It’s been 40 years since the Dunbar Stong’s select soccer team capped off a nine-season run by winning the Canadian championship — and they’re getting together to celebrate.
A team reunion is set for July 8 at the Meraloma Clubhouse at Connaught Park.
The team, which became known as Hodge’s Stong’s to distinguish it from other teams in the Dunbar Soccer Association, was first organized in the summer of 1969 when coaches Spud Hodge and Geoff Smith took over the nine-year-old select team.
Players were selected from the house league to play in the seventh division (10-year-olds) of the community league, which was a new concept for the DSA at the time. The team went on to play in the Vancouver District League the next season.
Hodge’s Stong’s was successful from the start, winning every league game that first season, finishing in first place in league play, and making it to the second round of the Provincial Cup playoffs before getting knocked out by Marpole 3-1 in overtime at Sunset Park.
The team was off and continued for the next eight years. The roster changed from season to season, but three players — Steve Smith, Jim Armstrong and Rob McGinley — stayed with the team from 1969 until that last game in 1978. Coach Spud Hodge also stayed with the team for all nine seasons.
“He was the coach and we had a couple different assistant coaches and managers but he was the staple throughout,” Smith said.
Over nine seasons the team played 138 league games with an overall record of 131 wins, five ties and two losses.
“We ended up winning provincial championships just about every year we were playing. I believe we were the winningest sports in Dunbar history,” Smith said.
He credits Hodge, who was just 22 when the team started in 1969, with the team’s success.
“It really starts at the top and it was his… constant dedication to the team and also to running the practices every week and just being there, just the consistency and determination.”
Hodge, on the other hand, said his coaching had little to do with the group’s almost flawless record.
“I would be fibbing to say that I was a great coach — I was not,” he told the Courier. “The success of that team was largely due to the kids themselves, all good athletes, super keen and enthusiastic, had a real good concept of ‘team,’ and they were supported by terrific parents.”
Four players went on to play professionally — Ivano Belfiore, Ralston Dunlop, Steve Nesin and Carl Shearer. Dunlop and Shearer played for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the early 1980s. Nesin played for the Whitecaps and the San Diego Sockers, while Belfiore’s professional career spanned a decade and saw him play for teams throughout North America, including the Vancouver 86ers and Edmonton Brickmen.
Smith and Connie McGinley, whose husband Rob played for the team, are organizing July’s reunion.
“I’ve reached out to as many people as I could find, as you can imagine, 40 years later sometimes people aren’t around, but we’ve got people coming in from Alberta and all over the Lower Mainland,” Smith said.
McGinley said they started with just trying to get the word out on social media.
“Slowly but surely we’ve been tracking them all down,” she said.
A number of former players have already confirmed they’ll be there for the reunion, as well as Coach Hodge.
“We’ll see if we can recognize anyone, we’ve all got a little less hair and maybe a little more weight,” Smith said.