We spoke to footballer Steph Houghton about the pressures of being the England Women's captain and what it takes to dominate as a female athlete...
Next in our #WomenWhoWin series is Steph Houghton MBE, captain of Manchester City Women’s Football Club and England’s top scorer at the 2012 Olympics.
It’s a big year for Steph, leading the Lionesses’ qualification campaign for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and all on top of juggling daily family life and coming back from a devastating injury.
But Steph has made it clear that nothing is going to hold her back, telling us ‘Ever since I’ve been able to walk, I’ve always had a ball at my feet’ – and that’s not about to change.
In the current climate of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Steph is determined to continue inspiring the next generation of women’s football stars, making sure that they don’t just have male role models to look up to.
We spoke to Steph about the discrimination she has faced in her career path and how to get to the top in women’s sport…
What decision changed your life?
Making football my career. I’d always loved football, whether it was playing it or watching it, and I just kind of became besotted with it. I’m quite competitive anyway and I always want to win – trying to be better than the boys was a little bit of a factor as well. When I was about 19 or 20. I was in the England senior squad and they introduced central contracts and offered me one, which meant I would get paid to play in the team. I thought, ‘Right okay, I can actually be quite secure’ and I saw how the women’s game was really changing and how it was going to be part of my life for the next ten or fifteen years.
Have you been discriminated against?
The women’s game has grown, but when I was playing at Arsenal, I don’t think people realised how good we actually were. I think there’s just a perception that we just play football but we’re not very good, and it was a challenge for us to try and prove those type of people wrong. But in the last few tournaments with England, we’ve really proved how far the women’s game has come – not just in terms of being on TV but in terms of actual technical ability, fitness levels and the fact that we give up a lot to be the athletes that we are.
How do you keep yourself going?
Every day I turn up at Manchester City or when I’m away with England, it’s all about doing it for my family, repaying my mum and dad for when they took me to training when I was younger and sacrificed so much to come and watch me play football. I really, really owe them for all the stuff they did for me when I was younger. It’s also the love of the game: I love the sport and I’m lucky enough to call it my job.
What is the hardest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
I’ve had two big injuries. When I was 19, I broke my leg just before I was going to the World Cup and then I got another injury in 2009, just before we were going to go to the Euro. I ended up rupturing my cruciate, and I was out for year with that. Obviously it was devastating, but I think that period kind of helped me be the player I am today and I’ll be always forever grateful for the people around me who helped me get back. I think I changed my mentality in that time, in terms of making sure that I do everything at a hundred per cent. You have to really make sure that you’re the best that you can be every single day.
What do you struggle with?
Probably balancing everything! I always knew I wanted an educational background and my mum and dad were quite big on that. They knew that I needed some qualifications, just in case something happened or I got injured. Sixth form was quite a challenging time because I was playing first team football as well as playing for the England U19s and the Seniors. I was away from college quite a bit because of it and I missed a lot of work – that really affected my education.
When were you proudest?
Internationally, being made captain of England was a massive highlight, it was a dream come true and something that you never really think about when you’re younger. For the club, obviously winning the Treble with Man City because we tried so hard to make sure we won trophies and so it was such an unbelievable feeling to win it with that group of people. Scoring a winning goal at Wembley in front of 70,000 at the 2012 Olympics with Team GB was also an unbelievable night, and I will never ever forget that one. Definitely my MBE too – even if the letter did get lost in the post!
What should women always do?
I think women should inspire. It is our duty to inspire young girls to play a sport, whether it’s just for enjoyment and keeping fit, or to actually go on and try and make a career out of it.
Additional reporting by Victoria Fell