COLUMN: England captain Steph Houghton talks about leading her country

I was very much a bench player at my first World Cup in 2011. That experience definitely made me appreciate how frustrating it can be. At that time, the captains were Faye White and Casey Stoney, who shared the armband. They really kept the team together and made sure every member of the squad knew they had an important role to play, regardless of how much playing time they got.

Being captain has obviously changed the way I am as a person. I like to think I lead by example. I give everything, no matter whether that’s in training, recovery or during a game. In Canada, it will be important we keep the group together as much as we can. We will be a long way away from home and away for a long time so it’s important we have that balance between working hard on the training pitch, and relaxing and trying to enjoy the tournament as much as we can.

We had 10-12 days at St George’s Park before we flew out, which was vital for our preparation and the atmosphere is good at the moment. At the last camp there were a few nerves because it was the last chance to impress before selection but generally I think we’ve made really good strides as a team since Mark has been in charge. We’re building great team spirit, which is so important when you go away for long periods of time.

For the younger players, the pressure we will be under will be something new. The size of the crowd and the coverage back home, with the BBC broadcasting all of our games, will all be added pressure and perhaps as a squad we’ve got to get a bit better at that: not focusing on things on the outside but on the things we can control as a squad and as individuals.

The games being shown back home will generate a lot more interest. Women’s football in general has made huge steps in terms of getting the media and television on board to help support and raise awareness about our game. We want to play the right way, to try and attract those fans to keep coming back. I definitely feel we’ve gradually done that over the past year.

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Our first group game is against France, who we obviously have a bit of a rivalry with. They are in the top three in the world and our record against them isn’t great. This time we’ll be facing them in the World Cup and I know for a fact we’ll be up for it. We know it’ll be tough – they’ve hit form lately and have a lot of great individual players. It’s important we don’t focus too much on them but on ourselves – and how we can be the best we can be on that day. It’s all about getting out of the group, and getting points against France will bode really well for us for the rest of the tournament.

Beyond France, you’ve got to look towards Germany. They’ve been a force in women’s football for years and are ranked number one in the world. They’re the ones you want to be competing with, mirroring their professionalism, their winning mentality and how they play their football. These are the teams you relish going up against – hopefully they don’t do quite so well this time!

Footballers want to be competitive at all times. When you step over that white line you want to win the game and the World Cup is no different. There is no better stage to go and perform well on. We really appreciate all the support back home and we’ll be doing our best to make everybody proud. It’s been a long time coming and we just can’t wait to get there.


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