Alessia Russo’s unlikely link to the boys of 1966! How the future Lioness met World Cup winner George Cohen when she raced his granddaughter as a middle distance runner
- As a pre-teen, Russo competed for the Tonbridge Athletic Club alongside Ellie
- The star forward met the World Cup winner at a meeting years before her final
- WATCH: Wiegman CAN’T recall Lauren James, Mail Sport’s Chris Sutton says
In a small Kentish market town lies an unlikely connection between England’s World Cup heroes of 1966 and the Lionesses who could match their achievement on Sunday.
Until the age of 15, England’s star forward Alessia Russo competed for Tonbridge Athletic Club alongside Ellie Cohen – granddaughter of George, a member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s world champions.
George regularly attended track meetings to support Ellie and was introduced to Alessia, little realising she might become a World Cup-winner herself.
‘Everyone admired George and would want to come up and chat with him,’ says his daughter-in-law, Helen Cohen, who also coached Alessia at Tonbridge.
‘At one event, Alessia’s dad Mario came over and asked if we could introduce her to George. It’s lovely to look back now and remember them meeting.
Alessio Russo (right) sets the pace alongside Ellie Cohen when running for their club in Tonbridge in 2011
Russo’s childhood friend was the daughter of World Cup winner George Cohen, who she met at one of their athletics meets
The star is on the precipice of playing her own World Cup final – with hopes of similar outcome
George Cohen was hugely proud of what Alessia has achieved. At last year’s Euros, he managed to get a message to the Lionesses via the FA which said ‘Rooting for you, from a very old Lion!’
George, a one-club man with Fulham, was rated among England’s greatest right-backs. He died last December aged 83. His granddaughter ran for Tonbridge with Alessia between 2010 and 2014, before Russo left to dedicate herself to football.
‘They were in the middle distance group that I trained,’ Helen says. ‘They hit it off straight away. We’d do track in the summer and cross-country in the winter. A lot of girls wouldn’t want all the mud that goes with training on fields, but they loved getting stuck in.
‘Alessia was a real sporting all-rounder. She would play football on a Saturday but if we needed her on a Sunday for athletics, she’d be up for it.
‘Alessia would try any event if we needed her to get points for the team: high jump, long jump, even a race walk on one occasion. You can see her speed watching the World Cup. Athletics’s loss has been football’s gain.’
As friends, Alessia and Ellie shared sleepovers and joined each other for family barbecues. Ellie Cohen is about to start her final year at university, and still keeps active by doing triathlons and half-marathons. Today, she is on holiday in Finland, hoping to find a TV set so she can see her old friend become a World Cup-winner.
Cohen (right, in 2014) sent Russo well-wishes during last year’s Euros from ‘a very old Lion!’
The England international and one-club Fulham player passed away in December 2022
Russo scored the matchwinner during England’s clash with Australia to set up the historic final
The Cohen family hope their association with Stadium Australia in Sydney will also bring luck to the Lionesses.
In 2003, George’s nephew Ben helped England win the rugby union World Cup in the same stadium, with George and his son, Tony, Ellie’s father, at the game.
Having seen Russo score in the quarter-final and semi-final, everyone in Tonbridge and the Cohen household are hoping for the ultimate hat-trick in the final against Spain today.
‘It would be an amazing achievement for the Lionesses to win. I know George would be hugely proud that the little girl he met all those years ago ended up a World Cup-winner like him,’ Helen Cohen says.
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