We hear from England and Man City centre-back Steph Houghton about how hard she has worked, following an operation on her achilles three-and-half months ago, to get back to fitness and give her the best possible chance to be ready to help her team at the UEFA Women’s EUROS. And a few other bits too…
STEPH HOUGHTON on what it’s like being back at St. George’s Park and whether she has visited it often this season:
Not so much, though over the last couple of weeks, yes – just getting back into the swing of things and checking in with Sarina [Wiegman] and the rest of the staff – because I was doing a lot more back on the pitch it made sense to be here. It is weird being back. I can’t even remember the last time I was here for a camp, it was well before the Olympics.
On how she felt being back with the group after so long:
I was nervous. I was saying that to Stephen [Darby, husband] and I messaged a few of the girls… I always remember my first trials for Sunderland Centre of Excellence and I actually felt a little bit like that. It was weird to say that because I’ve got so much experience, but it’s a good sign to be like that because you care about it and I know how hard I’ve worked over the last few months. So, to be here at this stage and getting the chance to train, it’s been class.
On how how proud she feels to be fit and in with a chance of being included [in the final Euros squad]:
We’ve had conversations all along the way and it was always, ‘let’s take it day by day’ and I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m really privileged to be in this position, there’s a lot of competition and there’s a lot of girls that have had unbelievable seasons, so I don’t want to be saying I am selected because I’m nowhere near that. But, to be able to give myself a chance and to kinda put myself out there and show off all of the hard work that I’ve done over the last three and a half months after surgery, I’m just loving being here, loving being back with the team. When you have a home Euros I think there was only ever going to be one option, which was to try and push as hard as I can and I’m sitting here now, I trained again today [Tuesday], so I am really happy.
On how she achieved the balance between being desperate to be a part of it but not doing too much and setting herself back:
The type of person I am, I always want to be 100% straight away. So I’ve had some really good people around me in terms of building my programme to a point where I can fully train and I can compete. Especially with the injury that I’ve had [achilles], it’s about loading and making sure I don’t do too much too soon. I know it’s a balancing act and I know there’s a lot of people using their expertise to try and get me ready and for me to respond to that. I’ve worked with some amazing people that have got me to this stage and obviously England are looking after me as much as is possible with the hope of trying to make the squad and trying to compete with the rest of the team.
On how much has been working on her own and how much with there players and a group:
To be honest, a lot of it has been on my own. I made the decision to rehab away from club because of the back-to-back rehabs that I’ve done. From a mental point of view, I think it was important to get some freshness and obviously you’re disappointed not to be able to play a game with such a big year coming up. Whenever you are injured a lot of it is on your own and you’re having to do a lot of exercises that are very boring but need to be done. It’s only maybe the last week or so that I’ve been back in with the team but that’s what happens in a rehab, you do all the hard work by yourself and then when you’re ready to move on and play football, where it’s a little bit unpredictable, you tend to join the team after that. So I’m glad I’m at that point, because there’s been some big moments where I’m thinking, “this is tough”. It’s obviously by yourself and you don’t really see the end goal but now I’m sitting here in an England tracksuit, I think all those little bits and hard days have come to fruition in the end.
On how useful the STATSports vest/’sports bra’ and Sonora watch and all of that sports tech and know-how been and how keenly interested she is in following the numbers:
Massively. Especially over the last four weeks, where I’ve been on the pitch. It was always about measuring my distance: how many accels and decels [accelerations and decelerations] I could do, making sure I wasn’t hitting a high speed too early. So we [S&C coaches] were constantly checking on the phone and checking on the watch just to make sure that I was actually hitting what we need to hit and there’s some sessions where we’re like, “Oh, we actually didn’t realise we were going to hit that.” So we would say, “Okay, we’ve done that. Let’s go and recover well, get ready for the next one,” and it’s good to see your progress, all the metrics, and see from the first day I started running when I maybe did 1 -2km, now to the fact that I’m doing like 5 or 6Km in a session.
I’m a player that always likes to know what I’m doing, I’m always on the phone asking if I have done enough now, do I need to do more? In rehab you have them little breaks where you go, “We’ll do one more set now Steph and will cover this much different distance, so we’ll do two hundred more metres of high speed running.” When you go back into training, you know you’ve hit them markers and you can compare them to a normal training session, which has been nice this week. STATSports, whether I am playing or not playing, is the next level of technology where we can measure and manage a player’s load or from an individual point of view – we can push even more or realise that that’s enough for today. It’s been really helpful.
On how she would describe the past season:
Mental. Absolutely mental. Obviously, from a personal point of view, obviously really disappointing because I want to play games and that’s all I’ve done for my whole career. It’s not very often I’ve missed a season, especially for City. So from that point of view, I can’t wait to put on a Man City shirt and contribute to the team but the league as a whole has been ridiculously competitive, which is great for everybody and for players as well, you’re getting to compete against the best players in the world, every weekend. And for city as a whole, I think people haven’t really spoken that much about us because of the start of the season but to do what we’ve done from Christmas onwards has been unbelievable and to win that many games in order to qualify for the Champions League, to win a cup and get to a final – where I thought we were the better team – I think we should be really proud of the comeback that we’ve had.
On the group of players that Sarina has got together now:
I’m excited. I think there’s a hunger there, there’s a desire and I think the fact that it’s a home tournament it makes it that little bit more exciting, which is great. The girls are buzzing that all the stadiums have sold out for our games, it gives you an extra bit of a boost. I think the form of the team since September, since Sarina has come in, you can see that we’re getting better and better each game, no matter the opposition and coming into camp you can see that everybody’s ready to do whatever it takes to help England be successful, which is amazing. You’ve got some young players that are so hungry to keep improving and then all the players that have experienced tournaments that have that knowhow about winning games. So the balance at the moment is really good and it’s quite clear to see, especially over the last couple of days.
On how much or little notice she takes of what other squads are and other nations are doing preparation:
I really like to just focus on my team and what we’re doing and if we’re all preparing properly. People have had their holidays and a rest and they’re back now and focused. Of course you have a little bit of a look at squad announcements and whether big players have made certain squads – the France one came out the other day and you see the likes of [Amandine] Henry and [Eugénie] Le Sommer missing and you’re like, “Oh my God, they are big players and they have really been part of France’s history for a long, long, time.” So, you try and stay focused as much as you possibly can but sometimes there’s people that just blurt out news anyway and say, “Yeah, such and such is missing,” or, “The Netherlands are doing this,” so you get naturally involved in that anyway.
Some of the above is included in this thread of short videos below ⬇️
🎬: Had a great video chat with @ManCityWomen skipper Steph Houghton in the week. Asked her how she was feeling after a massive effort to get fit, following surgery, to be back training with the England squad at SGP? pic.twitter.com/uylZiSoHP6
— Jen O'Neill (@SheKicksdotnet) June 5, 2022
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