Matthew Nelson has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in the SAAFL with the Fitzroy Lions, and he marked his 350-game career with a win over Houghton Districts.
Matthew Nelson celebrated his 350th game in style, helping his beloved Fitzroy Football Club score an emphatic 46-point win over Houghton Districts in Division 6 of the South Australian Amateur Football League.
It was just their second win this season, but the Lions came firing out the blocks early to collect a valuable two points on their former captain’s special day.
After wrapping up the win, the club helped make the occasion memorable for the versatile veteran.
“I got to run out on the ground with my little six-year-old before the game and after I was presented with a guernsey that I could get signed by whoever I saw fit, which the club will frame with a plaque once it’s done,” Nelson said.
“I was presented with a signed match ball and also had a one-on-one interview with the president in front of the club, before being forced to do karaoke.”
However, Nelson almost did not make it to game 350, when he considered departing Fitzroy at the start of the season.
With his uncle and former president David Nelson relieved of his duties after nine years in the top job, Nelson was close to joining in on a mass exodus of players.
Nevertheless, with the club having formed an under 18’s team just a few years ago, he was convinced by the contingent of up-and-coming Lions to play on.
“I told the younger boys that I’d only stay if they were all playing alongside me,” he said.
“They are all great players and I’m proud to play alongside them; they are like little brothers to me.”
One of his young teammates in particular, Anthony Pigliacelli – who suffers from Crohn’s Disease – has proven to be one of Nelson’s biggest inspirations.
“It’s a risk for him to be playing, but he’s a tough little bugger and he inspires me a great deal,” Nelson said.
“He doesn’t play all the games, but for him to play on the weekend and tell me that he really wanted to play for me makes me extremely proud.”
Nelson has achieved a long list of individual accolades during his career, which began at the age of 17 in 1997, including three Best and Fairest medals, as well as multiple Best Team Man and Most Courageous awards.
The 35-year-old broke into the senior side as a wily winger, but he has played the majority of his career as an on-baller and a centre half back.
After suffering a shock grand final loss in 2005, Nelson named captaining his side to the premiership in 2007 as his undisputed career highlight.
“I was lucky enough to captain a great bunch of blokes in 2007,” he said.
“We were underdogs coming into the grand final and to beat Adelaide Lutheran two years after a disappointing grand final loss was an awesome feeling.”
Nelson was thankful that his father Bob Nelson – long-serving club secretary and his former junior coach – kept him playing, despite describing himself as a “pretty bad player” during his junior years.
But now, having broken the club’s record for most games, he has ambitions to surpass the 400-game mark.
“I’ve always had the fitness and I think if I can maintain that and my legs allow it, I’ll play into my 40’s,” Nelson said.
Written by Marco Balsamo