Sunderland born Houghton proud to lead England

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STEPH Houghton is promising to lead by example after being handed the England captaincy on a full-time basis.

The 25-year-old’s latest career high came yesterday when new England boss Mark Sampson named her as his skipper.

The defender, from South Hetton, has captained her country twice before, against Norway in January and against Canada in the Cyprus Cup last month and now replace former captain Casey Stoney full-time.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Houghton, who has also been appointed skipper of her new club side Manchester City.

“To wear an England shirt and to captain your country is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl.

“You always think about it when you’re younger. I was captain of the U20s a few times and was delighted with that, but to be made England captain - I just can’t stop smiling.

“I know my parents are very proud. They were the ones I told first. They were surprised but obviously delighted

“I’m a hardworking, honest player. On the pitch I just try to lead by example whether that’s with the armband or without. I just want to pull on an England shirt and do the best for my country.

“We have such a talented group of girls, a squad that’s dying to get to a World Cup. To put on the armband and lead them out will be a tremendous honour.”

Houghton led her former side Arsenal to glory in last season’s FA Women’s Cup and FA WSL Continental Cup and she believes that experience will stand her in good stead as she prepares to lead the Three Lions. Her first game as skipper is today’s World Cup qualifier against Montenegro.

“That experience will help me a lot,” she said. “I was quite young when I was given the armband for Arsenal. Unfortunately, Kelly Smith was injured for most of the season, so to go and win an FA Cup and a League Cup was amazing for myself and for the club.

“I learnt a lot in that period of time and I’ve grown a lot as a person and a player. Hopefully that helps me in the new role.”

Houghton made her senior England debut against Russia in 2007 and has won 44 caps.

She also starred for Team GB at London 2012 when she scored three group stage goals – including a memorable winner against Brazil at Wembley, which she rates as her career high point on the pitch.

The former Sunderland player has played in a variety of positions for her country but has recently found her home at centre-back, where she is beginning to strike up a sound understanding with Liverpool’s Lucy Bronze, another former Lady Black Cat.

Houghton says she will look to two celebrated central defenders to help her in her new role – Stoney and Faye White, as well as Arsenal player-coach Smith.

Houghton added: “You look at those three players and they are massive role models for our sport.

“All three of them have helped me throughout my career. When I first came into the squad, Faye was the first person to come up to me, welcomed me and settled me down when I was 17 and that means a lot.

“If I was to be half a captain as those three then I’d be pretty chuffed. They are amazing people and if I wanted advice I know I could count on them.”

The captaincy honour is a fine reward for the hard-working and dedicated Houghton, who battled back battling back from injury setbacks at the start of her career, which saw her miss both the 2007 World Cup and 2009 European Championships.

Manager Sampson said: “When I started as head coach I knew that I wanted a captain who would lead the side for a long time coming, as we build the team and work towards success,

“Steph has many of the qualities needed to be an inspirational leader and the attributes that I want our team to epitomise. She’s honest, hard-working, ambitious and has a winning attitude.

“At 25, Steph also has the room and time to improve as a player and grow as a leader, which fits in perfectly with our vision for the team.

“She is being passed the armband by an incredible leader in Casey Stoney, who has been a fantastic England captain and ambassador for women’s football. I’ve spoken with Casey and she will be a great support for Steph moving forward.”