Mongrel Book Review – Between The Flags – Making Sense of 57 Years of Heartache


To truly appreciate the warmth, one must first experience the cold.

As I sat and delved into the Ian Munro book, Between the Flags – Making sense of 57 years of heartache, I couldn’t help but feel this was penned by a man who had experienced the bitterness of the Melbourne winter – 57 of them in a row, to be exact – finally getting to bask in the light of a September afternoon once again.

Unlike the annual rushed job from those who want to make a quick buck on the back of the excitement surrounding the current premiers, Munro takes a more holistic approach to the story of the Melbourne Football Club, digging deep into the annals of footy folklore to regale and inform us of a time when the Dees were a monumental power in the league.

And also what happened that led to their fall from grace.

Through peaks and valleys, dark periods and false dawns, Munro recants the story of the Melbourne Football Club with a passion and knowledge that can only come from taking that journey with them, watching every game, and feeling the joy of wins and the absolute despair when the club fell short.

They were always just falling short.

The celebratory section of the book flies by at the end, like the last few moments of a rollercoaster ride. At that stage, the adrenaline has left the body… you’re calm and you know the danger has passed and you’re now safe. Now, there is peace.

It is a sense of relief to the reader to feel the writer’s joy in his words, almost as though he is the embodiment of every Melbourne supporter who feared another one of those “almost, but not quite” moments that had teased them for years was on the cards through the third quarter of the 2021 Grand Final.

As I read the book, I was reminded of a caller I heard on the radio back in 2018. The Dees had just won through to the Preliminary Final, and were facing the Eagles in Western Australia. You all know what happened next, to paraphrase Mark LeCras, but the trepidation in the voice of the caller, who wanted to be excited, but sounded scared beyond belief made me feel real empathy for him.

Munro managed the same in this book, able to craft his own recollections of what was. Of course, I knew how it was going to end, but that did not make the journey he took me on any less arduous.

That journey commences with the glory days of the Demons from his childhood, to the undoing of a dynasty by way of the VFL changing zoning rules. With clubs up to no good to ensure they got their hands on the best possible talent, even if it meant lying through their teeth, the days of the dominant Melbourne Footy Club came to an end. A lot of this was new information to me, as it was just before my time. Obviously, this was a very Melbourne-slanted representation of the VFL move, but to see how it advantaged some teams over others is particularly eye-opening.

He leads you through the perilous late seventies and early eighties, when the Demons became a perennial cellar dweller in the VFL, and were kept there by the lack of production from their designated rural “zone”.

We head into the nineties, through the era of broken promises – the promise of David Schwarz and the heartbreak of an initial knee injury that may or may not have been caused by a recessed water sprinkler on the ground. The promise of Garry Lyon, thwarted by the snap of his leg that was repeated ad-nauseum on The Footy Show. The promise of Allen Jakovich on a goal-kicking rampage and the fact that it was just a flash in the pan.

The period of The Merger is covered well by someone who was there and who was involved, the rise to power of Joe Gutnick, the heartbreak of another unfulfilled promise – the 2000 Grand Final, and the tanking saga are all parts of the Melbourne story that deserve to be told in detail, and they are.

But after all the cold – and let’s face it, there was plenty of it – you start to feel the warmth coming back into the story as you engage the last quarter of the book. From the hiring of Paul Roos and the change in the club, you can almost feel the tone of the book on an upswing, as though it is a reward for you reliving the dark days of the previous few decades.

Of course, this culminates with the 2021 flag and the jubilation that surrounded it.

The book ends rather abruptly, almost as though the writer poured everything he had in him, footy related, up until the final siren of the 2021 season. It was the culmination of 57 years of hard work, mistakes, and of getting knocked down and picking themselves up again, and you feel as though the elation that washed over everyone on that fateful September day may just be the perfect way to finish things off. Only a few pages cover the aftermath of the game and the presentation of the medals re-enacted at the MCG for the Melbourne-based fans who could not get over to WA for the Grand Final due to the world going a little crazy for a couple of years.

The word “dynasty” is used to end the book. Whether or not that plays out will largely depend on the results of 2023.

Some of you may have purchased Max Gawn’s Captain’s Diary as it was released with much fanfare. Whilst that was a decent read, this one is the book you want as a die-hard Melbourne supporter. Ian Munro has left no stone unturned in his exploration of the club he loves and presents a warts-and-all look at where the club was, how it got there, and how it clawed its way back to the top of the league.

If you’re a Melbourne fan, this is a must-have. If a Hawthorn bloke like me can sit there, read every page, and recommend it highly, I have no doubt you’ll love it, as well.

Between the Flags is available from Ian’s website – Between the Flags57 and can also be purchased at the following stores.

The Demon Shop (Brunton Avenue, MCG)

The Avenue Bookstore (Albert Park, Elsternwick and Richmond)

Readings (Carlton, Hawthorn, Malvern)

Ulysses Bookstore (1/498 Hampton Street, Hampton)

Beaumaris Books (South Concourse, Beaumaris)

Ashburton Cards & Lotto (243 High Street, Ashburton)

Our Bookshop Hawksburn (513 Malvern Road, Toorak)

Dymocks (208-210 Camberwell Road, Camberwell)

Dymocks Tooronga Village (766 Toorak Road, Glen Iris)

Bookish (358 Hargreaves Street, Bendigo)

Collins Booksellers:
(262 Maude Street, Shepparton; 159 Liebig Street, Warrnambool; 6/27 Evans Street, Sunbury)


And hey, you do know I have a bit of a season wrap up of that 2021 year, right? Just the last 80,000+ words on the Demons of 2021 available on our website, so do me a favour and grab it to make me feel like I didn’t waste my time!