For all of Michael Gaertner's achievements, memories and stories from a lifetime of football, it is the people who he has met along the way that he appreciates the most.
Gaertner, who played and coached at Alstonville, was awarded life membership of Northern NSW Football at its annual general meeting.
The accolade was a fitting acknowledgment of his commitment and dedication to football in the Football Far North Coast region and northern NSW in general.
Gaertner said he was surprised, humbled and honoured by the recognition.
"I've met so many people through playing the sport. Meeting people who are still friends now are what makes the journey so fabulous," Gaertner said.
"I met my wife through a zone meeting in 2006 and we've been together ever since. To meet someone like Donna who has the same love of football as I do was a blessing.
"It has been a real journey over the years. I love the game and I'm so lucky to have been involved with it for so long."
Gaertner moved to the Football Far North Coast region from Sydney in the early 1990s and found a forever home at Alstonville.
He was a player with the club's men's Premier League team in 1998 while also coaching a number of junior teams, often more than one per season.
His greatest strength was inspiring players regardless of their ages, ability or gender, confirming his wonderful people skills and ability to communicate in a relatable manner with different individuals.
Gaertner's professional qualifications as an accountant brought new skills to helping the management and evolution of Alstonville FC, with the club going on to become one of the biggest in the Football Far North Coast region.
His contribution to Alstonville included roles as vice-president in 1998 and 1999 and an interim role as club president in 2005.
The club bestowed life membership upon him in 2005.
Gaertner was encouraged to nominate for the Soccer Far North Coast committee in 2000, now known as Football Far North Coast of which he is also a life member, where he was appointed to the role of finance director.
He was instrumental in the decision to appoint the inaugural full-time general manager at Soccer Far North Coast, again showing his influence, vision and professional acumen.
The appointment saw the game progress to new highs beyond 2000 with football continuing to flourish in the Football Far North Coast region.
Gaertner was elected Soccer Far North Coast president in 2001 before an invitation was extended to him in 2008 to accept a position on the Northern NSW Football board.
He was elected as deputy chair, a position he held until he eventually stood down after serving with distinction and integrity.
Northern NSW Football Chair Helene O'Neill congratulated Gaertner on his life membership.
"This is certainly very well deserved and it was great to see Michael recognised like this," O'Neill said.
"Michael has dedicated a large part of his life to football in northern NSW and we thank him sincerely for his contribution.
"We congratulate Michael on his achievement and wish him all the very best for the future."
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