Missing Martin Flanagan and Why I Subscribe to the Almanac

It’s now over 2 years since Martin Flanagan retired from The Age.


Indeed, it’s now over 2 years since David Wilson wrote an open letter to Flanagan in The Footy Almanac upon his retirement. Like Mr Wilson and – as the comments made clear on that day – many readers of the Almanac, I too am a Flanagan-phile. That’s probably a more Flanagan-esque description than the more accurate “fanboy”, so I’ll run with it for the moment. During these past two years, though, I’ve come to understand that it’s not really Flanagan’s footy writing in the back of my Saturday Age that I miss, however beautifully he wrote about the characters and theatre of footy. Instead, I still find myself mourning his absence for a different reason: it feels as if he and his style has been lost from the front half of Australian newspapers forever.


During Flanagan’s career, the comment section in every Saturday Age would publish a piece from this man who wrote about people and relationships with the reverence that everyday interpersonal connections rarely receive. Flanagan appeared to understand the extraordinary of the everyday, and the beauty within simple moments.


Others who inhabit our comment pages have their own deserving presence, of course. Danny Katz and Peter FitzSimons have their shticks that have their place. Others lend their personal support to favoured political causes. However, it appears that no-one has been called upon to replace Flanagan’s quieter presence. No longer can we read his simple yet magnificent tales, composed with such an assuredness that he convinced his editors and his readers that not only did he have an extraordinary ability to tell these stories, but also – perhaps more importantly – that they were stories worth telling.


The older I become, the more I crave these small tales from the lives of others. The sense that the daily routines and the minute moments with family, friends and culture are actually the fulcrum of life. Flanagan’s presence in The Age provided these stories with a level of prestige, implying that such storytelling helps to build our collective culture. Flanagan himself called his storytelling ‘authentic’, and I fear that this kind of regular personal authenticity may never appear again in the ever-contracting “mainstream” media.


You see, just over two years ago, we would open our Saturday paper and suddenly find ourselves alongside Flanagan and his dog: “The whippet is sitting beside me in the car. This is progress. Early days, he vomited most car trips. Now he shakes a bit when something like a big truck looms up in the side window but basically he’s OK if he’s sitting on the front seat beside me. We talk as we go. Sometimes we make music.” Or we’d find ourselves observing Flanagan as he navigated grandparenthood: “A couple of times, when you’re tired, I’ve laid down with you on my chest. Realising you’ve been tricked into a sleeping position, you cry and fix me with an accusing eye. But then you relax and sink into sleep like a swimmer on a warm beach.” And then we’d read on, finding ourselves tearing up at the imminent separation of grandparent and grandchild as the kid’s family was moving overseas: “I find myself thinking that if I had you until you were seven, we’d be mates for life, the sort who can sit together and not have to speak. Maybe you’d watch the footy with me like your mother and aunt did. Your mother tells you to say goodbye to me when I leave. One time, you sang the embryo of the name your sisters call me. The next time, you cried. You wanted to come with me. Parting can be hard, my little mate.”


These days, in a post-Flanagan world, The Age and other papers that used to be referred to as broadsheets employ people to recap reality television shows on their websites, but they don’t employ people to write the equivalent of Flanagan’s personal narratives. Only on occasion can tales like these be found, written by random authors in the print media. The articles written under the ‘Personal History’ banner of The New Yorker are always magnificent, and there’s an occasional inspiring ‘This (something) Life’ piece in The Weekend Australian. But no longer do we have a Great Australian Storyteller expressing and exploring our culture in this fashion every week.


It is perhaps unsurprising that Flanagan’s absence from The Age has coincided with the two years in which I have been least interested in engaging with the paper, let alone the rest of Australia’s media. And, perhaps most importantly, it has also coincided with the two years in which I have been most consistently visiting this here Footy Almanac.


