Easts rugby player Matt Brown has vowed to play in memory of his father, club stalwart Owen Brown. Photo: Melissa Adams
Matt Brown will start the Canberra rugby union season with a heavy heart as he plays his first game in 20 years without his biggest supporter watching from the sideline.
But Brown is determined to continue father Owen's vision for Easts, aiming to help rebuild the club on and off the field.
Former Easts president, player and volunteer Owen died in October after losing his battle with cancer.
Easts legend Owen Brown, left, with his son Matt in 2013.
When the rugby season starts on Saturday, second-grade lock Matt and the club will take a moment to remember the man credited with keeping Easts afloat in their darkest days.
Owen worked tirelessly to keep Easts in the competition, even when they failed to win a game in a season and were getting beaten by 100 points.
Owen was Matt's first coach as a five-year-old in the junior ranks.
When he graduated to seniors, Owen and Matt would meet at Griffith Oval at 9am, set up for games and get home at 9pm after the post-match function.
"He probably stayed on a year longer than he should have ... he just loved the club, he loved doing the work and he'd do it in his spare time for nothing," Matt said.
"I haven't thought about it too much, but mum was always in the canteen and dad was always at the ground working in the background. He'd be there at 9am and finish after a 12 hour day.
"The aim for me is to get Easts to where my dad and I wanted them to go. That's a bit more sustainable, financially stable and getting wins on the board. To get them to be a strong club in Canberra."
Easts faced an uncertain future after a disastrous 2009 season, losing all of their games and smashed 100-7 in the last match of the year.
But Owen Brown refused to give up on the club, working harder to generate sponsor income, recruit players and stabilise the club when it was in danger of folding.
Easts players have no doubt Owen is the reason the club is still in the premier division and not on the amateur scrap heap.
Easts return to Griffith Oval on Saturday to play the Gungahlin Eagles - who boast Brumbies Ruaidhri Murphy, Josh Mann-Rea, Conrad Hoffmann and Lionel Cronje - in the John I Dent Cup season.
They hope to have a trophy named in Owen's honour for clashes against the Uni-Norths Owls as a mark of respect for the work he did for the club.
Owen had a two-year stint as president in 1984-85 and returned from 2007-12 before illness set in.
Despite cancer spreading from his neck to his lungs and chest, Owen continued to work for Easts as director of rugby.
At times he would have to spend three months in Sydney getting chemotherapy and his 12-hour stint at rugby was reduced to first XV games.
But while he wasn't able to continue his unbelievable workload, Matt was always buoyed by seeing his father in the crowd at home games.
Matt has taken on some of his father's duties, stepping up as a board member and an acting vice-president.
"Dad coached me in under-fives at Tuggeranong, he coached me at under-10s at Canberra Boys Grammar and then he moved to Easts," Matt said.
"He was a life member of Easts, a bunch of his mates won a few fourth grade premierships back in the day.
"He'd never tell you how long he'd volunteered for Easts or how many hours it chewed up. He just did it because he loved it."
JOHN I DENT CUP ROUND TWO
Saturday: Royals v Queanbeyan White at Phillip Oval; Uni-Norths Owls v Tuggeranong Vikings at ANU North; Easts v Gungahlin Eagles at Griffith. All games at 3.05pm.