Features

BESTFIT Issue 9 – Steph Houghton Feature

Steph Houghton, England football, women's league.

 

“As an England player you’re expected to represent your country well on and off the field and we’re trying to bond to help us do that.”

It must have been an amazing experience to lead out your country at Wembley…

It was awesome. When you reflect on the whole experience, including the two-three week build-up beforehand, it was really special. To see so much support and such a big crowd on the day was something I’ll never forget. To then lead the team out was a huge honour and a very proud moment. The result didn’t go our way, but if you’d said to us at the beginning of the year that we’d playing at Wembley in front of 45,000 we probably wouldn’t have believed you. So, for women’s football, it shows how far we’ve come and hopefully we can play there again soon.

 

“When you sing the national anthem, it’s such a special moment and something i’ll always remember. It’s an honour to lead this group of girls.”

 

You played at Wembley for team GB during the London 2012 Olympic games, so did this feel any different?

It’s so special when you can see your family and friends in the stands. Together, you’ve all had to make huge sacrifices to get to that point, so it feels like everything comes together. Then, when you sing the national anthem, it’s such a special moment and something I’ll always remember. It’s an honour to lead this group of girls.

Are you going to find it hard playing at ‘normal’ stadiums again now?!

[laughs] You definitely want to play in front of 45,000 every week, but we know we’ve got to go back to our clubs and get used to playing in front of 1,000 or 2,000 again. It’s something we’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy, but maybe the big England crowd will encourage more people to come and watch club games now, too.

Is that the aim, to grow the club attendances?

We have to be realistic. Our figures this season have been pretty good and we just need to keep improving them. We need to keep promoting the games at club level because we all want to see as many people through the turnstiles as possible. There’s no reason why we can’t build on the game’s popularity.

Presumably playing in what is now a women’s super league, as well as the champions league, will help raise the levels in this country?

We’re trying to make our league one of the best in the world so we can attract the best players. As a defender, I want to be playing against the best strikers in the world and I don’t think it’ll be long before the world’s best will be playing in this league. The more competitive our league the more prepared we’ll be for competitions like the World Cup.

There was a huge amount of coverage in the build up to the Germany game. Does that reflect on the growing status of women’s football in this country?

It’s all very positive. More people are aware of our league games and even more so when it comes to our international fixtures. A lot of matches are now shown on national television and that enables young girls to find out a lot more about the sport. Any coverage we get can only be good for the sport, but there has been a lot of work behind the scenes to get us this far and we need to be thankful for that. It’s now up to us players to perform at both club and country levels to keep the interest high on and off the field and the sport moving in the right direction.

The Germany result wasn’t ideal, but what positives will you take from the match?

We know the standards required and I think it’s important we test ourselves against teams like Germany, who I consider to be the best in the world at the moment. Playing in front of a big crowd and in a big stadium will also help us because some of the younger members of the squad won’t have done that before, and the experience will come in handy when it comes to the World Cup next year. From the actual game itself, we can take heart from controlling the second half and from the chances we created. If we can tidy up some of the mistakes we’ve made and take some of our chances then I feel we’re heading in the right direction. We just need to stick together and use experiences like this to improve.

 

“When you look at the German team that beat us, they’re fit, physically strong and move around the pitch with ease, and that’s the level we need to aspire to.”

 

The England squad seems like a tight-knit group…

We need to be because when it comes to tournaments like the World Cup we’re away for a long time together. It’s something we’ve worked on and we spent a lot of time together in the build up to the Germany game. As an England player you’re expected to represent your country well on and off the field and we’re trying to bond to help us do that. We ask a lot of each other in training to try and help us progress and we’ll continue to do that.

The levels of professionalism in the women’s game have changed dramatically in the last few years. How much have you seen fitness levels and the use of sports science develop since you’ve been involved in football?

When I was younger there was a little bit of focus towards fitness but back then it was just about playing football. It certainly wasn’t at the level we’re seeing now. When you look at the German team that beat us, they’re fit, physically strong and move round the pitch with ease and that’s the level we need to aspire to. We now have six months to get as fit as we possibly can and as strong as we can. We train every day at club level and every day you’re learning a bit more about how to improve things like jumping as high as you can, strength, injury prevention and more. Players are taking more responsibility for themselves, too.

Give us an insight into some of the strength and cardio exercises that might be involved in a typical training session…

Our strength exercises are based around squats and plyometrics. As a defender you have to jump quite a lot to win headers, so that’s useful. But we generally tend to try and build our all-round body strength, so we incorporate things like pull-ups and press-ups.

It’s amazing how things have changed in the last two or three years in terms of how much training we do and how much of that is dedicated to conditioning. Your fitness has to be spot on, your body movement fine-tuned and that’s why we tend to be in the gym a lot more. We’re lucky that we get to use St. George’s Park because the facilities are fantastic. We’ve been using it for three years or so now and it feels like home. They’re probably the best training facilities in the country and it’s not just the gym or the playing surfaces but also the ice baths and stuff, things that help aid recovery and recuperation.

Presumably your nutrition is carefully analysed too?

We’ve just had one of the top dieticians from Manchester City and the FA come in and give us diet plans for the Christmas period. We all have different needs. Some of the girls need to work specifically on their strength, some muscle mass and others their fitness. Supplements are also changing your body’s ability to get more each day and they’re becoming an increasing part of our diets.

When it comes to the world cup next year, will your approach to the games differ in a tournament than qualifiers or friendlies? And how do you keep yourself physically and mentally prepared between matches?

I think recovery is important at tournaments. No doubt we’ll incorporate a recovery days into our schedule, which will give players time to have ice baths, massages. You also need to switch off mentally, so we’ll probably try and get out of the hotel and see friends and family. If you think about football all the time you’ll find it tiring.

Realistically, what are England’s chances at the world cup next summer?

I think we’ll have to see who’s in our group and then we’ll have a good indication of the journey ahead of us. We know the major players are likely to be Germany, USA and France but we also know we have a talented squad. We just need to use the next six months to work as hard as we can to improve individually and as a team.

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