football in the playground of South Hetton Primary School. Fearless, Houghton was determined to prove to the boys that she was just as good as them. At weekends, Houghton would go to watch her dad, Len, play cricket. When he wasn’t batting, he would go over and play football with her. She dearly loved those days.
Little did she know the controversy at the time, but Houghton proudly made her South Hetton debut at the age of 8. Silencing mardy parents of boys who’d not made the team, Houghton scored with her second touch with only 5 minutes on the clock. This blissful moment marked the advent of her long and illustrious career; Steph had announced her entrance.
Signing for her beloved Sunderland at age 14 was a huge step forwards in Houghton’s career. This was her first opportunity to play competitive football and was, in effect, a springboard to greater things. Houghton had to leave for Leeds in order to continue playing football to the highest level. Whilst leaving the club which she personally supports was not a decision she took lightly, at Leeds she met her best friend and fellow Lioness, Ellen White.
Skip forward to present day and Houghton has earmarked herself as one of football’s most defining role models. The enormous sacrifices which her family have made for her over the years have been plentifully rewarded. Houghton recognised her rise from humble beginnings by dedicating her one hundredth England cap to her loving family. Houghton’s contributions to women’s sport were recognised in the 2016 Honours list, thus gaining her an MBE.
Houghton has proved that it’s not about how hard you get hit down, but by how strong you bounce back. She had a nightmare of a time in the latter half of the last decade. She was forced out the 2007 World Cup with a broken leg and the 2009 Euros with a cruciate ligament injury. But, the now Manchester City and England captain returned to top form by scoring three goals in four games for Team GB during the 2012 campaign.
In 2014, our versatile lioness once again made waves by becoming the first woman to feature on the Shoot magazine front cover. An absolute pioneer of the women’s game, expect Houghton to increase her international tally by another seventy, according to England manager Phil Neville. Nonetheless, the pure brilliance of Steph Houghton should be an inspiration to young girls aspiring to one day make a living from the beautiful game.