Steph Houghton is a player who has experienced nearly every high that football has to offer.
Starting her career at her native Sunderland, the centre-back travelled to Leeds before joining powerhouses Arsenal in 2010 – a move that was in many ways inevitable, and came three years later than most expected.
In 2013 it was announced that she would join Manchester City’s new Women’s Super League team.
Still just 27 years old, she has achieved more than most could dream.
She is captain of both England and Manchester City, won almost everything possible at Arsenal and Leeds, is Team GBs all-time top goal-scorer – despite playing left back during the Olympic games – and is among the first women to be featured on the FIFA games.
For the second year in a row, the WSL came to a nail-biting conclusion, but despite a comfortable 2-1 victory over Notts County at the City Academy ground in the final weekend, the Citizens could do nothing to prevent Chelsea winning this year.
Houghton said: “I think we would have loved for it to be in our hands, especially as we were fantastic after the World Cup.
“For us as a club, we want to constantly do one better every season.
“So for us to finish second in our second season and get Champions League qualification is a massive boost.”
It’s been a big few years for women’s football worldwide, but especially in England.
One of London 2012’s highlights was a sold out Wembley when Team GB beat Brazil, before the England played Germany there last year.
This year saw the first FA Cup final to be held at Wembley, when over 30,000 went to North London to see Chelsea beat Notts County.
It’s a staggering jump considering less than 8,000 attended the final in 2008.
The World Cup really broke the glass ceiling, both home and abroad, with an incredible 30.9million in the USA tuned into watch their girls defeat Japan in the finals, a record for any live football match in the States and almost double that set by the men’s team when they played Portugal in Brazil the previous year.
Viewing figures peaked at 12.9million for England’s matches in Canada which, considering they were played as late as 2am BST, is impressive.
Houghton said: “The World Cup was amazing, without a doubt the best moment of my football career.
“When you’re away over there you’re in a bit of a bubble and don’t realise how many people that you have gripped.
“So to come back and realise how many people watch over here is amazing.
“I think it showed how good our performances and how good a team we are, if you stick together and work hard as a team then ultimately we wanted to inspire young girls to play football.
“From an international point of view, we want to be competing at European Championships and World Cups.
“We have players who are hungry to succeed and we can build a great team over the next two to four years.
“We have players who are hungry and just want to win and have the ability to win so it’s exciting times, not only the next five years, but further into the future.”
The women’s game is on the up, and one of the key reasons behind this, as with most things, is that it is finally getting the money it deserves thrown behind it.
Setanta Sports tried to broadcast the sport, as well as showing non-league football, and went bust. ESPN tried it, and also went bust.
BT Sports are the only company to take over the broadcasting rights and see through that commitment long term.
Houghton said: “A few years ago all we wanted was the games to be on more regularly, and now it’s about building an audience so fans can watch more consistently, but it’s definitely more exciting times.
“It’s also the players who have played their parts though, and also the football clubs, especially Manchester City.
“They are wanting to progress the game to make it the best it can be, and with the likes of City, Chelsea and Arsenal supporting teams, we can make sure that this is the best league in the world.”
One of the most telling signs of the game’s success is the appearance of 12 international women’s teams on the newest instalment of the EA Sports’ FIFA franchise.
They are the first in the industry to do so, with Football Manager saying that, although they would love to, it would only be financially viable if there were 10 leagues throughout Europe with an average attendance of 20,000.
Of course, the cynics point out that the move is angled towards the American audience, where there is not only a greater emphasis on women’s sport, but also a similar amount of professional soccer players who are women.
But this is more than a marketing ploy, it’s a huge step towards equality, something which Houghton recognizes.
She said: “It’s pretty cool that we can play as ourselves and our families can play too. It’s a great honour for all the girls, so hopefully it can help spread the game.”
Houghton was talking at an Induction Ceremony to the Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum, into which women’s football legend and BBC pundit Faye White was being inducted.
And the 27-year-old admitted that White is one of her idols.
“She was the first person to speak to me when I got called up when I was 17, and she’s the ultimate role model for any girl,” the City skipper said.
“First and foremost she was a fantastic player for Arsenal and England, she was a leader and led by example.
“She also battled through a lot of injuries but always put her body on the line for both club and country.
“But most importantly she’s a fantastic person, one of them girls you would trust and you would want to play well for, so I’m honestly honoured and humbled to receive the award of her behalf.”
Houghton finished by highlighting how important it is that her sport doesn’t lose its momentum, and continues to capitalise on its increased budget, and the increased support that it garners.
“Over the next five years it’s important to get as many clubs professional as possible,” she said.
“I know that a lot of clubs are starting to buy into it and make every professional so they can class it as a full time job. As I’ve said, to have our league as the best league in the world is also the ultimate aim.”
Image courtesy of Jason Lock, with thanks.