Family matters as Aluko aims to raise England and women’s game

IT MAY have been a year to forget so far for one half of the Aluko footballing family, but for the other, it promises to be far more special.

While her younger brother Sone copped deep-seated disappointment just over a fortnight ago when Hull City’s relegation from the Premier League to the Championship was confirmed, opportunity knocks for Chelsea Ladies striker Eniola on the world stage in the biggest sporting summer of her life.

In the form of her career at 28, Aluko and the England Ladies side are assigned with making names for themselves in the Women’s World Cup, which starts today in Canada and embrace their share of the sporting limelight back home in the process.

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Across the globe, the competition is capturing the attention of wider sections of the populace, with TV audiences expected to eclipse the 400m people that tuned in four years ago and nearly one million tickets already sold.

Like her sibling, Aluko is a forward with blistering pace, having shown her wares already for Chelsea this year, helping them to the Women’s FA Cup final and top spot in the Women’s Super League, which resumes in the middle of July.

Her seismic summer starts with international business with the Three Lionesses, who face a tough opener on Tuesday against France, who have knocked England out of the past two major tournaments – the 2012 European Championships and 2011 World Cup.

Mexico follow four days later and on June 17, Mark Sampson’s side finish off their group games against Colombia in the Olympic Stadium in Montreal – ahead of a tilt at the knock-out stages, all being well.

If that is achieved, Aluko will get within sight of her milestone 100th appearance – she currently has 91 caps and is not planning on packing her suitcase and making an early exit either.

Negotiating six games en route to the final would certainly be nice with England Ladies, like the men’s side, seeking to go one stage further than that perpetually annoying quarter-final hurdle of modern times – they reached the last eight of the World Cup in 1995, 2007 and 2011.

Aluko told The Yorkshire Post: “I think we are quite open in saying we want to do well and try and win the tournament.

“Although that will take a lot of hard work and outstanding performances, but we have got to try and do that.

“For us, we have got to get to that quarter-final stage and then try and take it from there. We have achieved the quarter-finals before and it’s about going further than that now.

“I do think the pressure will be on France and Germany and the US. But at the World Cup, pressure is on everyone and to play at the highest level, you have to deal with pressure.

“People are always hungry for football and I know there’s the under-21s men’s championships, but it is important for us to increase the profile of the women’s game and this is a great opportunity to do that by going far with England.”

A successful sports and entertainment lawyer, Aluko is not just a talented footballer, but academic and articulate off the pitch too.

For now, the day job is on hold and she is enjoying the exhilarating ride of being a leading international footballer in the peak years of her career, with the focus now being on delivering on that promise.

She said: “I am in the best shape I have ever been in, in terms of my performance and fitness levels.

“I am also working with the best coach I have ever been with and it’s just been a really exciting year.

“I have been helped a lot by Chelsea having an exciting season and am full of confidence. Hopefully I can perform to my best.

“For now, I have put my legal career on hold and am just enjoying being a footballer really. I am in a really good place and hopefully that will continue.”

Her brother may be licking his wounds after Hull’s relegation, but Aluko can firmly count on his moral support over the coming weeks.

The pair have come a long way since kicking a ball around as football-mad youngsters in Birmingham, when both were supporters of Manchester United.

The bond between the duo has always been close; Sone has called his sister a ‘role model’ with both making history in September 2013 when they scored goals that were shown on Match of the Day.

Eniola netted for England in a World Cup qualifying match, while Sone hit a stunning volley for Hull to clinch a win against Newcastle United – but competition for bragging rights has never been in the equation.

Eniola, who also made history last year when she was the first female pundit to appear on Match of the Day, added: “We were big Manchester United fans when we were younger, although probably not so much now, yet Sone still is.

“But I am more aligned to Chelsea. We grew up as huge football fans.

“I speak to him all the time and we see our family all the time. We are always engaging and congratulate and support each other in the best way we can. There’s no competition.”

Yorkshire links in England’s 23-man squad include ex-Leeds Carnegie players Carly Telford, Ellen White, captain Steph Houghton and Laura Bassett.

Former Leeds university student Lucy Bronze, a defender at Manchester City, is also among the party and she could partner Houghton in the heart of the back four against the French in the city of Moncton in New Brunswick in just three days time.

Bronze is certainly eager for a large slice of the action at the World Cup – after spending her student days in West Yorkshire devouring cold pizza for breakfast.

The 23-year-old, raised in Lindisfarne, earned a crust as a student in a fast-food takeaway near her digs in Leeds just three years ago – and her journey to the World Cup is one to savour.

While working in Leeds, Bronze was battling a knee injury, regularly crossing the Pennines for treatment with her club at the time, Everton, and studying for a sports science degree that she began in the United States.

Bronze said: “We all know that women’s football hasn’t been a great paying career and I was unfortunate when it became full-time and more professional and semi-professional that I got struck down with a lot of injuries.

“Although I was in and around teams like Liverpool and Everton when they were coming into the leagues, I didn’t get paid because I was injured.

“And I was at university doing a full-time degree. So I was injured, rehabbing, trying to train, and travelling from Leeds to Liverpool two or three times a week, and I had to do all my studies because I was doing my dissertation.

“I needed a job to pay for petrol money. It was the student dream: I had cold pizza for breakfast and warm pizza at night, and a bottle of Coke to go with it.”