For it’s those stories that I love the most about this most beautiful, welcoming, and authentic corner of the Internet. It’s David Wilson (writing as E.Regnans) driving his family to Uluru. It’s Mathilde de Hauteclocque sharing her father’s “folkloric status as the only Frenchman in the world obsessed with cricket.” It’s Anna Pavlou going to the footy with her Dad and her Uncle James.


It’s the stories of ordinary people who, of course, are never ordinary at all.


Martin Flanagan once imbued my life with poignant, familial storytelling of the everyday. Now, in his absence, it is the Almanackers who tell these stories.


Mainstream Australia is missing out. But those of us who visit the Almanac sure aren’t.


I rarely comment on individual pieces, but I just wanted to say: Thanks, everyone.


I’ve ponied up once again.


Here’s to another year of reading you all.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Edward P. Olsen

EPO is equally passionate about sport and sports writing. While others toil away at the local indoor sports centre re-living their futile childhood dreams of being one of the best of all time, he types away at home re-living his futile childhood dream of being one of the world’s great columnists.


  1. JBanister says

    Well bowled, EP. A poignant reflection on why we all miss Flanners, and of course, why all visit this site.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m having a spot of convalescing. First book off the shelf was Flanners’ trilogy, The Last Quarter. Just finished 1970, his profound perspective on not just that Grand Final, but footy and its place in our lives and that of of the participants. Bravo EP.

  3. Hi Edward P Olsen.
    I find this article of yours to be moving. It seems to come from a deep place.
    (I feel very grateful and humble that you mention my writing in this context.)

    And I feel the same way about our shared loss of M Flanagan’s perspective from weekly life.
    It is something I have thought about. My thoughts on this topic tie in with thoughts on other topics recently – about my own role in life, who I am as a father, partner, employee, neighbour, friend; who I am to myself (Am I enough? Is this enough?) – and also thoughts brought up watching Ricky Gervais’ “Afterlife.”
    I wonder about injustice and greed at the global level.
    I wonder about hardship and suffering and those without a voice.
    And I find that all of that can be difficult.
    Something I like to re-read is M Flanagan’s letter of response, published here on the Almanac.

    It is with his words in mind that I wrote that Uluru series and started the #hourlydaily series.
    M Flanagan’s closing words to me always seem apt: “Take the game on, old mate.”
    Thanks for taking the game on.

  4. Chris Weaver says

    Thank you, Edward – you’ve clearly been mining the same mental space as me, tapping at a seam that is badly needed but barren. It’s comforting to read that someone else feels similarly about the dearth of – as you put it – Great Australian Storyteller(s).

    I loved Martin’s ‘The Age’ articles because they were warm, Australian (but not parochial), profound and accessible. I don’t find that in many places now. It’s visible on this website, but we’re not the mainstream. We’re at our best as a nation when we tell stories, which is maybe why as I get older I’ve taken a greater interest in Indigenous stories. And for that spark – as with many other things – I have Martin to thank.

    I know that Martin greatly admires George Orwell. Well, Orwell paid one of his greatest compliments to Winston Churchill when he said that his Second World War memoirs read that like those “of a human being”. Whenever I read Martin’s work, that’s what shines through – a basic humanity and empathy that should be commonplace, but are really hard to find. What’s more, his humanity is present in prose that bubbles like stew on a stove.

    Such writing is a treasure to be kept close to the heart.

  5. Lovely work Edward P. Olsen. I think you’ve nailed it when you say you miss “Flanagan’s quieter presence”. Nothing is quiet anymore. Even half time at the footy is a bloody rock concert nowadays. I think the purpose of all this noise is to prevent us from thinking, because when we think we confront our own frailties. And that’s bad for consumption.

    Flanagan made us think.

  6. Nicely put, Edward.

    Thanks for subscribing.

  7. Great piece Edward. I used to love buying the Saturday Age late in the morning (once the plane had landed and they’d made their way to my local newsagency) and investing an hour or two, but rarely bother now, due to the exodus of folks such as Flanagan. But, there’s always lots to read on here.

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