As I take my spot at a recent game between Mitchelton and Norths at Frank Lind Oval, I notice one thing about the Mitchelton Panthers club.
It’s a gusty, cold, windy day; yet the supporters are out in their droves for an Old Boy’s reunion, all sitting together dressed in all sorts of attire from all walks of life.
From thongs and shorts to business wear, even ex-Bronco Barry Berrigan in what appears to be his work gear, is watching intensely beside me.
Welcome to the Brisbane Second Division and the unusual world of Robert Burgin.
Burgin is a Mitchelton Panthers tragic. Initially growing with a love of soccer, a kid from a housing commission backdrop, he was a late bloomer in rugby league, starting his Panthers career at the age of 14.
Burgin’s love of the black and red colours would eventually see the loyal clubman suit up for the Wests Panthers Colts in the old BRL competition.
He maintains that if it wasn’t for his old Mitchy trainer Laurie Greer, he would have ended up going off the rails.
Burgin is brutally honest when asked about his upbringing.
“I came from a broken home and grew up in housing commission home in Brisbane. I suffered from depression and had quite a bad temper when I was younger,” he said.
“I was put in kids counselling at the age of seven by my parents, but I can honestly say if it wasn’t for the Mitchelton club and how supportive the people were back then, I wouldn’t have ended up being where I am today.”
When Burgin alludes to “where he is today”, the bearded Panthers stalwart has crammed in an incredible resume.
Notable memorable moments include graduating from university with a journalism degree, becoming the Queensland Rugby League media manager, meeting his wife, founding the international rugby league team the Latin Heat and working with Rugby League Week for the past 19 years.
From my sideline position, Burgin’s passion for the Mud and Blood (as they are affectionately known) is clearly evident.
He is strapped with enough tape on his knees to open an Elastoplast factory, but to his credit, he is able to match it with the younger generation of players week-in week-out.
Now short of that yard of pace at age 38, Burgin’s role for the Panthers not only lies with his Open 2 side, his dedication cascades into Mitchy’s other senior team, where he takes his place on the bench to fill in for the top side.
Not only does he typify what loyalty, sportsmanship, courage and friendship are, one thing can be said – he pours his heart and soul into his club no end.
Burgin’s unusual love of geography (at a young age he would sit with his mother with a plastic viewfinder and be fascinated with world flags and countries) would be the genesis of Burgin’s next assignment.
Burgin has been instrumental in forming the Latin Heat rugby league side, representing the continent of Latin America.
Since its inception in 2013, the organisation is now well-and-truly established through sheer determination from the once angry knockabout kid from Brisbane.
After quitting his job with the QRL, the rugby league tragic put it all on the line to spread the word of rugby league.
He had been sponsoring a Colombian boy to help put him through school and Burgin’s love affair with South America seemingly mirrored what he had grown up in around the housing commission areas of Brisbane. This inspired his willingness to spread the rugby league gospel.
On a trip to South America, Burgin opened a laptop in a cantina and showed the interested onlookers some highlights of rugby league games via YouTube.
It was the sheer amazement on these people’s faces who were discovering how exciting our game really was that inspired Burgin to make it happen.
Fast forward to 2013. The Latin Heat’s first player Daniel Sarmiento met Burgin on a rugby league refresher course at Valleys and the rest as they say is history.
Whilst Burgin’s passion for sharing the love on an international stage is always going to be there, the likeable larrikin from Frank Lind Oval never forgets where he came from and what the Brisbane Second Division is all about.
“You only have to look at teams such as Valleys and Dayboro in this competition who year-in year-out hold their own,” he said.
“I respect clubs like these who have extremely good work ethic in the community, and it epitomises what a fantastic product we have here in Brisbane.”
Burgin has also helped usher in some international flair to his Mitchelton side with Colombians and Japanese players plying their trade for the Panthers on a weekly basis.
Last year they also boasted American internationals Kristian Freed and Luke Barron.
From his humble beginnings, to the journey he has taken to get to where he is now; there is nothing more refreshing than someone turning their life around for the better.
Robert Burgin, spreading the word of rugby league to places far and wide.