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She cheered on Ulster a week after heart op... but now knee surgery means Ruth (76) will miss first game in years


Published 25/10/2013

Ulster Rugby fanatic Ruth Kohner
Ulster Rugby fanatic Ruth Kohner

One of Ulster Rugby's most fervent fans says she will be disappointed to miss one of her first matches in years due to a knee operation.

Even a heart operation didn't stop Nazi refugee Ruth Kohner (76) missing the Heineken Cup clash in Montpellier.

She even travelled to France a week after she got a pacemaker.

Ruth laughed when she recalled that her first question when told she needed the heart operation was: "Will I still be able to go to Montpellier".

She has booked her place on the pre-Christmas trip to Treviso, but scheduled knee replacement surgery in January means she will miss Ulster's trip to Welford Road for the final Pool 6 match against Leicester Tigers. However, she said she will still try to get to matches in Ravenhill even as she recovers.

Ruth's love of rugby goes back to when she was just 10 and had to become a member of the North of Ireland club in Belfast to use their pitch to play lacrosse.

She went on to become an Irish international lacrosse player and was capped 35 times, but rugby was always close to her heart.

She went to her earliest matches with her former lacrosse coach Jo Gibson – mother of North, Ulster, Ireland and Lions legend Mike Gibson.

North have since combined with Collegians to form the current Harlequins club.

"I have been a North fan, then Harlequins and now Ulster is my big love," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "When you enjoy watching a game and know enough about it, you begin to love it and the camaraderie and support is so universal with everyone looking for the team success.

"It's a lovely sport to become a part of. I think the spirit of Ulster Rugby is getting stronger all the time, it's become a very big unit and all looking after each other."

Ruth said she has had lots of favourite players over the years, including David Humphreys and Nick Williams.

"The players and the interest in their supporters is also a wonderful development," she said.

"I mentioned to Nick Williams once that I had relatives in New Zealand and he always asks after them, it's really nice. A lovely guy and a lovely player, but they are all wonderful guys."

Supporters Sam McMinn, Jonathan Lyons and Killester Travel tour guide Paddy Baird came to Ruth's aid in Montpellier when her difficulty walking could have left her stranded.

They flagged down what they thought was a people-carrier, but was actually a workman's van. Nevertheless, it stopped and all helped Ruth into the front seat to bring her safely back to her hotel.

She said whether she goes to a match with a friend or by herself, she'll always be guaranteed good company.

"I am probably the oldest supporter about," she laughed.


Born in Czechoslovakia, Ruth's parents whisked her away in 1939 when she was just two years old before the Nazi invasion. As a Jewish family they would have been in extreme danger. They lived as refugees in Millisle until Ruth was five before moving to south Belfast. Her father Frank, a barrister in Czechoslovakia, was involved in local public service and was awarded an OBE.

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