Surrey teacher enters Soccer Hall of Fame

NEWTON — It’s fair to say that Canada might not have been hosting next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup of Soccer if it wasn’t for Geri Donnelly’s feet.

Donnelly, a teacher at Enver Creek Secondary, was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame this weekend in Toronto.

“It’s not really something I can put into words. It’s more of an emotion, and it’s overwhelming,” Donnelly said on being inducted.

She’s most famous for being named the captain at Canada’s first two trips to the Women’s World Cup and scoring the first two goals for the national team.

The women’s national program started in the summer of 1986 when all of the provincial teams were called to what was virtually a tryout for the national team.

Eighteen players were selected to play against the U.S. in two exhibition games in Minnesota.

The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) used these two friendly matches to gauge whether they would keep the women’s team.

“We were told that if we weren’t successful, this would be it for the women’s program. Two games,” Donnelly said.

She was not selected for the first game, which Canada lost 2-0.

In the second match three days later, Donnelly scored both goals in a 2-1 victory.

“You don’t realize what a big deal it is,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t realize how important it was. I just wanted to win the game. I really didn’t care who scored, but we needed to win that game.

“Who knows what would’ve happened if we lost both games,” Donnelly added.

The national team didn’t meet up again until 12 months after the victory against the U.S. They returned to the same pitch in Minnesota to play in a tournament against America, Sweden, Norway and China.

Later that year, Canada entered a tournament in Taiwan and told their players in order to go, they had to pay or fundraise $1,500. Even if a player raised the money it wasn’t a guarantee of making the team.

Donnelly didn’t have money, so she went into the community and collected donations from her local legion, Safeway and her Port Moody Soccer club team.

The money didn’t include the price of any soccer equipment she might need.

“You were in charge of your own equipment. If you went through three pairs of boots, you had to buy three pairs of boots,” Donnelly said.

The skipper said she really started to notice a change when the women’s team qualified for the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sweden.

From that point on, it became less of a financial burden to play on the national team and the program started receiving more funding from the CSA.

She also received a sponsorship from Nike in 1997, which made it easier for her just before the world cup in the U.S. two years later.

Donnelly spent her final years playing club soccer for Surrey United. The team won six consecutive provincial titles.

Steve Kindel, the coach of the Surrey United women’s team, said the decision to put her in the hall of fame was an obvious one.

“When you start to think about it, you think of how well deserved it is,” Kindel said. “Someone like her should be in the hall of fame.”

Kindel, a former Vancouver Whitecap, said the best attribute Donnelly had was that she remained calm under pressure and whenever she was on the ball.

She represented the national team 71 times scoring nine goals playing three different positions – forward, left midfield and centre midfield – over her 13-year international career.

Donnelly captained the side for 12 years announcing her national team retirement shortly after the 1999 world cup.

She has been named the female selection for Canadian Player of the Year twice in 1996 and 1999.

She took her brother and parents to the induction ceremony and thanked them for all of their support, especially her brother who put in training sessions with her on Christmas Day and over family vacations.

Twitter @KBBenning

kyle.benning@gmail.com

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