Steph Houghton will retire from football at the end of the season

Former England captain Steph Houghton will retire at the end of the season, the 35-year-old has announced.

The Manchester City centre-back, who has been with the Women’s Super League club for a decade and led them to the WSL title in 2016, is undoubtedly one of English women’s football’s greatest players.

She was capped 121 times by the Lionesses at senior international level and guided the team to third place at the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cup, as well as the Euro 2017 semi-finals in the Netherlands.

Her spell as England captain spanned a time of rapid change and growth for the women’s game in England, including the professionalisation of the WSL.

Houghton was awarded an MBE at the 2016 New Year’s Eve list for her services to football.

Her husband, former Bradford City footballer Stephen Darby, suffers from motor neurone disease (MND) and a 175-mile ‘March of the Day’ walk, led by Darby and former Ipswich Town striker Marcus Stewart, raised £130,000 last weekend. Houghton joined her husband on the march and, along with Manchester City teammates, brought Darby to the finish line at Anfield.

Steph Houghton and Stephen Darby - Steph Houghton will retire from football at the end of the seasonSteph Houghton and Stephen Darby - Steph Houghton will retire from football at the end of the season

Houghton is married to former Liverpool defender Stephen Darby, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018 – PA/Barrington Coombs

Born in Durham, Houghton’s career also included spells at Arsenal and Leeds Carnegie, and she represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics, scoring a famous winner against Brazil at a packed Wembley.

She was a League Cup winner with Leeds in 2009-10 and won the Conti Cup [modern-day League Cup] twice with Arsenal and a further four times with Man City.

She has been a five-time FA Cup winner, twice with the north London club and three times with Manchester City, where she is a club legend.

Steph Houghton - Steph Houghton will retire from football at the end of the seasonSteph Houghton - Steph Houghton will retire from football at the end of the season

Houghton is Manchester City’s record holder and part of the squad looking to win the WSL title this season – Getty Images/Matt McNulty

“There is no easy way to say it, but I will be retiring at the end of the current WSL season,” Houghton said on social media platform X. “Making the decision to retire is such a difficult thing to do. Even though every player gets older, saying the words out loud doesn’t get any easier. Football has been my life; my passion and I have enjoyed the career I have had.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to represent Sunderland, Leeds Utd and Arsenal and to go on the incredible journey I have been on with Manchester City over the last ten years.

“Although I have been fortunate to have had special moments on the pitch, what the game has achieved off the pitch during my career gives me great satisfaction. The game has evolved so quickly from amateur to professional over the past twenty years. I thank the pioneers who came before me for your perseverance and commitment to bringing about change for my generation. I hope that I leave the game in a better place than when I started, and that in some small way I have helped give the girls of tomorrow a better future in football.

“My deepest gratitude, appreciation and love goes to my husband and inspiration, Stephen, my mother, my father, my brother Stuart, the rest of my family, Matthew Buck and all my closest friends for your love, guidance, understanding and support – it has been my constant.”

Manchester City head coach Gareth Taylor said: “Steph is – without doubt – an icon of the game. Although her professional career on the field is now coming to an end, her legacy will be felt for many years to come. She paved the way for so many to thrive in the future.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have been working with her since 2020 and know that her name will be written in the history books as a true football great.”

The club’s managing director, Charlotte O’Neill, added: “Players like Steph are incredibly special. Steph is truly someone who deserves to be remembered as a legend of the game, and I have no doubt she will continue to make her mark as she embarks on this new chapter of her life and career. She will always have the support of her City family, wherever that takes her.”

Houghton was the face of the Lionesses at the turning point for the women’s game

Very few female footballers became ‘household names’ in this country before the Lionesses won the European Championship in 2022, but Houghton was one of the rare exceptions, not only for her performances on the pitch, but also for her presence off the field. .

She was the face of the Lionesses for three consecutive major tournament cycles prior to the Covid pandemic – in all three cases her team reached the semi-finals, inspiring countless youngsters to take part in the process – and as captain of the national team she always handled her responsibilities with the utmost professionalism.

Any England captain is automatically expected to become something of a spokesperson for the entire sport in this country and the role can be demanding, but Houghton took on those duties with a calm calm. She then had the unenviable task of having to be that ‘voice of the team’ as the controversy surrounding the departure of former head coach Mark Sampson erupted into media attention, and yet she handled that challenging situation in typically classy style.

Steph Houghton hugs her husband Stephen DarbySteph Houghton hugs her husband Stephen Darby

Steph Houghton embraces her husband, Stephen Darby, after winning her 100th cap in 2018 – Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough

Her penalty, saved late in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against the USA, was a brutal moment that simply did not deserve her inspiring contribution to the team and the English game as a whole, for someone so committed to its growth. of the game. Fortunately, however, supporters will fondly remember a wide range of great moments from this world-class centre-back, who was also one of the sport’s best free-kick specialists.

In particular, her performances at the 2012 Olympic Games on home soil – a tournament that truly marked a turning point for women’s football in this country, as Wembley was sold out for the first time for the women’s games – will live long in the memory and rightly take pride of place into the history books.

As a defender, she was also rock solid at the height of her powers and we can’t forget that her Manchester City team, who won the WSL title in 2016, did so looking invincible and remained undefeated throughout the season.

In the latter part of her career she maintained her professionalism despite simultaneously dealing with her husband’s illness, something none of us can really imagine, and players and coaches in the WSL hold her with the utmost respect the way she conducted herself like a professional.

Perhaps the only shame is that she never got the chance to play for her country during Sarina Wiegman’s tenure. She was initially called up by the Dutch side to her first team in September 2021 and named captain, but an injury suffered during training ahead of Wiegman’s first match in charge ended her international career, an international career that deserved a much happier farewell. out. Hopefully the England team will soon plan a grand and fitting tribute to an icon of modern women’s football

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