A seven-year-old girl was left “crying with happiness” after receiving a personal message from Arsenal player Alessia Russo for her birthday.
Naomi Abehsera, 16, from north-west London, surprised her younger sister, Abby, with a teddy bear containing a voice note from Russo, wishing her a happy birthday.
Naomi had the voice note loaded on to a device and sewn into the bear, which she gave to her sister along with a signed shirt from her favourite football player.
Naomi posted her sister’s reaction on X, formerly Twitter, which shows her screaming after realising the personalised message was from the Arsenal forward.
“She was so happy. She was very emotional. At first, she was just in genuine disbelief,” the A-level student told the PA news agency.
“She wouldn’t leave the bear or the top… she didn’t want to go to school, she just wanted to stay with the Alessia bear.
“At night, she was with the bear and she started crying with happiness.”
The message left by Russo said: “Hi Abby, happy birthday. Hope you have a lovely day.”
In her post on X, Naomi asked her followers to tag Russo in the hope she might see the video but was “shocked” to see the footballer repost the footage, which had reached over 300,000 views as of December 3.
She said: “I didn’t realise it was her but when I did realise I was shocked.
“I also wasn’t [shocked] because Alessia is the player that does the most fan recognition. At every match, she is always the last off the pitch and security has to drag her out.”
Naomi said the gift from Russo was particularly poignant as the footballer is an inspiration to Abby.
She explained: “For little girls, it’s more than just players, especially Abby, she wants to be a footballer.
“They look up to these players so much and to be recognised by them must mean so much to them.”
Naomi, who also plays football, began watching the Arsenal Women’s team and the Lionesses to help her through a knee injury, which prompted her to introduce Abby to the sport.
“At first [Abby] actually said to me, ‘girls can’t play football’ because you don’t know that unless it’s being represented,” Naomi said.
“During the Euros, we watched all the matches together, and that’s when Abby really clicked with them and from day one Alessia has always been one of her favourites.”
The gift idea began after Naomi pitched the idea of recording Russo’s voice into a toy after a Continental Cup match against Arsenal Women and Bristol City Women in November.
“[Russo] said it was a really cool idea, so she recorded a video saying happy birthday,” Naomi explained.
Two weeks later at an away match in Brighton, the 16-year-old said Russo walked over to her after the game and called the bear “so cute” before signing the stuffed toy and offering a signed shirt.
Following the viral moment, Naomi wanted to extend her gratitude to the footballer, calling her a “real player” and “very inspirational” for the younger generation.
The student said: “[Russo is] such a real player. She really does connect with her fans and takes the time to speak to them and meet them.
“She’s just so much more than just a football player… she’s just very inspirational for loads of little kids who want to be football players.
“She’s an amazing role model and just thank you and never stop the fan appreciation because it means a lot more than players realise.”