World in motion: Steph Houghton on her pursuit of glory
This summer has been a whirlwind season for England’s women’s national football team, least of all for captain Steph Houghton. We caught up with her before the World Cup to talk strategy, positivity and understand how the world of football is changing.
What training tips could you share?
My diet is massive. I don’t skip meals and ensure I have breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lot of people take water for granted, but if you’re dehydrated then you’re not as switched on or sharp. I always do those two things right. I also have the right balance of being able to train hard and rest. When you go to the gym, you have to ensure your sessions and work hard in whatever you do.
Should you only do fitness you enjoy or knuckle down and do stuff you don’t? I love to swim, but don’t enjoy, say, a road run.
You have to enjoy [whatever you do]. If you asked me to go and do a road run, I wouldn’t want to do it! I’m trying to convince myself to get back on the road. It’s important to get a balance – I don’t mean you’re going to be laughing the whole session! But at the end you can say you enjoyed it and worked hard. I wouldn’t want to swim, yet I do like to get on a bike.
Where does the winning mindset come from?
My family. My dad is part of a big family with seven brothers and they were always competitive. And that gets passed down. It doesn’t matter what I do – and it can be a board game – if I don’t win then I am the most sore loser.
How does it feel to be an inspiration to young girls?
I like to think I’m a role model on and off the pitch because of my professionalism and the things I do and the work I do away from football. My work with British Lion Eggs promotes healthy lifestyle and positive for men and women. The older I get, I realise I do have an impact. It’s my job to make football accessible to girls.
Any books inspired you in terms of sports psychology?
I’d say the books by Sir Alex Ferguson. There’s no better inspiration that those who’ve seen it and done it. And, being in a leadership role, you’re the one who has to make decisions. Sir Alex was a leader and took risks.
How exciting is it being part of the England set-up with so much positivity?
The past five years have been a bit of a whirlwind. Nobody expected us to be one of the favourites to win the World Cup and it’s been a hell of a journey. There’s been so much hard work on and off the pitch, driving our culture and making a team that wants to play and win. We’re together and have each other’s backs. We love playing for our country and stick together no matter what. We want to win football games and that’s what we’ve been doing this past few years.
It feels the past few years, something seismic has changed across several England teams, men and women – what has changed?
It’s in the English DNA that we want to play good football. And now we have players who are comfortable doing that. The shackles have been let off: people are allowed to express themselves. Some players have the confidence to replicate club form at England level. There’s more belief and we realise we could be a football force to be recognised across the world. That’s not just men and women, but across the success of the younger age groups as well.
How wonderful is it that the England fans have got behind the team?
In terms of profile and the reach that we have, we wanted to be more approachable. People can have a connection with us. We stay after games to sign shirts and take photos with fans. Now we have a rapport with the fans where they feel they’re a part of our journey as much as we are. It’s not all been rosy: we’ve been knocked out of two semi-finals and would have loved to have brought a trophy back. But our fans have supported our sport as much as we have and they’re the ones who come and watch.
How do we get more bums on seats for league games? I’d interviewed a women’s cricketer who felt more women could attend more women’s games…
I would agree in a certain way. On social media we have a lot of support out there, and for us it is about getting people through the gates on a Sunday. In terms of promoting games we need to do better, and we need a more consistent fixture list so that people know: “Right. OK. Sunday, 2pm. That’s when Manchester City or Arsenal are playing.”
I feel fans get frustrated because we are getting moved from a Friday to a Saturday at 12noon or a Sunday at 5pm. In men’s football, everyone knows it’s 3pm on a Saturday. We need to be better in terms of being consistent. Also, success brings people through the gate and we saw that at the World Cup in 2015. We saw record crowds after that bronze medal in Canada. It’s important we do as well as we can this summer to help sustain the league as much as we can.
So why do you get moved?
Sometimes it’s for television, which we can’t complain about. It’s more in terms of clarity and earlier notice for the fans so they can plan for their weekend.
How do you keep your energy levels up? Are there any staple foods that keep you going?
Eggs are a great source of protein. One of my favourite pre-match meals is egg on toast. It’s quick and easy, and healthy. It’s also been a case of learning something new – such as a frittata.
Asking for myself: is ketchup with eggs bad?
Well, if you made the eggs properly like we do, you wouldn’t need the ketchup with the eggs. I’ve shared plenty of recipes on my social media. Ketchup has sugar in it, so it’s not the best for you.
I enjoyed that – I felt like I was gently told off by an England hero. Ketchup in the bin…
I’m only messing!
Steph Houghton is an ambassador for British Lion eggs and their #WonderEgg campaign. Visit eggrecipes.co.uk and learn about the nutritional benefits of eggs.