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SURREY — The memory of Martin Foden inspired a quartet of Surrey United soccer teams at their national championship games on the Thanksgiving long weekend.
Foden, the club’s executive director, died in his sleep Sept. 2 while vacationing in Palm Springs. He was 66.
In tribute to him and his many years of work with the club, Surrey United players wore memorial “MForever” T-shirts during their warmup routines prior to Canadian club championship games.
“We did the T-shirts as a reminder that Martin really was a 12th man, that he was there for them and, in fact, they were there (playing at a high level) because of a lot of his contributions,” Jeff Clarke, Surrey United’s technical director, told the Now.
The T-shirt tribute apparently worked, as three Surrey United teams earned medals at their respective championship tournaments – the first club in B.C. to do so, according to Clarke, and just the second Canadian team since the 1980s.
Surrey United sent four teams to the championships, the most by any one B.C. club in recent history, he added.
The club’s U16 boys team earned gold at South Surrey Athletic Park, while the U14 boys lost 2-1 to Ontario on a pitch in Newfoundland. In PEI, the U18 boys lost a semi-final heartbreaker to eventual champs from Quebec, but rallied for a bronze-medal win over Ontario. Meanwhile, the U18 girls team placed a respectable sixth in its tourney.
“Martin meant a lot to those players and families,” Clarke reasoned. “It felt different, and his death galvanized everybody and really propelled the players to give everything they could, and the rest is kind of history.”
Foden, the club’s executive director for seven years, was a key player on the Surrey soccer scene since 1983, Clarke explained.
“He was quite a pioneer in the game locally, for sure, across many leagues,” he said.
The club’s Coastal League games began a week after Foden’s death, during one of the busiest times of the soccer season.
“With all the schedules and field plans going on, and Martin controlled probably 99 per cent of all that, in one sense we weren’t given a chance to mourn his loss because we were so busy,” Clarke elaborated.
“We wanted to honour him, and the best way to do that was to have the club get off to a good start. We found ourselves staring at each other, like, ‘OK, what do we do next?’ because everybody relied on Martin’s expertise. But we got there, we’re good now.”
Surrey United’s roots date back to the six teams it fielded in 1968 at Unwin Park in Newton. Eventually, the club was headquartered at Cloverdale Athletic Park, and home games are now also played at Hjorth Road Park and on fields in Fleetwood. Today, more than 2,300 players wear the red, black and white colours of Surrey United.
Clarke, who grew up in Coquitlam and later played for the Vancouver 86ers and Whitecaps of the USL, said that as a kid, he hated playing against Surrey United and other teams in Cloverdale.
“Those were always some of the toughest games of the year,” he recalled. “And you know what, even today a lot of the clubs around the Lower Mainland say the same thing, so it’s a nice tribute. I think a lot of teams measure themselves up to us –not just at the elite level but also in the house leagues. I think our administration is superior to a lot of clubs and that probably puts a little bullseye on our teams, and our coaches and kids kind of embrace that. It’s just the way it is.”
Surrey United is known as a club of great balance between elite and rec-level soccer, Clarke added.
“We have a great adult program, and we have people in their 60s playing the game who have played since they were six – it’s cradle to grave, right? Our elite teams get most of the press, the limelight, maybe, but at the same time I think we’re doing some great things in our mini program, our rec program, mentorships, coaching, all that.”
With Foden gone but not forgotten, five or six people are now sharing the duties of the club’s former executive director, Clarke said.
“We’re taking it in stages in this sort of triage moment, and we’re all chipping away. He and I really worked the closest, so a lot has fallen on me, and I know how he did things. He’s definitely missed.”
A Celebration of Life for Foden will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 18 at Mirage banquet hall (#201-17767 64th Ave., Surrey), starting at 2 p.m.