England legend Steph Houghton's family key in retirement call

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Former England and Manchester City captain Steph Houghton has said perspective was key in making her decision to retire at the end of the season.

Houghton, 35, announced her retirement from football ahead of the end of the 2023-24 season and played her final match in City's 2-1 win over Aston Villa last weekend.

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City narrowly missed out on what would have been their first Women's Super League title since 2016, falling short on goal difference to seven-time winners Chelsea.

Houghton has revealed that wanting to spend time with her family was a driving force in making her decision.

"I think perspective was really key in terms of like my life away from football and spending time with people, spending time with my husband," Houghton said

"At times this season I haven't really enjoyed it as much as I normally would. So I think once you start having them feelings and you go home and you're maybe not yourself when you go back home, I think that's when I was like, right, okay, I need to really assess what the next steps are because, from a mental point of view, I couldn't really go on the way that I was going on.

"These last few days have been a bit manic so I haven't really had a chance to think about how I feel. Saturday was really emotional in the sense of disappointment that we didn't win the league but, at the same time, the reception that I got from City fans and Villa fans was absolutely unbelievable. That will be a moment that lives with us for ever. But ultimately, I just want a few weeks to settle down and really assess how I'm feeling. I'm excited for what's next."

Houghton won 16 domestic trophies during an illustrious 20-year career that spanned four clubs: Sunderland, Leeds, Arsenal and Manchester City. Her last eight titles were secured during 10 years and 241 appearances for City.

She was capped 121 times by England between 2007 and 2021 and starred in four major tournaments, representing her country at three World Cups in 2011, 2015 and 2019 as well at the Euro Finals in 2013 and 2017. She was among the first 17 players to be given a central contract by the FA.

Houghton famously scored the winner for Team GB against Brazil at the London 2012 Olympics, which helped to kick-start significant growth in women's football in England. She was subsequently appointed captain in 2014 and led the Lionesses to a third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

However, the lengthy career has taken a toll on her personal life and has meant the defender has spent significant time away from home and her family. Her husband, former Liverpool player Stephen Darby, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018. Houghton has spent a great deal of time since then advocating and raising awareness through her husband's foundation, The Darby Rimmer Foundation, and is looking forward to spending much-needed family time with her loved ones and dedicating time to continuing to support the charity.

"I want to have a little bit of time to spend with Stephen and my family and do normal things for a bit, which I've not had a chance to do for a number of years," Houghton said.

"Retiring allows me to help him a little bit in terms of trying to raise as much money as we possibly can to help and support people, but also to raise money for research and raise awareness. I'm sure I'll be dragged into a few more walks around Manchester, Liverpool, London, wherever it may be. I've got no excuse now, I can't say that I'm preparing for a game, I'll have to get my walking boots on."

"I think it's about time that I owe some time back to them and am able to see them [family] a lot more. My nephews are growing up, so it would be nice to kind of watch them grow up and spend more time with them.

"And especially Stephen. Obviously, everybody knows that it's been tough these last few years, so I need to be a little bit more unselfish with my time and try to create more memories with him and retiring that allows me to have that time to do that. Family is everything to us and I know that they've always been there for throughout my career so it would be nice to actually spend some normal time with them."

Wanting to keep the options for her post-player career open, Houghton was named as one of 17 former and current players who are part of an all-female cohort aiming to earn their UEFA A license. She admitted coaching is a possible avenue to explore but she'd also like to remain within the set-up at City at a higher administrative level as well. She has also dabbled in punditry and media since her playing career slowed down.

"I think that's the idea to kind of really just open up any avenue that I can to kind of really get used to being away from the pitch. I think you do have to have that mindset sort of like is a different, different chapter. It is the next chapter and I'm probably gonna kind of hit it as hard as I have done my football one.

"I know that whatever I do in the future, I know that I wanna commit to it. I wanna give absolutely everything to have the biggest influence that I can."