Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton says the thought of being an inspiration to young girls is very much part of her drive for success with club and country.
The 30-year-old defender has achieved a huge amount up to this point, with her CV featuring a multitude of trophies won with Arsenal and City, plus third place with England at the 2015 World Cup.
And the future looks bright both in terms of Houghton adding to that and the profile of English women’s football continuing to grow.
City, who lifted the League Cup last month and are chasing a domestic treble this term, could face derby rivals Manchester United in an increasingly competitive-looking Women’s Super League next season.
Meanwhile England will head into this summer’s World Cup having this week won the SheBelieves Cup, and are hosts for Euro 2021.
Certainly, Houghton is in a position to inspire, and being a role model is something the Durham-born centre-back is passionate about.
When asked if knowing she can inspire young girls is an important element of her drive for success, Houghton told Press Association Sport: “Yes.
“My role models were Kevin Phillips and David Beckham and, for me, now girls can look up to female footballers and want to aspire to be them, and try to follow in their footsteps and even be better than us.”
Last year Houghton helped launch City’s #SameGoals initiative, in which girls are encouraged to upload video footage on social media showing them scoring a goal or making a save – each one is then sent a football by the club.
The initiative has returned this year and this time also features a series of football festivals being hosted at different locations around the world, including in Manchester on March 9.
Houghton became a UEFA women’s football development ambassador in March 2016, which was shortly after she received an MBE and 18 months on from her becoming the first woman to appear on the cover of Shoot magazine.
— Steph Houghton MBE (@stephhoughton2) March 6, 2019
Prior to a remarkable career that started with Sunderland, where she had to pay to play, Houghton was a football-mad child who “didn’t have any idea what was going on in women’s football.”
She said: “I think that’s mainly because it was never really on television or the radio, and locally there wasn’t really big games to go and watch. So for me it was all about watching men’s football.
“I’m lucky enough to now be here saying I play for this club (City), I play for England, I’m full-time, I’m able to dedicate my whole time to being the best that I can be for my club and country.
“We get more crowds coming to watch us and our games are on telly a lot more now, which is fantastic for young girls who can’t come to the games, so they can watch and be inspired.
“And for us, it is to continue being the role models that we are.
“As players we need to try to inspire young girls to keep playing because at grass roots we need more girls playing football.
“I think that’s vitally important, that we get players playing at a younger age group. The coaching ability and standard now is higher than it ever has been for these girls.
“And in turn that will mean that internationally they have more chance of getting better players through the age groups.”
Houghton added: “It has to be the right kind of thing for the girls to look up to and want to aspire to be.
“For example, being a Nike athlete – that comes with playing and training well and being consistent. All those things you can’t just get because you want them, you have to really work hard for them.
“I take all the ambassador stuff really seriously. I think it’s important that we try to showcase what we’re about as women footballers.”
While English women’s football has made great strides forward, a recent reminder of the challenges faced has been Houghton’s former team-mates Alex Scott and Rachel Brown-Finnis speaking publicly about negative attitudes towards them as pundits for men’s games.
Houghton, who has been a pundit for men’s football herself, said: “I think we are always trying to break barriers change people’s perceptions.
“I think the likes of Alex Scott and Rachel Brown-Finnis, have been unbelievable in terms of the punditry they do. Look, we know football – we’ve played football for a long time.
“I’ll be there to fight the fight, and I think a lot more girls and women will be wanting to do those type of jobs.
“I think there’s so many areas within the football game that women are being more involved in and I think it’s great to see.”