England women ready to kick off Euro 2017 campaign

Steph Houghton celebrates with her Manchester City teammates (Credit: Reuters)

As the Lionesses touch down in the Netherlands, skipper Steph Houghton reveals how she hopes the England side will inspire future generations at this month’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2017.

The Manchester City star and TASS alumna has welcomed the increased interest in women’s football ahead of the tournament as well as the strong public support for the England team.

“It’s just brilliant. The fans know everyone’s names and what position they play. There’s so many girls starting to play football now and coming to watch us live.

“It’s a bit surreal when people come up to you to ask for selfies but I love the fact that people know the girls, want us to do well and recognise what we’re doing as a team.

“And when you see young boys with your name on the back of their shirt it’s quite inspirational and something you’d never really expect,” said Houghton.

Having captained the Lionesses since 2014, the defender revealed that she enjoys the extra responsibility. “It’s massive and I don’t ever take it for granted, as I know it can be taken away.

“Even though being captain can be tough at times, it’s very enjoyable and I like working under pressure as I feel it’s when I play my best.

“It’s just about trying to be myself and trying to keeping improving which I feel as though I have done across the last three and a half years.”

Houghton is also confident about the team’s chances and has adopted a positive approach to the prospect of taking on Germany, who have dominated with eight Women’s Euro titles.

“It’s exciting for us to be classed as the favourites and to be known as one of the best teams going into the tournament. We take the pressure as a collective.

“For us we’ve worked hard really to be in this position and I think we’ve just got to enjoy every moment. During training, everyone has put in the hard work to ensure we can be as successful as we can be.

“Germany and France are two most consistent teams in Europe right now, if not the world. Whenever we play them we always have very good games but we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves as well.”

Success in the Euros will undoubtedly be significant for Mark Sampson’s side both on an international stage as well as at home.

Houghton is acutely aware of the impact of the team’s achievements on women’s football, from participation at grass roots, all the way up the pathway to more competitiveness at the highest level.

“I really feel as though the World Cup really was a turning point for the sport,” she explained, “as was the Olympics in 2012. I think we just have to keep driving our game forward.

“The standard has improved in the last few years and clubs are really making an effort to make it more professional which you can see by how athletic the players are and how technical they are on the ball.”

“We need to keep pushing for professionalism in the game, to make sure the girls involved in youth football get as many chances as I’ve been fortunate to have had.

“We’re already enabling those girls to be coached more regularly and they’ve got a better chance of being even better than we are at this age.”

The TASS alumna received support from the programme during 2004-06 and 2008/09 whilst studying for a Sports Science degree at Loughborough University.

“TASS took the pressure off because you want to be able do everything; do well in your sport and on your course.

“Being on TASS meant having that extra security so if anything was to happen, you had that support network around you. I had a few injuries so the physio treatment for me was crucial but I also found the nutrition and lifestyle services really useful.

“TASS also helped with communication between football and uni which allowed me to have some extra flexibility, especially when I was away on international duty for eight or nine days at a time.

“I’m fortunate to have a degree so in the future I’d love to be involved with working in the sport, whether in the media or as a coach or manager.

“I’d encourage all young players – girls and boys – to get a uni or college qualification away from football because you never know what could happen.

“For me, the opportunity that TASS gave me in being able to balance a full-time degree with being an international footballer was brilliant and I’ll be forever grateful for it.”

Houghton is joined by a dozen other members of the England squad who have been supported by TASS during their careers.

The Lionesses’ opener against Scotland kicks off at 19:45 on Wednesday 19 July before facing Spain in Breda (23 July) and Portugal in Tilburg (27 July) in their final two group matches.

In addition to Houghton, the other former TASS-supported athletes in the Lionesses squad are:

Carly Telford (Notts County) – 2004/05, 2005/06

Lucy Bronze (Manchester City) – 2010/11

Alex Greenwood (Liverpool) – 2015/16

Demi Stokes (Manchester City) – 2010/11

Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City) – 2008/09, 2010/11, 2011/12

Jade Moore (Notts County) – 2007/08, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11

Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal) – 2010/11

Jill Scott (Manchester City) – 2004/05, 2005/06

Fara Williams (Arsenal) – 2006/07

Toni Duggan (Manchester City) – 2007/08, 2008/09

Nikita Parris (Manchester City) – 2011/12

Ellen White (Birmingham City) – 2007/08, 2008/09

Lucy Bronze (Credit: Reuters)