WORLD CUP semi-finalist, Olympic goalscorer, South Hetton Primary School five-a-side champion – Steph Houghton has already achieved plenty of landmarks in her glittering career.

Tomorrow, though, when she lines up for England against Sweden at Rotherham United’s New York Stadium, the Wearsider will scale heights she could never have imagined when she made her first-team debut for Sunderland Ladies at the age of just 14.

Having been rested for Thursday’s friendly in Austria, Houghton will win her 100th England cap in front of family and friends. It will be an emotional occasion, and a fitting celebration of one of the most successful and influential footballers the North-East has ever produced.

“I didn’t really feel a connection with Steph until we went for a coffee in the summer in Manchester to talk about the new season,” said England boss Phil Neville. “From that moment on, we’ve become close.

“I think she’s a special person, first and foremost. I look at Steph and she’s a brilliant player, but an even better person. She’s fully respected by the players, I don’t think she realises how much respect she’s got within football. That’s why I want Sunday to be about Steph Houghton.”

Houghton’s career has seen her achieve sustained success at club level, with Leeds, Arsenal and Manchester City, and repeatedly excel in an England shirt, having been appointed as skipper in 2013.

Her goal for Team GB in the Olympics against Brazil at Wembley is cited as one of the key moments in the rise of women’s football in this country, and England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals in Canada in 2015 was another crucial point in the sport’s growth. As captain and defensive rock, Houghton was integral to England’s success.

She became the first female player to appear on the cover of Shoot magazine, was lauded by Prince William and starred as a pundit at Sky Television. Spend any time in her company though, and it quickly becomes clear that she has never forgotten her North-East roots.

She joined Sunderland Ladies’ School of Excellence at the age of 11, and was part of a crop of young North-Easterners that also included fellow future internationals Carly Telford and Jill Scott. Shortly after, Jordan Nobbs, Lucy Bronze and Demi Stokes would cut their teeth in Sunderland’s youth set-up, and more recently, Lucy Staniforth and Beth Mead have graduated from the Lady Black Cats to win international honours.

It is a remarkable production, making a mockery of the FA’s recent decision to downgrade Sunderland’s status and exclude the club from the Women’s Super League, and Houghton remains fiercely proud of the role her hometown team played in her development.

“I just think of us all being kids and standing at Roker Park, or doing mad runs down the beach,” said Telford, in a recent interview with the These Football Times website. “Probably myself, Jill, Lucy Staniforth, Lucy Bronze, Jordan Nobbs and Beth Mead are going to be the proudest because we’ve all stood with Steph at some point during her career from being about 13 onwards.

“Some of us player with her at Sunderland, some will have watched her who were a few years behind. A hundred caps is such a hard thing to do – only ten others have done it. She’s not just a good person, but also a great leader – I can’t speak highly enough of her.”