Steph Houghton: Manchester City defender talks about retirement after game-changing professional career | football news

It’s around 4:21pm on the final day of the Women’s Super League season and Steph Houghton is getting ready on the touchline. She’s followed the same pregame routine for more than two decades. Except this time it was slightly different.

Manchester City led Aston Villa 1-0 and could still claim the WSL crown, they just needed to improve on Chelsea’s superior goal difference to take first place. As it happened, the Blues recorded a 6-0 victory over Manchester United to take the title away from City, but that didn’t become evident until full-time.

City were doing what they had to do to give themselves at least a chance, and that started by winning the game.

Houghton replaced Alanna Kennedy in the 66th minute to rapturous applause, louder, it seemed, than when Mary Fowler had fired in the first goal shortly before. The 36-year-old was making her final appearance in City colours. In her final appearance as a professional footballer after an iconic 22-year career, her surge of emotion was overwhelming.

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Manchester City captain Steph Houghton was given a guard of honor after their 2-1 defeat to Arsenal, which was her last home game for the club.

She took the captain’s armband from Alex Greenwood before thinking, “Ok, this is actually my last soccer game.” City won 2-1 to finish level on 55 points with Chelsea, but the eight goals were kept by the triumphant Londoners.

Manchester City lost the WSL crown to Chelsea on the final day of the 2023/24 campaign.
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Manchester City lost the WSL crown to Chelsea on the final day of the 2023/24 campaign.

There is no fairytale ending for one of women’s football’s biggest stars and the first footballer to begin to close the gap between status as a player on the field and celebrity off it.

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Highlights from the WSL match between Aston Villa and Manchester City.

Houghton put his hands on his knees and bowed his head after the final whistle. For the sixth time in their history, City had finished runners-up in the WSL, but more than that, the curtain had fallen on a season for the last time. This was the farewell.

Steph Houghton bid an emotional farewell to fans on the final day of the WSL season
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Steph Houghton bid an emotional farewell to fans on the final day of the WSL season

Five days had passed before Houghton returned to Joie Stadium for another round of media engagements, and the feeling was still palpable. “I was excited because I know I can be proud of what I have achieved and what I have done for women’s football,” she reflected, sitting in the audience instead of in front. She was more personal that way.

The defender won eight major trophies in her decade as Manchester City captain (16 at club level in total), while also leading the Lionesses in three major tournaments. “That would have been my dream: to put down the microphone and go away winning a trophy with England, but I wouldn’t change any of that because that has made me the person I am today,” she says.

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Izzy Christiansen shares her reaction to the news that her former teammate Steph Houghton is retiring from football and admits Houghton is an incredible professional and will miss women’s football.

Houghton missed out on the glory of Euro 2022, mainly due to a long-term Achilles injury, which, incidentally, is the reason he will not receive any potential invitations to participate. Strictly come dance after retirement. And she doesn’t like bugs either, so I’m a celebrity is also off the table.

So what’s next for Houghton, someone widely regarded as one of the leading pioneers of the modern era of women’s football, and someone who was the first to capture and cultivate the growing attention?

Steph Houghtonn's club career

“Actually, what excites me the most is the simple things,” he continues. “Sunday dinner, watching my nephews grow up, spending time with the family. To be honest, just being able to take responsibility and have a little more freedom.”

And yet, Houghton’s passion continues to shine. Despite the setbacks, injuries, near misses, disappointment of losing another title or trophy, and the trials and tribulations of being a professional athlete in a rapidly evolving landscape, Houghton loves the game.

“It’s very hard work, but I have so much experience, I’ve worked with so many amazing people, I would be a failure if I didn’t use it,” he responds when asked about the prospect of coaching and management in the future. Indeed, Houghton’s illustrious career coincided with the rapid rise of women’s football and, in many ways, she was the player at the epicenter of it all: a leader of the quiet revolution.

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Manchester City captain and England defender Steph Houghton has announced she will retire from football at the end of the 2023-2024 season and insists now is the right time to hang up her boots.

“We really stuck together to try to make changes. There hasn’t been talk of a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Potentially not signing contracts (with the national team) to allow us to achieve something bigger and for the team to become more powerful. I think we tried change the perception that people had of what we wanted.

“It’s being able to be brave enough to have the conversation in the first place, and probably say no, more than you say yes. I think with the will, and probably the stubbornness, and obviously the unity of the England team “We really stuck together to try to make changes because we felt like we deserved more.”

Capped 121 times by England, Houghton was the first player to be offered a central contract by the Football Association in 2009. When she started, she remembers asking her father to pay her £250 for subscriptions at Sunderland, and was given a hand . -training equipment, and playing on fields equivalent to those of a school.

Steph Houghton's international career

“I don’t want to follow a path, I want options,” she continues, clearly excited to explore a new and different purpose. And that’s the point, right? Thanks to the tireless efforts of Houghton and several colleagues from current and past eras, some of whom she names – Jill Scott, Jen Beattie, Laura Bassett, as well as Faye White, Casey Stoney, Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey – girls and women who practice this sport are now valued and command respect. They have a voice and a platform.

“They gave me a dream. They’ve done a lot to allow me to push the next generation and maybe we don’t talk about that enough.”

He pauses and jokingly adds, “Everyone knows Jill, you probably can’t get her off TV or whatever.”

Houghton captained England at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.
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Houghton captained England at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

So will we see Houghton back in the dugout soon?

“I completed my B license at Christmas and I think that was probably part of my decision to retire. I enjoyed being on the pitch and giving back in a different way. “All the girls have been asking me ‘will you come back to give to the team?’ ?’ I said, ‘no girls, I’ve done my ten years of that.’

“I think I would have the attributes to go down the coaching route, but when I was working from 9am to 7pm at St George’s Park every day I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for this.’

“I like to learn. I like to try something new, so for me it’s just about having an open mind to try it and wanting to progress in a different area and try really different things.”

Houghton has not yet announced his next venture. “I can’t sing or dance,” she reminds the assembled group of journalists, as she gets up from his seat after chatting for almost an hour. So it’s football.

Chances are she won’t stay away for long.

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