England legend Steph Houghton to retire at end of season

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Former England captain Steph Houghton has announced she will retire from professional football at the end of this current season.

The 35-year-old's career has spanned 20 years, playing for four different clubs (Sunderland, Leeds United, Arsenal and Manchester City), lifting 16 domestic trophies -- including eight with current club, City.

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Houghton has been capped for England 121 times, but has not played for her country since 2021. She captained England at three major tournaments and represented Team GB at two Olympics. She has won three WSL titles, too (one with City, two with Arsenal).

She was named captain of the Lionesses in 2015 and led the team to third place at the 2015 World Cup in Canada but missed out on a place in Sarina Wiegman's squad for the 2022 Euros through injury.

Houghton announced the decision on social media, writing: "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."

During her 10 years with Manchester City, the English defender became the club's record appearance holder with 241 appearances in all competitions and the most decorated player.

She also became the first City player to reach 100 appearances in 2017.

Manchester 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."

Tributes were also paid by current Lionesses head coach Sarina Wiegman and the FA's director of women's football, Baroness Sue Campbell.

"Steph deserves all the praise she will rightly receive for her remarkable career," Wiegman said. "I know she has been inspiring so many young girls to follow in her footsteps.

"I wish her the very best with whatever comes next and look forward to being able to celebrate her achievements at one of our games later this year."

Added Campbell: "Steph has played a huge part in the growth of the women's game and her impact transcends not just football but across sport. She has been the epitome of a role model. There will be girls who have seen Steph play with talent, determination and integrity and gone home and said: 'I want to be Steph Houghton.'

"I'd like to personally say 'thank you Steph' and also thank her on behalf of The FA for everything she's done on and off the pitch. We've been lucky to have her in the women's game and I wish her the very best in retirement."