For prolific Australian non-fiction author Dan Eddy, his latest publication has been a lifetime in the making.
A youngster "obsessed with the history of Essendon", Eddy would collect newspaper clippings about his beloved Bombers as a kid growing up in the '90s.
Little did that he know then that decades later, his stockpile of Essendon history would culminate in the club's most in-depth chronicle ever to mark its 150-year anniversary in 2022.
The Red & Black Collection, Eddy's 13th publication in six years and third relating to Essendon, captures the Bombers' proud journey since their establishment in 1872.
The ultimate collector's item for past players, current players, members and supporters, it's a book that transcends generations, recounting in stunning detail the story of one of the country's most iconic, adored and successful sporting clubs.
Ahead of its release, Eddy caught up with Dons Digital to discuss the inspiration for the book, the process of putting it together and what it's taught him about the mighty Bombers.
Members can pre-order their copy for $279, with delivery expected in May next year.
Dan, we're not able to get our hands on The Red & Black Collection just yet, but what can we expect?
It’s a unique publication and the ultimate collector’s item for Essendon fans. We’ve got some of our special medals from different parts of our history: Simon Madden’s Norm Smith Medal, the 1923 premiership medal and a few other items.
I was able to get a lot of past and current players to write letters for the book, so the reader will be able to pull a letter out from someone like Dustin Fletcher, Matthew Lloyd or Leon Baker and read about their views on the club and what they felt made it really special. They’re really personal insights and fascinating to read.
We’ve got a great photo collection we’ve been able to delve into, many of them which are never-before-seen. They cover the entire history from the 1870s to today, so it’s been a big journey from players literally playing on a paddock in Ascot Vale to now filling stadiums at the MCG and across the country.
It’s a pretty big journey, and the club means so much to so many people Australia-wide. For any Bomber fan of any generation, they’ll really enjoy what they read. There’s a bit on everything.
Can you talk us through the process of putting it together?
I’ve interviewed dozens of past and present players, and it’s been such an amazing experience to get all their personal accounts on how the club’s grown. I’ve interviewed people from all different walks – not just your obvious legends like Kevin Sheedy, but blokes who may have played only one game in the ‘40s. All those people helped to paint the full picture of what took place and why we were able to grow and survive for 150 years.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. There have been controversies and other things that have challenged the club along the way, but it’s the people who have chipped in at various times to make the club what it is, be that the fans, volunteers, trainers, women or cheer squad.
Your name is synonymous with books on Australian Football, but what was the motivation behind The Red & Black Collection and how did the opportunity to bring it to life come about?
I was very fortunate to be offered the opportunity to write the book. I wrote the Dick Reynolds biography a number of years ago – my first book – and told not only Dick’s story, but also looked at the social aspect of the club and the suburb, and how important the club was to the Essendon community through the ‘30s and ‘40s.
I’ve always been passionate about the club. From a young age, I was obsessed with the history of the club. I met Dick Reynolds as a young boy and that stoked my interest in the writing journey, because I wanted his story told somehow. I was fortunate to delve into the club’s history through writing Dick’s biography, and then I wrote Always Striving, which looks at moments in the club’s history, good and bad, and what made the club what it was.
Doing that caught the attention of [Essendon CEO] Xavier Campbell, and he appreciated that I had a real passion and grasp for the entire history of the club through the VFA years in the 1800s. When the time approached for the 150 years, I was rapt to receive the call from [then-chief commercial and customer officer] Justin Rodski to enquire whether I’d be keen on doing it for the club. As a big Essendon man, it was a huge honour to be the one tasked with bringing it together.
How did your Essendon journey begin and what are your fondest memories along the way?
Well, I remember my dad actually tried to make me a St Kilda supporter as a kid, but once I started going to primary school in the late '80s, everyone in the schoolyard was trying to catch a mark, run with the ball and be Timmy Watson or Michael Long. Pretty quickly I realised that if I wanted to make some friends, I needed to go for a club that people were talking about, so I was around nine when I started barracking for Essendon.
The first Grand Final I can remember was the 1990 Grand Final, which was a disappointing day. My mum’s a Collingwood supporter, so sitting there watching all the Collingwood people get excited made me more eager to follow the other team. My passion for Essendon really started in 1990 and was cemented in 1993 with the Baby Bombers. I was 12 at the time - a really impressionable age.
That year in 1993 was just amazing, and I was captivated by guys like ‘Longy’, Wanganeen, ‘Hirdy’ and Mark Harvey. Everything that Kevin Sheedy said was like gospel for me, so I was obsessed with the club in the early ‘90s and we were blessed over the next decade to play finals and win a couple of flags.
