We talk to Man City and England captain Steph Houghton

Houghton talks idols, becoming a role model and the rapid growth of women’s football in Abu Dhabi as her team arrive for pre-season training Discuss this article

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Her strategy is clear: “As a captain and a player, my focus is always on how I can help my team win games and reach the next level,” says Manchester City star Steph Houghton.

The 29-year-old defender, who is now a household name, first kicked a ball on the playground at school, during break time with fellow classmates at South Hetton Primary School in Durham. “I played both girls and boys,” she recalls. “When Sunderland set up a team for girls, that was my first step on to the professional football ladder,” she adds of what was the turning point in her career. And there’s been no looking back since.

Houghton currently skippers Manchester City, winners of the 2016 Women’s Super League 1, the top flight for women’s football in England. She has also captained her country at the highest level – the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, where her team finished in third place, the best-ever result from an England squad in the tournament.

“That was indescribable. We were all so proud of what we had achieved and really appreciative of all the support from back home,” she says. And that has only made her and the team hungry for more success.

As a youngster, Houghton looked up to Sunderland strikers Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn – the latter, like Houghton, also played for City. And meeting the Irishman recently is a moment she won’t soon forget. “I was invited to be a guest alongside him for Sky’s coverage of the men’s Premier League fixture versus West Brom. It was a surreal experience and I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Having someone to aspire to is something Houghton understands and takes very seriously, despite never expecting to become a role model herself. “Knowing there are girls who look up to me makes me want to play better and win even more so that they know they can do it, too,” she says. “It’s an absolute honour and hopefully it means more girls will start kicking a ball.”

To aspiring female footballers, Houghton says this: “You can always improve as a player, which is why you should never stop working hard.”

The women’s game has changed a lot since Houghton made her England debut in 2007 and she believes the support female players receive now is incredible. And there are far more opportunities. “At Manchester City, we are very fortunate to have access to some of the best facilities in the country and the knowledge and resources give us every opportunity to be a better player every day.”

The team travels to Abu Dhabi to train during pre-season, something it has benefitted from a lot. “Visiting Abu Dhabi is a fantastic experience for the whole squad,” she says. “Having the opportunity to train in the warm weather sets us up for a very strong season. That experience is part of what made it possible for us to win the league.”

The facilities here have impressed Houghton, who is hopeful about the future of the beautiful game in the capital. “It is evident that everyone out here takes the development of the game very seriously and that will mean a bright future for the game as a whole.”

And the Abu Dhabi trips also give the ladies a chance to meet their fans and inspire more young girls to take up a sport that has, for too long, been dominated by men.

Start kicking Football schools in the city

Abu Dhabi Country Club Soccer Academy

The academy caters to boys and girls aged four to 16. It has three football pitches at its disposal and helps aspiring players learn and master the game. www.adcountryclub.com.

City Football Schools

Sessions are based on the philosophy of the Manchester City Academy. The school employs 10 fully qualified City Football coaches and has three venues in Abu Dhabi. uae.cityfootballschools.com.

Real Madrid Foundation Academy UAE

Apart from a focus on developing technical skills, the academy also strives towards educating students on important factors such as nutrition and health. www.rmfa.baniyas.ae.

By Vanessa Fitter
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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