England boss Mark Sampson backed by Steph Houghton amid 'bullying' claims

Houghton backs Sampson after 'difficult situation'

England captain Steph Houghton says bullying allegations against head coach Mark Sampson have "hit the squad very hard" but he retains her support.

Sampson is accused of discrimination by Chelsea striker Eniola Aluko.

The 34-year-old has been cleared of wrongdoing by two investigations and vehemently denies the allegations.

"It has been difficult, but of course I back him. Since Mark has been in charge I've enjoyed every moment," Houghton, 29, told BBC Sport.

Sampson also told BBC Sport it had been a "difficult situation" for him and his family but he has "had support from the players since the allegations".

"It's been great to meet up this week and see everybody face-to-face and have some conversations about helping his team move forward."

Houghton added that the squad members were "all behind" Sampson and now "want to focus on qualification" for the World Cup, with an opening qualifier at home to Russia to come on 19 September.

"I'm disappointed because women's football has come a long way over the last four or five years and we pride ourselves on inspiring the next generation," she said.

"It's a very difficult and complex situation but we now have to focus on the football more than ever."

I'm not a racist - Sampson

Sampson contradicts own evidence

Sampson appeared to contradict his own evidence when questioned over a conversation about the Ebola virus that he allegedly had with Aluko.

Aluko has claimed Sampson told her to make sure her Nigerian relatives did not bring the Ebola virus to a game at Wembley in 2014.

Sampson told an independent investigation about an alleged conversation he had with Aluko in a car when the player revealed she had previously been called "Ebola" instead of "Eniola" by a cold-caller.

However, on Tuesday, he said he had no recollection of ever talking to Aluko about Ebola.

"I can't remember any particular conversation," he said. "What I made clear was that, again, it's not right for me to go into all the details of a confidential investigation.

"I've been in this job three and a half years, worked with over 100 players and every conversation I've had, the clear message from me is that the intention is to support the players, help them. But I can't remember every single conversation I've ever had with players."

On Monday, it was announced senior Football Association executives will face a parliamentary inquiry over the investigations into Sampson's alleged treatment of Aluko.

Aluko and England forward Lianne Sanderson, who has not played for England since complaining about a mix-up over a presentation ceremony for her 50th cap, have also been invited to give evidence.

A select committee hearing is planned for mid-October.

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