Phil Neville says his Lionesses ‘would do anything’ for their inspirational captain Steph Houghton a year her husband was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
The Manchester City and England skipper married former Liverpool defender Stephen Darby just three months before he was diagnosed with the incurable condition in September last year.
Since then the 31-year-old has shown remarkable courage and strength to lead her country to a World Cup semi-final and collect two domestic trophies, including the FA Cup, alongside her club teammates.
Despite the obvious off-field distractions, Houghton’s commitment to representing her country has never wavered and the England boss has been impressed with the way she has carried herself even in the most testing of scenarios.
“Her best quality is her mental strength and I wouldn’t wish the last 12 months that she has been through on anyone,” said Neville.
“She has had the best season of her career under incredible circumstances and we are proud to have her with us - the Lionesses will do anything for that girl.
“She has handled it with incredible class and I think the moment that made me most proud of her was the when she missed that penalty at the World Cup.
“Steph walked straight off and did interviews in the mixed-zone, where there were loads of very happy Americans, and she held herself incredibly well.
“And that shows, more so than what she does on the field, the type of person that she is.”
Darby, 30, announced his retirement from football with immediate effect after his diagnosis having made more than 300 appearances for Liverpool, Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers.
The former defender has since devoted his time to the charity that bears his name along with friend and former British soldier Chris Rimmer - The Darby Rimmer MND Foundation.
There are currently no approved treatments for the debilitating disease that also took the life of former Rangers midfielder and Netherlands international Fernando Ricksen last month.
Neville and his players have pledged full support to their captain since the her husband's cruel diagnosis but now Houghton has the full backing of the FA too.
The FA will be working with Darby's charity for the friendly against Brazil at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday October 5 to raise vital awareness - something Neville considers only moral given the stature of his skipper.
And with almost 30,000 tickets sold for the Brazil game, the visibility and understanding of the subject is only likely to grow from here on in.
“For someone who has played 114 times for England – I think it is only right that we do these types of things for them,” he added.
“It is something that is close, not just to Steph, but to the whole team- the players think it is a great gesture and the FA has done fantastically to allow this to happen.
“We saw [Fernando] Ricksen die of the same illness recently and we think it will raise awareness and football is such a great stage to make things visible and get some awareness.
“Someone like Steph deserves this, so does her family, Stephen is a great guy and you couldn’t meet two nicer people.
“The game at Bradford was a real emotional occasion and Stephen spoke fantastically well and this will help to raise awareness for a real debilitating illness that no one wants to see affecting people.”