Falkirk, Stirlingshire born inside right Willie Russell started playing football after the First World War with Scottish junior clubs Petershill in 1918 and Glasgow Benburb in 1919 before joining Scottish League club Airdrieonians in 1920. He formed part of a potent Airdrie front three along with Hughie Gallacher and Bob McPhail that finished second in the Scottish League Championship in 1923-24. Russell scored both goals for Airdrie the same season when they won the 1924 Scottish Cup Final, beating Hibernian 2-0 at Ibrox, the only time in their history that Airdrieonians have won one of Scotland’s top two competitions. McPhail said after the Cup Final victory “The terror-like attitude of Gallacher caused havoc with the Hibs defenders. He and Russell were easily our best forwards”. Indeed Russell was part of the Airdrie team that finished as Scottish League runners up three years in a row between 1923 and 1925.
Russell represented Scotland twice, playing in a 2-0 defeat to Wales in Cardiff in February 1924 and in a 2-0 victory over England at Hampden Park in April 1925, and he also represented The Scottish League twice, in October 1924 against The Irish League and in March 1925 against The Football League at Goodison Park, a match in which he scored twice.
In the 1925 close season, having scored 37 goals in 127 appearances for The Diamonds, he joined fellow Scottish international Alex James at Second Division club Preston North End making his Football League debut that August at Wolverhampton Wanderers. He scored 12 goals in his first season and only missed two games a season in 1925-26 and 1926-27, and over six seasons at Deepdale he scored 35 goals in 138 matches, although he couldn’t help them gain promotion to the top flight, before moving to Irish League Shelbourne in 1931, playing the 1931-32 season for The Shels before retiring.