‘An icon of the game’ – ex-England captain Houghton to retire

Steph Houghton claps the Manchester City fans

Manchester City defender and former England captain Steph Houghton will retire at the end of the current Women’s Super League season.

Houghton, 35, is City’s record appearance holder and is part of the squad in contention to win the WSL title this season.

Houghton has 121 England caps but has not played for her country since 2021.

“I hope I leave the game in a better place than when I started,” Houghton, who began at Sunderland in 2002, said.

“And [I hope] I have contributed in some small way to giving the girls of tomorrow a better future in football.”

Centre-back Houghton spent five years at Sunderland, followed by three-year spells at Leeds and Arsenal, before joining City in 2014.

She made her England debut against Russia in March 2007, going on to appear at two World Cups and two European Championships.

However, Houghton missed out on a place at Euro 2022, having not played for eight months because of an Achilles injury, and was also left out of Sarina Wiegman’s squad for last year’s World Cup.

Houghton also represented Team GB at London 2012 and Tokyo 2020.

“Taking the decision to retire, is such a difficult thing to do,” said Houghton, who was awarded an MBE in 2016 for her achievements in women’s football.

“Whilst age comes to every player, it makes it no easier having to say the words out loud. Football has been my life; my passion and I have loved the career I have had.”

The Lionesses posted on X: “We wish you all the best in your retirement.

“From leading the Lionesses to growing the women’s game – your impact will never be forgotten.”

Wiegman said Houghton “deserves all the praise she will rightly receive for her remarkable career”.

“I know she has been inspiring so many young girls to follow in her footsteps,” she said.

“I wish her the very best with whatever comes next and look forward to being able to celebrate her achievements at one of our games later this year.”

How Houghton become an ‘icon of the game’

Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, said Houghton’s impact on the women’s game “transcends not just football but across sport”.

“She has been the epitome of a role model,” she said.

“There will be girls who have seen Steph play with talent, determination and integrity and gone home and said: ‘I want to be Steph Houghton.’ I’d like to personally say ‘thank you Steph’ and also thank her on behalf of the FA for everything she’s done on and off the pitch.

“We’ve been lucky to have her in the women’s game and I wish her the very best in retirement.”

Houghton has played 241 games for City and is their most decorated player having won eight major trophies – four Continental Cups, three Women’s FA Cups and the FA Women’s Super League title in 2016.

She also won two WSL titles with Arsenal in 2011 and 2012, also helping the Gunners to five cup victories.

“Steph is – without question – an icon of the game,” said City head coach Gareth Taylor.

“Although her professional career on the pitch is now coming to an end, her legacy will be felt for so many years to come.

“She’s paved the way for so many to thrive in the future.”

City captain Houghton signed a new one-year deal in June 2023, taking her into a 10th year at the club during which she will stop her playing career.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to work with her since 2020 and know her name will be written into the history books as a true footballing great,” added Taylor.

City are level with leaders Chelsea with five matches left in their WSL season, which is set to conclude on 18 May against Aston Villa.

“I am excited for whatever comes next,” said Houghton, who is married to former Liverpool defender Stephen Darby and helped him complete a 178-mile march for ex-players with motor neurone disease this week.

“In the meantime, I remain focused on giving everything I have left for Manchester City, over the next two months.”

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