For every player the experience of their first FIFA World Cup is something special, but England’s Steph Houghton may appreciate it a little more than most. The 23-year-old, currently in Wolfsburg preparing for Monday's match with Mexico, may have thought her chance to appear in a major tournament may have passed her with injury heartbreak affecting her on two separate occasions.
Just 48 hours before Houghton was due to fly out to China for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup with Hope Powell’s squad, she broke her leg in what she describes as ‘a freak training ground accident.’ Jumping over hurdles, she tripped and twisted her ankle. It led to a spiral fracture.
Two years later with the UEFA Women’s EURO on the horizon, England’s Ms. Versatility was in a rich vein of form but ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament while playing for Leeds. It left her out of action for over nine months and once again forced to be a frustrated spectator.
“I don't think I can actually put how I was feeling into words,” she told FIFA.com. “These are the tournaments that every footballer wants to play in. I knew I just had to get myself back on track and start playing football again. I wouldn't be here in Germany without the help of family and friends, who were with me 24/7, as well as the physios who led me through my rehab. They kept my spirits up and made me look to the future instead of backwards.”
Houghton described by Powell as having “everything needed to be a world class player”, is a forward-looking individual. In her career so far she has had to be. For the Durham-born, Loughborough University graduate, a change in the public’s perceptions should be just as important as personal glory to those taking part in Germany 2011.
“If we as a group can change people's view from thinking they're watching football as opposed to women's football, then I think we've been successful,” she opined. “It's the same game, there's still the same number of people on the pitch – and the same rules apply. After all, it's the same sport.”
Houghton began playing football at the age of four “in the back yard with my dad” and was picked up by Sunderland at the age of nine while playing for her school team. Now at Arsenal, the most successful club in the English women’s game, the self-confessed home girl credits her supportive upbringing as the secret of her success.
“No-one has ever held me back; in fact it's been the opposite,” she said. “Even the lads who I played with were really great and wanted me to play football. I'm still in touch with a lot of them now – and they always wish me luck before big games. I think that's a testament to where I come from, the region wants to see its girls playing football and doing well.”
With Alex Scott an injury doubt for England’s opener with an ankle problem, Houghton may have the chance to add to her tally of 16 caps at right back against a Mexico side who finished runners-up in CONCACAF qualifying.
“Whoever gets the nod, it’s going to be a tough match,” she continued. “If and when and if I'm selected I'll be giving my best. I'm just happy to be here and looking forward to every game, no matter whether I’m playing or on the bench supporting those who are on the pitch.
“The coaching staff have really taken a good look at them and they are a good side. Obviously we will have to adapt our game slightly to respond to their strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly we need to concentrate on our own gameplan and perform well on the day. The first game in any tournament is important, but we are approaching it in the same way as the rest – we go out to win every game we play.”