Sunday, January 24, 2021, was a landmark day for England and Manchester City captain Steph Houghton, as she became the first player to reach 150 appearances in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League.
The Durham-born defender marked the occasion with a brace that included a superb dipping free-kick, which cannoned in off the underside of the bar in an emphatic 7-1 win away at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Tribute to Manchester City and England Captain Steph Houghton
Leading Figure for England and Manchester City
The victory reaffirmed City’s title ambitions after moving up to second in the table, and Houghton deserves all the plaudits that come her way following the latest milestone in a stellar career.
The 32-year-old has been one of the leading figures fronting an explosion of growth in the women’s game across the last ten years, after captaining her country at two World Cups and producing a series of stand-out performances for Team GB team at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Houghton scored in all three group games for Hope Powell’s team in 2012 and netted the winning goals against New Zealand and Brazil – the match against the latter saw a then-record British crowd of 70,584 spectators for a women’s game, as the defender showcased her talents at the highest level.
England Star Quality
Recognising her star quality appeal in the aftermath of that year’s Olympics, Houghton was chosen as the player to publicise The FA’s five-year plan to increase the growth of women’s football – a shrewd move given how the rise in her career and the sport, in general, have taken the same upward trajectory.
Houghton was named England captain in 2014 and became part of a Lionesses squad that firmly entrenched themselves in the national consciousness after securing a third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
After scoring a goal in a 2-1 last-16 victory over Norway, Houghton said in her own words that she was looking to “inspire a nation” at the tournament, and it was mission accomplished in that sense, with a TV audience of two million people watching their group opener against France.
Another England Milestone
The next milestone came in November 2018, when she became only the 11th Lioness to reach 100 caps for England – an occasion she celebrated with her close family and husband Stephen Darby with a picture pitchside before a 2-0 defeat to Sweden in Rotherham.
Houghton continued to lead England by example in spite of some increasingly challenging personal circumstances, following Darby’s motor-neurone disease diagnosis in September 2018.
It cut his own playing career short after being forced to retire at the age of 29 with the incurable condition, putting added scrutiny on Houghton and testing her own mental resilience.
Manchester City Success and England World Cup Heartbreak
But she showed that sheer inner strength in abundance, as she went to another World Cup in 2019, with England after helping Man City win an FA Women’s Cup and Women’s League Cup double the previous season.
England reached the semi-finals again, and it proved to be a heart-breaking night for Houghton and Phil Neville’s side, with the former seeing her penalty saved in the 84th minute, which would have levelled the scores at 2-2 had it been converted.
She became the latest high-profile player to miss a penalty for England at a major tournament, but nobody could vilify Houghton for all her efforts both on and off the pitch in what was arguably the most testing time of her career.
A lesser person would have shirked her media responsibilities after the game, but former coach Phil Neville led the plaudits for his skipper for her class in heading straight to the media mixed zone after the game.
Neville claimed her Lioness teammates “would do anything for Steph” in a glowing tribute to his captain, following the confirmation that The FA would organise a friendly with Brazil to raise funds for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation.
An England Role Model
Just under 30,000 fans were in attendance at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, as Debinha’s double gave the South American nation a 2-1 victory.
In her own words, Houghton wants to leave a legacy for young girls to get into football and “encourage them to live their dreams.”
In Steph Houghton, young girls could not wish for a better role model, and one would not back against her continuing to shine at the top level for many more years to come.