BY IAN THORPE
Last month, I lost an old friend. More importantly, Nanaimo lost an amazing coach and builder of Nanaimo’s sporting community.
Leo Beier was known to many in our city, having impacted hundreds of athletes during a decades-long devotion to the sport of soccer.
The son of immigrant parents, Leo came to Nanaimo as a young boy. He grew up in Harewood and in high school at NDSS attracted notice as a talented athlete. His strong build helped him become a star football player and he went on to play on the Nanaimo Redmen team that won the Little Grey Cup national title in 1963.
But it was soccer that quickly became Leo’s passion. As a young player he was a fierce goalkeeper – known for his courage in diving to corral loose balls. His love for soccer led him to coaching and organizing. In the late 1960s he immersed himself in the Nanaimo and District Juvenile Soccer Association alongside such pioneers as Martin Godley, Meryl Logan, Mel Wills, Bill MacKenzie, Sid Pink, Ken Prosser and others. He became head referee, looked after publicity, was league secretary, division manager and served as president of the association in 1973. And he began coaching.
That was when I was introduced to Leo. He was coaching a youth team called the Eager Beavers that won an Island title, but was also filling in as coach for Diplock Masonry. I was asked to coach the team, but Leo kindly agreed to stay on and help run practices to show me the ropes. It was typical of the man. We got to know each other and went on to coach together for several very successful years. I saw first-hand what an excellent coach he was and how innovative he was with his practice drills. Leo’s enthusiasm for soccer was contagious. Soon he had convinced me to join the executive, to become a referee and start up a new mini-soccer program. He had also started the ‘Soccer Talk’ radio program Saturday mornings on CHUB radio in 1974 and invited me to come on as co-host. We had lots of fun in those days – doing the radio show, refereeing, coaching – weekends full of soccer.
In 1979 Leo and Bill MacKenzie opened B&L Soccer and Sports in Harewood. Also that year, Leo transitioned to coaching women’s soccer. It was a realm in which he was a true pioneer.
He formed Carlson Construction, the very first Nanaimo women’s team to play in the lower Island league, and then the Nanaimo Tigers Ladies’ Soccer Club in 1980. In Div. 1, the team toured Germany and Italy, becoming the first North American team to play in the Coppade Alpi Cup tournament in Milan. During an amazing 17-year run with the Tigers, Leo established women’s soccer in our city. He sponsored the Terry Price Cup, emblematic of soccer supremacy for senior women on Vancouver Island and his teams won it numerous times. He coached and inspired hundreds of players, including three who went on to play for the Canadian women’s national team, two who played professional soccer in Europe and many others who carried on his legacy as high-level players and coaches here in our community.
Leo made more history when in 1980 he took steps to popularize the sport of indoor soccer as a founding member of the Nanaimo Futsal Club and Futsal B.C. He promoted programs for youth and worked to help run men’s and women’s indoor programs at Malaspina College.
Along the way, Leo found time to volunteer as assistant coach for the Malaspina Mariners women’s soccer team, helping them to a national title in 1993.
Leo had a soft voice and quiet manner, but his passion for soccer came through to players when he coached and he had the ability to motivate. He could be demanding, but players wanted to do well to please him because they recognized his sincerity and respected his knowledge and I think that was a key to his success.
A humble and modest man with a wonderful sense of humour, he never sought the limelight. Despite that, Leo was recognized in a number of ways through the years. In 1992 he was made an honourary lifetime member of the Nanaimo and District Youth Soccer Association and in 2001 he received a B.C. Soccer Association Certificate of Merit. Some years ago he was nominated for membership in the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame. At a recent packed gathering to celebrate his memory, there was strong feeling that he fully deserves to be given that honour.
For decades, Leo Beier was a mainstay of soccer in this city – youth soccer, women’s soccer, indoor soccer. I would be hard-pressed to name anyone who has done more locally to build the sport. He inspired the athletes he worked with and he was a kind and generous man.
His influence was widespread, his accomplishment will not be forgotten and he will be greatly missed.