England football star Nikita Parris explains World Cup celebration
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Being told you aren’t good enough to play sport professionally is not rare among children across the United Kingdom. However, that is a hurdle England star and Manchester City captain Steph Houghton has overcome in her life – and by some margin too.
The Durham-born hero, 34, was told by friends and teachers that she ‘would never play for England’ as a kid – enough to harm any budding young sportsperson’s confidence in their bid to become the world’s best. But time and time again, Houghton has proved her doubters wrong, and the news that she was included in the provisional squad for the 2022 Women’s European Championships means she will now compete in her sixth consecutive competition for the Lionesses.
And speaking to Express Sport about her collaboration with LEGO ahead of the tournament, the former Arsenal star praised the famed toy company for their involvement in inspiring children, stating she ‘was proud to be part of it’. “Yeah, it’s massive and I’m so proud to be a part of it,” Houghton told Express Sport.
“I think for LEGO to be able to be on this mission in partnership with the Women’s Euros is important because it allows children to be empowered and express their creativity, regardless of gender. With this tournament coming up, it couldn’t be any more of an amazing time to do so as it allows young girls and young boys to look up to role models who are playing in the games.”
Gender stereotypes can hinder many children from achieving what they want in life. Fortunately, women’s football has seen a vast improvement in its reputation over the last few years – most notably when Barcelona’s women’s team attracted over 90,000 fans into the Nou Camp in their Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg in March.
And Houghton spoke out about her previous life experiences after being told she wouldn’t play for England – despite now being the seventh-most capped Lionesses player of all-time. “Yeah, quite a few times to be honest!” Houghton said when quizzed on how many times she was told she wouldn’t make the grade.
“Other people’s parents – not mine, of course – and one of my school teachers said I would never play for England. That’s the kind of thing I grew up with, and I know that potentially still happens now,” she continued. “So for us, this campaign is massive in the sense that no matter what gender you are, you can do whatever you want to do and you can be whoever you want to be and I think that is vitally important for people growing up in this society.”
Women’s football has really taken off in the social media era, with more and more awareness being projected into the wider public eye to give children who may not have previously had the chance to achieve their goals. But in Houghton’s youth career, football was only just taking off compared to the full-flight mode it possesses now.
England stars Kelly Smith, Faye White and Rachel Yankey have previously been described as the pioneers of the sport in the national image, helping the current England squad to realise that there was a career for them out there. And Houghton alluded to such, claiming she undoubtedly felt an influence from the stars of the early 2000’s.
“I had male and female role models growing up, but for the female aspect and those that have pioneered this game for a number of years it is Faye White and Kelly Smith,” Houghton admitted. “I think they’re two of the best ever England Women’s players and when you see them playing for the first time on television or in a game then you think ‘I want to try and be like them’, and that gave me the push to go ‘OK, I want to play for England and play at the highest level possible’.
The former Sunderland, Leeds and Arsenal star has received many accolades in her career, including three Super League titles, five FA Cups and an astonishing eight Women’s League Cups. Alongside her MBE award in 2016 for services to football, Houghton is undoubtedly a figure that future stars can look up to for inspiration. And when asked if she believes she could make an impact via the campaign put together by LEGO, Houghton claimed the opportunity was ‘massively important’ to her if she can influence even one child throughout the scheme.
“I’d like to think so,” Houghton continues. “Being a role model is massively important for me, as is being an ambassador for LEGO and having that opportunity to put this campaign out there.
“I really believe in the things that LEGO are trying to do in allowing children to be empowered and to be creative. It isn’t just because I’m a footballer, but to do that via LEGO is important to me. I think if I can influence one child over the next few months with the career that I have had – which has not been all plain sailing, with it’s ups and downs like life in general – if people can relate to us a little bit, that would be my job done to inspire them to do whatever they want to do.”
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