STEPH Houghton insists the advent of the Super League has ensured women’s football heads into the Olympics in its best shape ever.
The domestic game was overhauled 18 months ago, with the Women’s Super League now in its second season after South Hetton’s Houghton helped Arsenal lift the inaugural title.
Former Sunderland Ladies midfielder Houghton believes it has fulfilled its objective of raising both the standards and exposure of the domestic game after replacing the old Premier League as the top tier.
Certainly, the profile of the Super League has improved. ESPN are broadcasting live games of the summer league, while players’ Twitter alias’ are now stitched onto the sleeves of their shirts.
“The women’s game has totally changed since I was at Sunderland,” said Houghton, who made her debut for the Black Cats first team aged 14.
“It’s gone from paying to play and trying to find a training pitch, to being at Arsenal where we use the men’s facilities and are supported so well.
“In general, the whole game is growing.
“The crowds are better and there is a lot more exposure, whether that is on telly, Facebook or Twitter.
“It’s a lot more professional and it’s only going to get better.
“There’s more people going to games and it’s far more recognised.”
Financially, a career in the Super League is becoming more sustainable too.
England internationals such as Houghton are paid around £16,000 a year on a central contract from the FA, together with a match fee for appearing in the Super League.
Although the bulk of England’s players also hold down a part-time role – Houghton like fellow former Sunderland midfielder Jill Scott is a coach – they can at least make a career out of the game.
“We’re able to survive a bit more on football, which shows the progress that’s been made from before,” added the 24-year-old.
“The whole point of this semi-professional league was to make sure the standard gets better and I think it has.
“Players are fitter and that’s showing in games because they’re a lot tighter.”