By 90Min
May 01, 2019

Manchester City defender Steph Houghton will lead England into the 2019 Women's World Cup as Lionesses captain at a major tournament for the third time, hoping to go all the way in France.

With the tournament just six weeks away, this is everything you need to know about England's fearless leader...


Club Career

Hailing from the north east of England, a talent haven of women's football that has also produced Lucy Bronze and Jordan Nobbs, a young Houghton was quickly signed up to the youth ranks at regional powerhouse Sunderland.

The versatile Houghton was equally adept up front, in midfield or in defence and was incredibly a debutant aged just 14. She later helped the Black Cats earn promotion to the top flight in 2006, but relegation the next season saw the rapidly developing talent move on.

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Leeds won the battle for Houghton's coveted signature, followed by a high profile switch to a dominant Arsenal side in 2010, where three seasons yielded six major trophies.

At the end of 2013, Houghton, by now a star, a commanding centre-back, and about to hit her peak at the age of 25, accepted the call from an ambitious Manchester City offering a new kind of challenge in the burgeoning era of professionalism in England.

Houghton herself had already received a central contract from the FA in 2009, but this was a whole new step forward into being a professional footballer.

"I loved my time at Arsenal, it was a fantastic club and still is, but on a personal level, I wasn't flourishing as much as I wanted to," she told The Boot Room in early 2018. "Then Manchester City came in, a brand new team that was giving me the chance to play full time, compete in a fantastic stadium and also be closer to home. It really wasn't an opportunity I could turn down."


International Career

Houghton's international career with England began in the autumn of 2006 when the then 18-year-old was an unused substitute for a friendly against World Cup holders Germany.

Her senior debut eventually came six months later, although Houghton's early international was marred by setbacks after a broken leg ruled her out of the 2007 World Cup and a knee injury kept her out of the Euro 2009 squad, with the Lionesses reaching the final without her.

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That being said, Houghton was still part of victorious England squads at the minor Cyprus Cup in 2009, 2013 and 2015. By the latter tournament, she had been named England captain after former manager Mark Sampson opted to refresh the Lionesses upon taking over in 2014.

Houghton reached a century of international caps in November 2018 in a friendly against Sweden and earlier this year lifted the SheBelieves Cup as England finished ahead of hosts United States in the prestigious annual competition.

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Despite being a defender, Houghton has scored 12 goals for England to date.


Major Tournaments

Having missed the World Cup in 2007, breaking her leg in training just days before, and the European Championship in 2009, Houghton finally played at a major tournament for the first time as a fringe player at the 2011 World Cup, with England exiting at the quarter finals.

Houghton was called up for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, scoring from defence in all three group games, before another quarter final elimination.

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Euro 2013 was unfortunately a disaster. Houghton had become a starter, still not in the centre-back role that would come to define her, but England went home early after failing to win a single game, despite much pre-tournament hope and expectation.

The 2015 World Cup could hardly have been any different. By now captain, Houghton led England through the rounds, even scoring a crucial equaliser in the last 16 against Norway. The Lionesses' involvement only came to an end in the semi finals after a stoppage time own goal from Laura Bassett, but there came a silver lining after a victory over Germany to finish third.

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With Houghton as captain once more, Euro 2017 produced another semi final for England, bowing out to eventual winners Netherlands. The hope is they can go even further in 2019.


Honours & Awards

No stranger to team trophies and individual accolades, Houghton was named Young Player of the Year by the FA in 2007 after emerging with Sunderland and was later England Women's Player of the Year in 2012.

A minor cup with Leeds in 2010 was followed by back-to-back Women's Super League success with Arsenal in 2011 and 2012. That also came with League Cup successes in 2012 and 2013, as well as FA Cup wins in 2011 and 2013.

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Houghton added a third overall WSL title of her career with Manchester City in 2016, while she has won three further League Cups (2014, 2016, 2019) with City, and one FA Cup (2017).

Houghton was awarded an MBE for services to football in the 2016 New Year Honours list, while the PFA presented her with a Special Merit award this month, the first woman to win the award and joining past winners like David Beckham, Sir Alex Ferguson, Pele and Bob Paisley.

She was described as 'An impeccable role model with strong leadership skills, a huge heart, versatility and a staggering work rate', with the award recognising her central role in the enormous growth of the women's game in England over the last 15 years.


Motivation Out of Tragedy

Houghton is married to former Liverpool and Bradford footballer Stephen Darby, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year at the age of 29.

Darby is set to accompany Houghton to the World Cup this summer and she explained in a lengthy interview for the Daily Mail this month,' the ultimate thing for me is to make him proud'.

Despite such cruel twist in her personal life, England manager Phil Neville thinks Houghton is now an even better player after enjoying what he called her 'best year in football', growing into a 'better leader' and becoming 'even more determined'.

"Sometimes, you need a distraction as a release from the anguish and the pain," he said.

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