A FORMER Sunderland Ladies footballer had an audience with royalty today - and gave him a very special gift for his newborn daughter.
Steph Houghton, 27, from South Hetton, was one of the England women’s World Cup squad who met Prince William at the National Football Centre at St George’s Park in Staffordshire.
The players have been training at the centre before they head off on Monday to start their campaign in Canada.
They presented the Prince with a miniature replica of their kit for Princess Charlotte, complete with her name and a number 1 on the back.
William admitted that his latest arrival has been giving his famnily “a few sleepless nights”.
Steph, who captains the side, said he had been telling them about domestic life with Charlotte, and older sibling Prince George.
“He said George is very lively, and Princess Charlotte has been keeping him up all night, giving him a few sleepless nights,” she said.
“But he said he was just happy to have them both here.”
William, who is president of the Football Association, met the Lionesses’ head coach, Mark Sampson, and the senior women’s squad.
He then posed for an informal photo with the squad in their dressing room.
He said George is very lively, and Princess Charlotte has been keeping him up all night, giving him a few sleepless nights.Steph Houghton
Asked if anyone should say “cheese”, he replied “No. I think ‘Number One’ would be more appropriate.”
As he entered the changing rooms there was a boisterous atmosphere, with the women staging an impromptu Mexican wave as they waited for William to work his way along the line of coaching staff and players.
He seemed at ease chatting with them, and high-fived defender Laura Bassett when she told him she was a fellow Aston Villa fan.
It then fell to coach Mr Sampson to give his players a rousing speech, praising them as “an inspiration” to their generation of women and those yet to come.
Thanking William for his support, the coach, whose side are sixth in the Fifa world rankings, and made a clean sweep of their qualifiers, added: “It’s a big moment for us.
“It speaks volumes about where the women’s game is - the support we are getting.”
William replied: “The World Cup is a great platform to raise yourselves to the next level.
“It will all be televised, so we can see how you’re doing back home,” he said, adding he would come back to see the squad after their return.
He praised the women’s team and said “they could teach the boys how to play - that’s exactly what’ll happen”.
Steph, who started her career at Sunderland, before moving on to Leeds United, Arsenal, and now Manchester City, said the Duke’s visit was a real boost.
“It makes us feel the whole country is behind us, and we really appreciate that.”
Team-mate Jill Scott - from Sunderland, and also a former Sunderland Ladies player - said it was the third time she had met the heir to throne, and he remembered she fouled him on the first occasion, in Newcastle, eight years ago.
“He’s a normal guy and just wants to have normal conversations,” she said.
The 28-year-old midfielder, who also plays for Manchester City now, added: “He said he’s had a few sleepless nights, with Charlotte, which also reflects he does have a normal life away from his duties as prince.”