STEPH Houghton hopes she leaves the game “in a better place than when I started” and few could disagree that she has achieved just that.

The significant contribution she made will be recognised far beyond her 2016 MBE for achievements in women’s football.

After she announced that this season will be her last as a player, current Manchester City coach Gareth Taylor described her as “without question, an icon of the game”, while England wrote: “From leading the Lionesses to growing the women’s game – your impact will never be forgotten. A true icon.”

Houghton’s haul of eight major trophies with City – four Continental Cups, three Women’s FA Cups and the FA Women’s Super League title – makes her the club’s most decorated player.

But she also won the WSL twice with Arsenal, along with two FA Cups and three WSL Cups – and has played 121 times for England.

She is a bona fide England great but it was with Great Britain that the Durham native made her breakthrough as a star of the women’s game as she announced herself on the world stage at the 2012 London Olympics, scoring three times – including a winner against Brazil in front of a Wembley crowd of 70,000 – despite playing left-back.

It represented quite the turnaround for a player who had sat out the 2007 World Cup and 2009 European Championship with a broken leg and cruciate knee injuries respectively, a curse which was to strike again most painfully when she missed England’s historic triumph on home soil at Euro 2022 after surgery on an Achilles problem.

But, despite those setbacks, Houghton’s international career had its high points, captaining the Lionesses to a third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup and two subsequent major tournament semi-finals, reaching a century of England appearances and playing at another Olympics.


She was more successful, and less unfortunate, at club level as having progressed from Sunderland to Leeds in 2007, she made the move to Arsenal in 2010 and quickly started collecting silverware.

Initially a full-back with a keen eye for goal she would go on to be regarded as one of the finest centre-backs in the world and also a great leader, having captained Arsenal and City and assuming the Lionesses armband ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

But there was more international heartbreak to come in 2019 as she missed a late penalty in the 2-1 World Cup semi-final defeat to the United States having only been told on the day of the game she was assuming responsibilities from Nikita Parris.

She captained GB at her second Olympics, the 2021 Tokyo Games, but it was to be her last major tournament as she was sidelined by the Achilles issue, returned to make Sarina Wiegman’s provisional England squad for the 2022 Euros and then was omitted from the the final cut.

Away from the pitch, Houghton is married to former Bradford and Liverpool defender Stephen Darby, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018.

Houghton has taken part in a host of fundraising activities, including running 100 kilometres in aid of her husband’s charity – Darby Rimmer MND Foundation – in 2020 and last week brought her Man City team-mates to join him and former Ipswich striker Marcus Stewart, who also has the disease, at the end of a ‘March of the Day’ from Bradford to Liverpool.

Houghton, 36 in April, will have the chance to end her career on a high with City level on points with WSL leaders Chelsea with five matches remaining.