‘Icon of the game’: Ex-England captain Houghton to retire

Manchester City Women defender and former England captain Steph Houghton is retiring from football at the end of the season.

Houghton, who turns 36 in April, has won three Women’s Super League titles across her spells with Arsenal and City.

The defender also has 121 caps for her country, leading the Lionesses to third place at the 2015 World Cup.

“There is no easy way to say it, but I am retiring from football at the end of the current WSL season,” Houghton said in a statement.

“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.”

Injury has blighted the latter stages of her career and led to Houghton missing out on Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses squad that won the Euros in 2022.

Houghton has the chance to sign off in style, though, by helping her side to another league title this season – with City level on points with Chelsea at the top of the WSL table.

Steph Houghton's international career
Houghton’s international career

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

“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.

“Steph will excel in whatever she puts her mind to, and, on behalf of everyone here at Manchester City, I’d like to express our immense gratitude and wish Steph all the very best for the future.”

Steph Houghtonn's club career
Houghton’s club career

Izzy Christiansen, a team-mate of Houghton’s with City and England, told Sky Sports News: “Steph is an absolutely superb professional but I completely understand her reasoning. It’s mentally and physically exhausting, giving so much to the game at a time when not many people believed in it.

“Steph was one of those that paved the way and believed when not many did. She set the highest of standards with her professionalism as a captain.

“Playing with her for Man City and England, she was an incredible leader and she will continue to be that for the rest of the season.”

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Izzy Christiansen shares her reaction to the news that former team-mate Houghton is set to retire from football and says she is an incredible professional who will be a loss to women’s football

The Sky Sports pundit added: “I genuinely don’t think England would have won the Euros in 2022 had Steph not been a captain before for club and for country.

“Her impact in the game, it extends for the last 10 or 15 years at least, especially within the change of professionalism in women’s football.

“Steph is somebody I look at and will always look back on as someone that paved the way for a lot of people and I hope over the next few months she gets her recognition in the game.”

Houghton’s retirement statement in full

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Steph Houghton of Manchester City celebrates after the Barclays Womens Super League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on November 19, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Steph Houghton
Houghton could end her 10-year spell at City with a second WSL title for the club

“There is no easy way to say it, but I am retiring from football at the end of the current WSL season.

“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 team-mate 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.

Steph Houghton has signed a new contract at Man City Women (picture courtesy of Man City Women FC)
Houghton will call time on her playing career at the end of the season

“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 10 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.

“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 twenty 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.

“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.”

‘Man City will have extra title motivation’

Sky Sports News’ Anton Toloui:

“I don’t think the news itself is any surprise. As she’s mentioned in her interview with City, the last couple of years of her career haven’t quite gone to plan, but the fact she’s announced it now is a bit of a surprise.

“Manchester City are in a heck of a title race right now, but I don’t think she wants to become a distraction as the end of the season gets closer. City are trying to win the WSL title and they will very much want to do it for the club captain Houghton, because she’s that popular, that iconic a figure. Manchester City now have extra motivation.

“You can’t easily sum up the impact on the professional game that Houghton has had. She is the epitome of a professional. Since she became captain, that England team has learned how to go deep in tournaments. Don’t forget how good a player she’s been, too; the complete defender: positioning, strength, scoring from set-pieces.

“It has been really difficult and frustrating in the last couple of years of her career. Sarina Wiegman, in her first week in charge, said that Houghton would be her captain at first. The day before the first Lionesses game under Wiegman, Houghton did her Achilles. She never played for England again. She worked so hard to get back for the Euros but wasn’t selected. She lost her place at Manchester City too; they signed Alanna Kennedy, Alex Greenwood came in and did so well at centre-half.

“But there will not be one person in the league more determined to go on and win the next nine games to end City’s barren run stretching back to 2016.”

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