Those ‘90s teams are fondest to my heart, because that’s when they really emerged and we got to see the whole journey with Hirdy, Mercuri, Matthew Lloyd and those guys. It was special to be a supporter just taking all that in.
You've got an intimate knowledge of the club and special connection with it. What makes Essendon so special?
Their people and families. I know Hawthorn says they’re the family club, but Essendon has just as much a right to that. You can go right back to the start with the McCrackens, through to the Hirds, Fletchers, Watsons and Danihers. We did a section on the families in the book, and I was surprised at just how many there were. It’s been a unique thing and something special about Essendon that doesn’t get talked about enough.
Success is another key point. Throughout our history despite recent years, we’ve had a lot of success. Even if it isn’t always premierships, if you go back in our history we’re generally knocking on the door of the top four every few years. It’s pretty amazing to have sustained that level of success for so long, especially under 'Sheeds' where we were in the top four just about every two years.
The other thing is pride. There’s so much pride in our colours and the song. I interviewed Kevin Andrews who wrote the song, so there’s history in the book about how the song came about.
Even coming out of the last few years, the pride in the club is really strong and deserves to be acknowledged. We’re all so proud of the football club and what the players and staff have been able to do to turn things around. There are a lot of elements involved, but success, pride and family are the three that stand out.
You talk about instilling pride in the club, and we've seen senior coach Ben Rutten really drive that in his short time at the helm. What have you made of the way he's embraced the club's history to inspire his players to write their own chapters in this incredible journey?
It’s been a pleasant surprise. When Ben came in, I didn’t know what to expect. He’s come from Adelaide and is a quietly spoken guy, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Ben. Since day one, he’s just embraced everything about the club.
His introduction of the McCracken Medal ... I mean, you don't come up with something like that unless you’re really invested about what the club’s about. As supporters, we’re all so rapt with how he’s come in, all the comments he’s made and the way he’s embraced the past. I know he got past players in before the season to present players with their guernseys, and all the past guys I’ve spoken to have mentioned that occasion and honour being so special.
It’s Ben, Xavier (Campbell) and the whole crew showing what they want to do to embrace the whole club and everything about it. I can’t applaud Ben enough, and that’s not even factoring in the on-field stuff he’s been able to do.
Back on the book, how long has the process been and what has it been like to write it during a pandemic?
In a way it’s been a lifelong project, because I’ve been stockpiling stuff about our history since I was a kid. I’d keep all the newspaper clippings and have always had a fascination in having as much Bomber history around me as possible. That flowed into my writing career when I finally went down that path. I had a lot of it ingrained in me, and that’s made the research side of this book so much easier. Things just flow on the page.
Because of the pandemic, there’s been no chance to get to libraries or do face-to-face interviews, so it’s been important to draw on my knowledge of the club’s history, otherwise this project would have taken longer. All up, the writing side has taken around 12 months. The biggest challenges have been not being able to physically sit down with players or go into the footy club and look at the collections.
We’ve done really well to get where we are. There were times where a few people thought we might struggle to get this done in time. Everyone’s done a brilliant job – Mark Roberts, who’s producing the book for Iconic Treasures, Carolynn Larsen, a long-time volunteer at the club who’s done a mountain of work sourcing photos and fact-checking, and [Essendon 150-year project manager] Ben Corson’s been brilliant in facilitating whatever we need. Even though we haven’t been able to see each other in person for so long, it’s somehow been able to flow and we’ve got there. We’re all so proud of how it’s come together, and we’re excited to see it in Bombers fans’ hands soon.
There's so much to cherish in the book, but are there any parts you're particularly proud of?
I'd say the early years. The AFL probably celebrates the VFL and AFL era but sometimes forgets the VFA years, which were prior to 1897. For us it was a really critical time. We started as almost a junior club, having no status and playing footy on a paddock. Then we moved to East Melbourne in the 1880s and by the early 1890s we were the best team in the competition. We were the first team to win four premierships in a row and that’s only been equalled once since by Collingwood.
I really wanted to bring that period to life, and it’s a part that we should celebrate because it does get forgotten a bit. That part was fun to bring together.
I also really wanted to highlight the volunteers – the team behind the team. Long-time volunteers like Colin Hooper, John Kilby and a few ladies who were pivotal as well, they all get a mention. They’re not people we read about too often, but they’re so important.
I’ve got some stories in there from well-known people like the great athlete Ron Clarke, whose brother Jack was a premiership captain for us, and Sarah Jones, Nova Peris and other well-known Essendon supporters.
You turn a page and don’t know what to expect, and the stories are brought to life by the photos. It's something I hope the Bomber faithful will find a fascinating read.