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The profile and professionalism of the women’s game has never been greater with media coverage increased and the nation’s interest captured, sparked in particular by national team success and resulting in improved attendances at games.
A main target of the current crop of professionals is to inspire the next generation – something each of the hardy souls who suffered and sacrificed to carve out a career in the beautiful game – remain especially passionate about.
One of those dedicated professionals is City and England captain Steph Houghton, who followed the same path as many others to follow her ambition, kicking off her footballing adventure in a boys’ team before being forced to make a decision on whether or not to pursue a career in a sport which had no guarantees of success.
WATCH: Round table | Part one
Fortunately, Houghton opted to chase her dream and the skipper – considered one of the game’s greatest role models – takes her position very seriously.
This weekend, as we round off our week of celebration at the Club, the original members of the City Ladies team will be honoured at the Blues’ top-of-the-table clash against Arsenal.
Houghton, having led Nick Cushing’s side to a sweep of domestic silverware since its relaunch in 2014, spoke of the importance of remembering the past, and discussed her personal hopes for the future of the game.
“People only tend to remember the short-term history in terms of the last five years and how we’ve built the Club to where it is,” she stated, “but when we put that shirt on, we’re always grateful to those who came before us.
“They left the shirt for us to take and that’s the way we think – in years to come, if we can leave the shirt in a better place than it was five years prior, we’ve done our job.
“We’re thankful for the journey they’ve been on and the journey they’ve allowed us to be part of.”
It is fitting that this week should end with two heavyweights of the game locking horns, in a pivotal clash in the title race.
Both City and Arsenal are traditional ‘footballing sides’, priding themselves on playing the game ‘the right way’ with a philosophy fixated on flowing, attacking play.
With the Gunners boasting a six-point gap atop the table, the encounter has been billed as a must-win for the Blues – and Houghton is relishing the challenge.
“It’s a big one, as two top teams come together,” she added. “It’ll be tough but a good show for the fans and hopefully, we can come away with what would be a crucial three points.
“We’re really excited – we love being part of big games – and we know how important a win could be. As always, we’ll remain humble and respect Arsenal for the team that they are but we go into every game wanting to win and we pride ourselves on that.
“Potentially, we go into the game as underdogs with the form Arsenal are in. Everyone’s talking them up to be the title favourites – and rightly so. They’re top of the league at the moment, playing really well and scoring goals. Vivianne Miedema in particular has had a really good start to the season but as a whole, they’ve taken their chances and played tremendously well.
“They have a relatively new manager in Joe Montemurro and he’s managed to settle them. They’ve had a lot of time to bed things in at the training ground, having only tended to play one game a week, and they play a similar way to us – I think that’s down to his background with Melbourne City.
“They’ve also had continuity in their starting XIs. They’ve been hit with a few injuries over the last few weeks but prior to that, everyone knew what the starting XI would be week in, week out.
“We’re always trying to apply pressure to other teams but at the same time, we put pressure on ourselves to perform. We have to make sure we make life as tough as possible for them if we’re to close the gap.
“In terms of the title race, matters are still in our hands. Although the draws against Bristol City and Reading haven’t helped us, we know that things don’t always go the way you want and we still have Arsenal to play twice, plus Chelsea and Birmingham here.
“Still, we’re not looking too far ahead – we always take each game at a time – and we know that the only thing we can control is our performance on the day.
“We’ve played well in the past few games – we’ve been clinical and kept clean sheets, and we pride ourselves on the way we move the ball. We’ve been ruthless in box boxes and continuing that is imperative if we are to get the result we want.”