Sheffield United’s Sophie Walton’s impressive football circle, from Steph Houghton to footballer partner and brother
As far as footballing expertise is concerned, Sophie Walton of Sheffield United Women is in a league of her own as she looks ahead to the next chapter of her career.
Great players don’t always make for great coaches but with a host of England youth caps and top-flight experience, the 32-year-old has plenty to offer.
She could always call on best friend and England captain Steph Houghton for help, too. The pair met 15 years ago while on international duty for the Lionesses.
Failing that, Walton could pick up the phone to her older brother Simon, a former England youth international whose spell on loan with the Blades in 2010 was cut short by injury.
Or she could speak to her partner, former Wolves striker Jake Cassidy, who currently plays for National League North side Darlington, having previously enjoyed spells at Tranmere, Notts County –where Walton also played – and Hartlepool United.
Sheffield United Women head coach Neil Redfearn even lives on the same housing estate as defender Walton in Pontefract with his partner Lucy Ward, a former teammate of her’s at Leeds United.
“I have grown up with football,” she admits.
"In one way it’s nice but sometimes you don’t manage to catch a break from that side of things.
"There’s a lot of downs that come with that side. I have seen the good times and bad times, that’s definitely helped us along the way.
"We can just take experiences from each other and help each other out.”
That experience is now being passed down to her and Cassidy’s ‘football-mad’ five-year-old son, Alfie-J, who has already been snapped up by Manchester City’s pre-academy.
“It’s a real football family,” adds Walton.
"We have football on nearly every night when it’s on. I’ll go to as many of Jake’s games as I can and he will come to all mine.
"We are supportive and go watch as much as we can, but we would like to switch off a little bit.”
Walton concedes this season is likely to be her last as a player and admits: “My body’s telling me I have probably had enough.”
She took on a coaching role under Redfearn at the beginning of the campaign to open the door to the possibility of a future on the other side of the touchline.
"Five years ago I would have point-blank said ‘No’ (to coaching) but the way the game’s progressed and the role I have found myself in at the last three clubs I’ve been at, the youngsters have been leaning on me for help and guidance.
"There’s actually a career in women’s football now. When I was a bit younger it was a hobby. There’s full-time coaching opportunities and progression. It's definitely more appealing.”
Away from football Walton boasts business experience with a degree in business management and her own kids clothing business.
A future role in football administration has not been ruled out, either.
“I have got an interest in the business side of football as well,” she said.
"That’s an opportunity myself and Sheffield United have talking about once I’ve finished playing.”
Walton has plenty of options, it seems, and even more useful contacts.