From Wearside to Wembley

Published:
by Kate Morton

As part of International Women's Day safc.com caught up with Steph Houghton.

Former SAFC Ladies star Steph Houghton rose to prominence last summer as part of the Team GB outfit that took the Olympics by storm.

She scored in three of the four games that the women’s team played, and for the young girl from South Hetton plying her trade at Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground seems like a lifetime ago.

The opening ceremony was pretty special, but you can’t get much better than scoring the winning goal against Brazil in front of 70,000 fans at Wembley. I still get goosebumps now when I think about it.

- Steph Houghton

Houghton’s career began with the SAFC Centre of Excellence back in 1998. She later spent five seasons with Sunderland Women’s FC, during which time she helped the side win promotion to the Northern League.

“When I was younger I was the only girl of my age playing football. Whether I was at school or in the street I’d be playing alongside boys. It wasn’t until I got older that I started playing alongside girls.” Houghton told safc.com.

“There were times when if I was taking another boy’s place in the team, they wouldn’t be very happy and it would get a bit more competitive, but overall I had lots of support from everyone while I was growing up.”

“I started playing football when I was six year-old,” she continued “I got a place in the SAFC Centre of Excellence when I was nine.

“That whole experience for me as a Sunderland supporter was brilliant. Coming from the area and being picked for my local team was a dream come true.

“I’d always wanted to play football and to get the chance to do that with Sunderland was the icing on the cake.”

Sunderland were relegated in 2007 and Houghton was targeted by Leeds United. After helping United to the 2010 FA Women’s Premier League Cup she sealed a move to Arsenal, where she is now in her third season.

The versatile player, who can assume a role in defence, midfield or up-front, has represented England at every level, before being named in the Team GB squad last year.

Houghton was the surprise package of the tournament, her three goals, including winning strikes against New Zealand and Brazil saw her become a household name.

A whirlwind 12 months culminated in the 24 year-old picking up the Fans’ Player of the Year Award:

“It’s rare you get individual recognition in football, but this year was a little different for me.

“It was an honour to win the Fans’ Player of the Year Award and it made me and my family really proud. I’m very thankful to the fans."

Houghton admitted that she has to pinch herself every now and again to remind herself that everything she has achieved did actually happen, she has also revealed that she’s delighted with the impact the 2012 Olympics has had on women’s football and the recognition that the sport receives on a global scale.

“As a footballer you dream about playing in front of crowds at big stadiums but as a woman footballer you never imagine it will actually happen.

“The chance to represent my country and take part in the Olympics was unbelievable.

“The opening ceremony was pretty special, but you can’t get much better than scoring the winning goal against Brazil in front of 70,000 fans at Wembley.

“I still get goosebumps now when I think about it.”

Throughout her already colourful career, Houghton credits her family and friends as the solid base that help her along the way:

“I’ve got amazing support and great family and friends around me - they keep me grounded and won’t let me get too big for my boots.”

The humble girl from Hetton feels privileged that her achievements have encouraged so many young girls to pursue a career in football:

“I get lots of questions from girls about women’s football,” she added.

With over 25,000 followers on Twitter, the Arsenal Ladies’ official digital ambassador has a great platform to promote the game and engage with fans:

“I regularly get tweets from girls interested in playing football, and parents telling me I’ve inspired their kids – and I even get marriage proposals.. It is a bit overwhelming at times.

“However, it is really nice to hear from girls wanting to follow in my footsteps and to hear that I’m a role model.

"Some times I wonder why and get quite shy about it, but at the same time it’s great that so many are taking an interest in women’s football.”