Former England captain Steph Houghton proud of legacy after calling time on career

The 36-year-old, who has 121 England caps, was at the forefront of the women’s game throughout an era of huge development for the sport. Credit: PA

Former England captain Steph Houghton is proud of the legacy she leaves on and off the field as she hangs up her boots.

The veteran Manchester City defender, who is originally from Durham, called time on her distinguished career at the end of the Women’s Super League season this month.

The 36-year-old was at the forefront of the women’s game throughout an era of huge development for the sport, earning 121 caps for her country and playing in three World Cups.

Houghton made her England debut against Russia in March 2007. Credit: PA

On the decision, Houghton said: “I will miss the game, of course. I’ll miss playing every single day but I know that I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved.

“I’ve been so privileged to have so many amazing moments. I think the one that stands out is probably the England captaincy. That’s ultimately your dream come true.

“You want to play for England, you want to represent your national team, but to wear the armband and to walk the team out at certain competitions is unbelievable.

Houghton started her club career at Sunderland in her native North East, before moving on to Leeds Carnegie in 2007, where she won the FA Women's Premier League Cup.

The then striker also made her England debut against Russia in March 2007. Later Houghton was deployed in midfield and across the backline before finding her true calling at the heart of the defence.

She continued: “From a club perspective, I think just winning trophies and having that feeling of winning at Wembley, lifting FA Cups, lifting league titles, just that overall feeling you have that day, I don’t think anybody can take that away from you.

“I’m also proud of the conversations people previous to me never had an opportunity to have.

“I feel as though I’ve been brave enough to really push barriers, to push standards, and to really have an influence in one way or the other in terms of central contracts, to enhance professionalism throughout the whole of the English game.

“I can be really proud of what I’ve achieved on and off the pitch, and hopefully I can continue to do that away from the pitch in the near future.”

Houghton was a two-time WSL winner with Arsenal before joining City in 2014 and claiming another title two years later.

Claiming a fourth career league crown would have been the ideal send-off but City were pipped by Chelsea on goal difference on the final day after a costly loss to Arsenal in their previous game.

Houghton insists she has no regrets although the injuries which ultimately curtailed her international career were an obvious frustration. She missed out as the Lionesses famously won Euro 2022 and, after further fitness issues, did not get back into the squad for last year’s World Cup.

Houghton has said she is prioritising spending time with her husband, Stephen Darby, who is living with motor neurone disease. Credit: PA

She said: “It wouldn’t be the way that I wanted to end my international career, for sure, but sometimes that just happens in football.

“I don’t live with any regrets in the sense of the choices I’ve made.”

Football is unlikely to have seen the last of Houghton, although she does not yet know what her future holds. For now, the priority is to spend more time with her husband Stephen Darby, the former Bradford defender who is living with motor neurone disease.

She said: “I think it’s important to give some of my time back to my husband and to my family as well.

“I couldn’t see my life without being involved in football in some capacity. What that is, I don’t know.

“There are a lot of options there. Hopefully a lot of good things will come my way too but to get that work-life balance is important because I’ve worked so hard over the last 20 years.”

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