Geelong AFL Football Club
Geelong AFL Football Club was established in 1859 and as such has the distinction of being the third oldest football club of any kind in Australia.
Highly successful in the Victorian Football Association with a glorious run of seven flags from 1878 to 1886, it broke away with seven others to become a foundation club of the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1897.
Runner-up in the inaugural season with pioneer stars such as Eddy James and the McShane brothers, Geelong often struggled until 1925 when it broke through for its maiden VFL premiership in a win over Collingwood. Edward 'Carji' Greeves, the first ever Brownlow Medallist, was a champion of the era and played in the Cats’ (as the club was now nicknamed) second flag in 1931. Another on-field great at this time was Reg Hickey, who would also become a legendary coach at the club winning premierships 1937 and 1951-52.
After a lean period in the 1940s Geelong rebuilt to become a record-breaking powerhouse with stars such as Bob Davis, Bernie Smith, Fred Flanagan and Leo Turner. The Cats went back-to-back in 1951-1952, along the way winning 23 consecutive games in the process – a feat that remains a league record to this day.
Successive wooden spoons in 1957 and 1958 signalled the end of the era, however another was soon to begin. Graham Farmer, Doug Wade and Fred Wooller headlined the team which featured prominently in September for the majority of the 1960s, including the premiership in 1963 against Hawthorn a grand final loss to Richmond in 1967.
Geelong struggled through much of the 1970s, however Larry Donohue at full-forward was a shining light, particularly in 1976 as the league’s leading goalkicker. In Bill Goggin’s first year as coach in 1980, Geelong finished as minor premiers only to lose both finals. A similar fate befell the Cats in 1981 after a qualifying final win over Collingwood, ending the chapter on the team’s success for most of the decade.
However the 1980s also saw possibly the greatest player of all time join the Cats. Gary Ablett was recruited to the club in 1984 after a brief stint at Hawthorn, heralding a spectacular career of jarring bumps, high marks and freakish goals. His 1989 finals series is legendary and his nine-goal and Norm Smith Medal-winning performance single-handedly saw Geelong almost knock off the legendary Hawthorn side in the grand final.
In the first half of the 1990s under Malcolm Blight and then Gary Ayres, the Cats consistently possessed great attacking flair yet weren’t able to claim any silverware, with further grand final defeats to West Coast in both 1992 and 1994 and Carlton in 1995. Ablett retired in 1997 after 248 magical games and 1030 goals. Other stars of the era in Paul Couch, Garry Hocking, Barry Stoneham and Bill Brownless bowed out and the club subsided by 1999 to a lowly finish and with a limited revenue stream and an imposing debt.
On the brink of the new century, perhaps the greatest off-field team in the club’s history combined with Frank Costa as President, Brian Cook as Chief Executive and Mark Thompson as senior coach. Recruits Joel Corey, Corey Enright, Paul Chapman and Cameron Ling were drafted and were soon joined by James Kelly, Jimmy Bartel, Steve Johnson and Gary Ablett Jr. After only a few seasons Thompson had built a list almost entirely based on his own drafting, and by 2004 the young Cats surprised everyone by making the preliminary final. A heartbreaking semi-final loss to Sydney in 2005 flowed into a season of trouble in 2006, with fitness issues and other problem coming to the fore. Cook conducted a comprehensive review of the club, which while critical also cleared the air and helped Geelong look to 2007 with a new resolve.
Five games into the new season and three losses ensued. The players were not happy and Chapman challenged the group to produce the results the side knew they could. And how! A 157 point whipping of Richmond kick-started Geelong into its best ever era of sustained excellence. Fifteen straight wins before a VFL/AFL record 119 point win in the 2007 Grand Final over Port Adelaide stamped Geelong as a side for the ages. Another flag in 2009 in an epic over St Kilda made up for a disappointing loss to Hawthorn in 2008. Bartel (2007) and Ablett (2009) both took home Brownlow Medals in premiership seasons. Collingwood exposed Geelong in the 2010 preliminary final before Geelong had the chance to turn the tables against the Magpies when they faced eachother in a battle for the 2011 premiership.
In 115 VFL/AFL seasons Geelong had never furnished a triple-premiership player until 2011 when 12 Cats tasted the ultimate success for the third time in the hoops, under the direction of new and first-year coach Christ Scott. Names like Chapman, Ling, Corey, Bartel, Johnson, Ottens and Scarlett are amongst the best players to have played the game and will be remembered as legends of the Geelong Football Club. The last five seasons has seen Geelong win 105 of 125 games, the greatest ever five-season record in terms of wins and win percentage.
Quixotically, a club that in 1999 was under some threat to maintain its historical base Kardinia Park has now rewritten its own history in half a decade. Under the stewardship of Cook, who has fostered a mantra of 'Good to Great', Geelong has seen the harvest as greatness has been achieved on-field. Kardinia Park has been transformed from a rag-tag mixture of stands and open outer into a developing colosseum, guaranteeing the future viability of the club. The Geelong Football Club has totally transformed its culture from the acceptance of mediocrity to the enforcement of success, to the envy of its rivals.
‘We play the game as it should be played'