Steph Houghton: Former England captain and Lionesses ‘icon’ to retire at end of the season

Steph Houghton will retire at the end of the season (Richard Sellers/PA) (PA Wire)
Steph Houghton will retire at the end of the season (Richard Sellers/PA) (PA Wire)

Former England captain Steph Houghton is to retire from football at the end of the season.

The Manchester City defender won 121 England caps and captained the Lionesses at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, where they reached the semi-finals on both occasions.

Houghton, who turns 36 in May, has not played for her country since 2021. She also represented England at two European Championships and Team GB at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Having played for Sunderland, Leeds and Arsenal earlier in her career, Houghton joined Manchester City in 2014 and went on to become their record appearance holder.

City manager Gareth Taylor said she is an “icon” of the game and Houghton could yet lift the Women’s Super League title for a fourth and final time before she retires at the end of the season.

In a statement on Wednesday, Houghton wrote: “There is no easy way to say it, but I am retiring from football.

“Taking the decision to retire is such a difficult thing to do. 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.

“I would like to thank every teammate I have ever played with; I have continued to learn every day and appreciate the support each has given me and the friendships I have made along the way. To my managers, coaches and all the staff that I have worked with and under, I appreciate the time, effort and work you have dedicated to improving my game and the standards of women’s football.

“It has been an honour and a privilege to represent Sunderland, Leeds Utd, Arsenal and to have been on the incredible journey that I have been on with Manchester City over the past ten years. I will always be humbled to have made so many domestic appearances, to have captained my country and to have represented England and Team GB in so many international tournaments. I will always be very proud of everything that I have achieved in the game.

Houghton holds the FA Cup trophy with former Man City and England teammate Jill Scott (Getty)
Houghton holds the FA Cup trophy with former Man City and England teammate Jill Scott (Getty)

“To all the fans, I have never taken your support for granted. The special feeling of hearing ‘Super Steph’ will forever live with me. Whilst I have been lucky to have had special moments on the pitch, it gives me a lot of satisfaction what the game has achieved off the pitch during my career.

“The game has moved so quickly from amateur to professional over the last 20 years. I thank the trailblazers that came before me, for your perseverance and commitment to effecting change for my generation. I hope that I leave the game in a better place than when I started, and that I have contributed in some small way to giving the girls of tomorrow a better future in football.”

Houghton missed out on England’s Euro 2022-winning summer after her season was disrupted by injury and she missed out on Sarina Wiegman’s squad.

City are level on points with WSL champions Chelsea with five games of the season remaining and manager Taylor hailed her impact on the professional era of the sport.

Houghton has played 241 games for City and is the club’s most decorated player with eight major titles, with four League Cups, three FA Cups and a WSL title.

“Steph is, without question, an icon of the game,” Taylor said. “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.

“Steph has lived and breathed football for such a long time, and she leaves it in the strongest place it has ever been; a true testament to her leadership, hard work, talent, and dedication.”

Houghton is married to former Liverpool and Bradford defender Stephen Darby, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2018.

She added: “My biggest thanks, appreciation and love belongs to my husband and inspiration, Stephen, my mam, my dad, 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.

“I am excited for whatever comes next but, in the meantime, I remain focused on giving everything I have left for Manchester City, over the next two months. Thank you.”