Almost half a century of dedication from one of the region’s most recognisable faces in football, Eric Nieto (pictured) has been honoured with a special accolade.
Recently Nieto received life membership from Football South Australia for his 49 years of service to the world game.
The current Limestone Coast Football Association president said he was touched by the email sent from Football South Australia chief executive Michael Carter announcing his life membership.
“It is always an honour to get things like this and I was not expecting it,” Nieto said.
“I had not really thought about anything like it, so being from the little South East I was totally surprised to be named alongside national players.
“To get acknowledged for work that you have done over so many years is a great thing.” Nieto has been around the Limestone Coast soccer scene ever since he first stepped into the country in 1972.
He moved to Australia from Spain as a 12-year-old who could not speak a word of English with his family and has not missed a soccer season since.
It took a matter of days before a young Nieto jumped at the chance to play football and went on road trips with Vince Ferrazzola to training and games every week.
Initially starting in International’s Under 13’s outfit, soccer gave Nieto the chance to express himself and he especially enjoyed the open spaces of the pitches having been confined to the cobblestone streets of Europe.
As a junior, Nieto said he was an “average” player, but loved diving around and used to jump into the goals for a bit of fun during training sessions.
Suddenly he found himself wearing the gloves on game day in the Reserves team after injury struck the starting goalkeeper.
It was a position Nieto made his own for the next 16 years as he forced his way to become the first-choice A Grade goalkeeper for Inter before removing the gloves and running on the pitch during the back end of his career.
He finished playing at the top level aged 44 and hung up the boots in Reserves two years later.
He was lucky enough to win a countless number of premierships for the black and blue, but said the friendships which stood the test of time were the biggest takeaways.
“I think when you play for Inter it is all about camaraderie in the team,” Nieto said.
“I am still mates with people I played with since I was 13 and we are now in our 60’s, so that is the best part of the International Soccer Club.” Nieto was not just a valued member on the pitch, he has also made a difference off-field for many years.
He first entered the sport’s board level in 1993, fulfilling a series of roles at Inter from head of sponsorship to vice-president, whilst also being a LCFA board member.
He reached the top four years ago by becoming the LCFA president and leading the direction of the game in the South East.
Nieto highlighted allowing senior teams to play curtain raisers for international games at Hindmarsh Stadium, Vansittart Park hosting an A League fixture between Adelaide United v Perth Glory in 2008 and brining the women into the LCFA as major moments for the sport in the area.
“I think the game has grown to be a lot quicker and more physical than what we used to play,” he said.
“But I think the downside is there is now a lot more political input than before which sometimes does not do any good.
“But I think we have developed quite well.” However, Nieto admitted being the LCFA president is the biggest challenge he has took on in the game.
But he still enjoys the role and said there is plenty of work to do as a competitive season awaits.
“For this board to thrive, I think all clubs should band together and work for what is best for the sport,” he said.
“This year is going to be very close because Centrals and Apollo have proved they are great teams, but it is all about trying to get past that line at the end.” Nieto will be officially recognised at FSA Premier League grand final during a life membership presentations night in October.