Steph Houghton became a household name following her exploits in the 2012 Olympics, scoring three goals in Great Britain's four games.
However, the England skipper was already familiar to thousands across the north east, especially those in Sunderland, who had followed her progress with great interest after she kick-started her career with her hometown club.
Steph joined a Foundation of Light soccer course during her school holidays and was spotted by a coach from Sunderland AFC and invited for a trial.
“It was during the Easter break,” Steph remembers. “I was scouted and joined the Centre of Excellence, where I was lucky enough to play for my hometown club.”
Steph, who now captains Manchester City and has 121 international caps to her name, credits SAFC’s official charity with many of the successes in her career and she’s quick to pay tribute to the career pathway that the Foundation programmes offer.
“The Foundation have played a huge part in everything have done in my career. They allowed me to learn the fundamentals of football, whether that was technical or tactical, but also the importance of having to work hard every day,” she added.
“I’ve so many great memories of my time working with the Foundation and the coaches, I used to get so excited for Monday night training at the Raich Carter Centre or Downhill.
“I was so proud to be representing SAFC in tournaments against all the other teams in the country and testing myself against the best in the country. My biggest memory was being put forward to go on a trial for England.”
Steph is now familiar to millions, not just on the pitch but off it too, for her work with charitable organisations, but the 32-year-old remains humble and still keeps a close eye on what’s happening on Wearside, with the Foundation of Light recently announcing that they would be introducing a Women’s Scholarship team.
“I think it’s amazing that girls’ football has grown so much in the last decade. The fact that female scholarship programmes are over -subscribed only bodes well for the future of the game and also for Sunderland itself as a club!”
“The north east has always been passionate about football, to have so many players who I had grown up with, who had played for Sunderland competing in the 2019 World Cup was such an experience and such a proud moment for me, but no doubt the club and coaches too.”