Ode to Steph Houghton: The England and Man City legend’s monumental legacy

Steph Houghton acknowledges the fans after the Women's Super League match between Man City and Man United at Etihad Stadium on September 07, 2019
Steph Houghton acknowledges the fans after the Women's Super League match between Man City and Man United at Etihad Stadium on September 07, 2019 (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Manchester City is home to many things. Two aliens as mascots? Check. A propensity to paint everything blue? Check. Steph Houghton? Check.

The third has been true for more than a decade, with the defender becoming a mainstay of the English top flight. Someone once told me, ‘Steph Houghton is Manchester City’, and they were correct.

Man City have never built a team around a single player and yet, the stars aligned with Houghton. Young, promising players have flourished under the defender’s leadership, with City becoming known globally for nurturing some of the brightest rising talents. Amidst their young stars, the Sky Blues also retained a core group of vastly experienced players. The stability of the team saw them go from strength to strength, and at the forefront was their captain.

Every story has a beginning. For Houghton, the start of her Manchester City journey was nothing short of a fairytale. Playing in a newly formed league for one of the most exciting teams of the time, the defender was launched to the forefront of the English women’s game. Of course, Houghton’s story didn’t begin in Manchester, having playing for Leeds, Sunderland and Arsenal before signing for Nick Cushing’s side.

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The impact and legacy of Steph Houghton

Similarly, my football story also didn’t begin with Houghton. Growing up in Manchester with a dad who was a fervent City fan, there was only ever going to be one option. I’d watched the Citizens my whole life but before my first trip to the CFA back in 2018, I hadn’t truly fallen in love with the club or the sport. When I first watched City’s Women’s team play, all that changed.

Suddenly, a new element of my club had been unlocked. For the first time on a football pitch, I could see aspects of myself in the players. Over the season my appreciation for the team grew. Lauren Hemp’s speed, Demi Stokes’ physicality, and through it all, Houghton’s leadership. Unapologetically passionate, steadfastly determined and willing to take charge — these were all things that society so frequently paints as a bad thing for a female to strive to be. They’d be branded as loud, bossy, outspoken and yet here was a leader and an athlete at the top of her game, proving these qualities were an undeniable asset.

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Anyone who has ever met me knows that Houghton has been a constant in my support for Man City. Over the past six years, I’ve watched as one of the greatest WSL stories has unfolded. From the euphoric highs of Wembley, to the crushing lows of seasons curtailed by injury, leading to an abrupt ending to a distinguished international career.

Helping to shape the English game

Claiming eight major honours with Manchester City, Houghton has overseen a pivotal period of growth in the team’s history. Growing from little more than an ambitious project to one of the best teams in the English game, Houghton has lead City onto the international stage. Her influence on the England Lionesses has also been undeniable over the years.

Since being named England captain in January 2014, Houghton has played a key role in the development of the Lionesses. Leading the national side to their first World Cup semi-finals in Canada and going on to win bronze at the 2015 tournament, she became the face of the national team for almost a decade. Agonisingly, Houghton was not part of the history-making England side that lifted the Euro 2022 trophy at Wembley. Instead, she had to watch her teammates soak up the glory without her — an unbelievably bittersweet moment.

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Many would have loved nothing more than to see Houghton lead her country out for one final time, or to watch her lift one more WSL title with her beloved club. Sadly, we don’t always get to write our own stories, nor decide their endings.

However, through our actions and words, we can help to inspire future tales. And that is exactly what Steph Houghton has done with her career. Thank you, Steph, for helping me to write my story, along with so many others.

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