Geri Donnelly knew she had found a good group of people when she landed with Surrey United SC after a 14-year international career that included two FIFA Women’s World Cups. Nestled just east of downtown Vancouver, the women’s club was good enough to compete with the best in the region and the best in the country, even if it took a few bumps along the way. “I just knew if that group stuck together, we could have success.”
Donnelly was right, even though those bumps took five years to iron out. Since winning that first provincial title in 2004, the club has won 11-straight titles and 11 national medals, including Canada’s Jubilee Trophy championship in 2006 and 2011.
Donnelly was 33 years old when she arrived and 44 years old when she retired after the 2009 National Championships. A true matriarch in the Canadian game, she had been an original member of Canada’s first national team in 1986 and even scored the country’s first two goals in a win against USA. “When we won our first BC Provincial Cup, it was just amazing,” said Donnelly. “From there, we just kept rolling on and on and on. It was a really good group of people and we were all great friends. I didn’t want to leave that situation.”
Donnelly said she heard it every once in a while about her age, as she was often ten (or even 20) years older than her team-mates. Up to her last competitive match in the 2009 national final, though, she still had a place amongst the Surrey United starting XI. “In football, the friendships you form within the team are probably the most lasting and memorable. Yes, you have some great games and bad games, but the thing that you remember at the end of the day are the people with whom you played.”
In football, the friendships you form within the team are probably the most lasting and memorable.
At the international level, Donnelly made a (then) record 71 appearances with the Canadian national team. She played at the 1988 Women’s International Tournament and then the FIFA Women’s World Cup Sweden 1995 (where she scored a pair of goals and was recognised as one of Canada’s outstanding players). She won a CONCACAF title in 1998 and played in another FIFA Women’s World Cup at USA 1999.
While she did win a national title in 1994 with the Coquitlam Strikers, her lasting success at the club level came in the back end of her career. After winning that first provincial title in 2004, Donnelly and Surrey United won one national gold, two national silver, and three national bronze medals. “We built a good foundation and we had lots of support from the club with a president (Martin Foden) who just embraced us. It was just a great group of people all around, from the managers to the coaches to the players.”
Donnelly wasn’t the only national star to pass through Surrey United SC, either. Along with former national team-mates Sara Maglio and Wendy Hawthorne, Donnelly played alongside the next generation including Randee Hermus, Martina Franko, Erin McLeod and Sophie Schmidt. “It was a great opportunity for those players to get a taste of what women’s soccer was all about,” Donnelly said.
Now five years since her retirement, Donnelly is finally eligible for induction to Canada’s Soccer Hall of Fame. She will be honoured in a ceremony on Sunday 9 November as part of the Class of 2014.