The Mail on Sunday

England star: I’d give up World Cup dream to care for my sick husband

- By Padraig Flanagan

STEPH HOUGHTON, captain of t he England women’s football team, has spoken publicly for the first time about the devastatin­g illness that ended her husband’s career in the game.

Stephen Darby, 30, who began his career with Liverpool, was forced to announce his retirement in September after being diagnosed with the degenerati­ve brain condition motor neurone disease.

In a moving and defiant interview with The Mail on Sunday today, Houghton says he has become her ‘ultimate inspiratio­n’ as she prepares to lead her country into the World Cup later this year.

And she says she would give up her dream to look after Stephen – but he wouldn’t let her.

Houghton, 30, says her husband, who also played for Bradford and Bolton, would not want her to miss the World Cup.

She says: ‘He wants me to go. He says, “Get out of the house!” ’

She adds: ‘My focus is the World Cup now and fingers crossed it never ever gets to the moment where I have to step away.

‘ It would all depend on how Stephen is. He’s my priority. If anything were to change in the near future, my job is to be the best wife that I can be and to look after him.

‘But at the moment, everything is great. He’s as good as ever. If I’m selected, he’ll come to the tournament to support us. He comes everywhere now.’

Houghton gave a hint of the impact the disease has had on them, saying: ‘It’s obviously been a really, really tough year on a personal level.’

But she says Stephen’s positive attitude has kept her going. ‘He’s been an unbelievab­le person in the way he has dealt with i t. He’s the ultimate inspiratio­n for me and my family, he’s been so strong. He really motivates me to be the best person I can be and the ultimate thing for me is to make him proud.’

England manager Phil Neville says Houghton will lead the team if fit and, despite her personal challenges, is playing as well as ever.

‘I t hink she has become an even better leader if anything, even more determined,’ he says. ‘Sometimes, you need a distractio­n as a release from the anguish and the pain.’

Earlier this year, researcher­s in Italy discovered that footballer­s were five times more likely than non-footballer­s to develop the condition, possibly due to the effects of heading the ball.

 ?? ?? ‘MY INSPIRATIO­N’: Steph and Stephen on their wedding day last summer
‘MY INSPIRATIO­N’: Steph and Stephen on their wedding day last summer

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