It is believed that the co-founder of Australia football, Thomas Wentworth Wills, recommended the formation of the Geelong Football Club in July 1859 making it the second oldest continuously existing club at an elite level of any code in the world, the Melbourne Football Club credited as the oldest, formed earlier the same year. Wills was also involved in the formation of that club.
It is believed that rough and tough diggers on the Victorian goldfields played football with no formal rules in the early 1850s. They came from all corners of the world, including Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, America and China. They would conjure the best rules available, anything they were familiar with; whatever they used it produced a game that was fierce and chaotic, many a tussle settled with strength and pluck and with 20 or more aside, flying boots, fists and elbows produced bone shattering results, but no 'beg pardons' asked for or given.
Wills could see a future for this new manly sport and set about doing something by openly expressing his ideas and focusing public attention to it when he sent a letter to Bell's Life in Victoria dated July 10 1858 which was to be the founding document of Australian football and aimed at addressing the fitness of the cricketers during the winter months. A legendary letter, written by a man who was a giant of his time as a footballer and a cricketer, three times football champion of the colony and a great club man for Geelong.
As a consequence, the game progressed through the 1860s and by 1877 it had attracted such a following that more than 130 clubs were operating around Melbourne and Geelong, however Australian football was about to undergo a major restructure.
Eight of the strongest clubs, Geelong, Melbourne, Carlton, St Kilda, Albert Park, Hotham (North Melbourne), Essendon and East Melbourne, formed the Victorian Football Association (VFA), the first official controlling body for the game of Australian Football.
The Geelong Football Club itself also experienced a number of changes during the period, moving to Corio Oval from the Argyle Paddock in 1878 and becoming known as the Pivotonians – a reference to Geelong being the pivotal point for all shipping and railway routes in the region.
Previously, the Geelong Football Club had been known as the Seagulls, with the dark blue and white striped uniform representing the blue water of Corio Bay and the white seagulls that inhabited the area.
The developments of 1877 signalled the start of a golden era for the Geelong Football Club with seven VFA premierships in the following nine years.
However, by the early-1890s, the VFA had again grown beyond its means, with the stronger clubs having to provide financial assistance to support other clubs and Geelong, led by the visionary Charles Brownlow, began agitating for another major administrative change.
And so, it was that Geelong, Melbourne, Essendon, South Melbourne, Collingwood and Fitzroy decided to break away from the VFA and form a new body to be known as the Victorian Football League (VFL). Carlton and St Kilda accepted an invitation to join.
The inaugural VFL match took place in 1897 but it was not until 1925 that Geelong Football Club managed to replicate its VFA success by winning a premiership in the new league by defeating Collingwood in the grand final by 10 points under captain coach Cliff Rankin.
In the interim, the club had assumed a new nickname, the Cats, which was adopted after a spate of losses early in the 1923 season prompted a cartoonist to suggest Geelong needed a black cat to bring it good luck whilst in 1924 centre-man Edward "Carji" Greeves won the inaugural Brownlow Medal, an award for the best and fairest player in the League, instituted in memory of Charles Brownlow, who had died in January of that year.
Geelong continued to perform well in the late-1920s and after making the Grand Final the year before, the 1931 team featuring Greeves and other club legends such as Reg Hickey and George 'Jocka' Todd defeated Richmond by 20 points to win another Flag.
Reg Hickey also featured in the club's 1937 grand final win against Collingwood when his master coaching moves helped turn the match around in front of the-then record crowd of 88,500.
The early 1940s were a tumultuous time for Geelong Football Club, with the club moving from Corio Oval to Kardinia Park at the start of the 1941 season, then being forced to withdraw from the league in 1942 and 1943 due to travel restrictions and a lack of players during the war.
The club's absence during the war years impacted on its results for the remainder of the decade, but in 1951, a thrilling grand final saw Geelong hold on to defeat a resurgent Essendon by 11 points under the coaching of the great Reg Hickey.
It was also in 1951 that Bernie Smith won the Brownlow Medal, the second time a Geelong player had won the award. It was a league trifecta – premiership, Brownlow and leading Goalkicker George Gonninon all in the same year.
The champion Cats team of that era, which featured greats such as captain Fred Flanagan, Bernie Smith, Bob Davis, Leo Turner with the roving combination of Neil Trezise and Peter Pianto, backed up in 1952 to again win the Flag, by defeating Collingwood by 46 points in the Grand Final.
It was during this period the Club appeared unbeatable when they played in 26 games without loss. This spanned from the ninth game of 1952 to the thirteenth game of 1953. An amazing effort and one can say the way football is played these days may never be broken.
Geelong continued to challenge for the premiership until 1956, but it was not until 1963 that the club won its next flag with Bob Davis as coach.
Alistair Lord, who had won the 1962 Brownlow Medal, was in the team that defeated Hawthorn by 48 points in the grand final, as was his twin, Stewart, and other champions like Graham "Polly" Farmer, Bill Goggin and Doug Wade.
Amazingly, the superstar line-up was unable to replicate its achievement in subsequent years and for the remainder of the 1960s, Geelong Football Club reached only one Grand Final, in 1967.
The Club continued to produce brilliant players throughout the 1970's including John Newman (300 games) and the Nankervis brothers Ian (325 games & games record holder) and Bruce (253 games).
By the mid and latter part of the 1980s the club recruited in a similar vein including Gary Ablett, Paul Couch (Brownlow medallist 1989), Mark Yeates, Andrew Bews, Mark Bos, Barry Stoneham and Garry Hocking (who would later go onto to win a record four best and fairest awards) that soon translated into grand final appearances.
Geelong featured in the 1989, 1992, 1994 and 1995 grand finals and under coaches Malcolm Blight and Gary Ayres, stamped itself as one of the top teams of the 1990s with an attacking brand of football. Highlighted when on May 3 1992 it defeated Brisbane with a record score of 37-17-239 to 11-9-75.
The club established a Hall of Fame in 2002, with many great players inducted along with three stalwarts Alex Popescu, Charles Brownlow and Ron Hovey.
In the new millennium, under coach Mark Thompson, a wave of talented young players combined with some experienced champions emerged. With the club showing faith in its plan, a seventh premiership was delivered in 2007.
The 2007 Cats produced one of the greatest seasons in AFL history. Geelong won the AFL grand final over Port Adelaide by a record 119 points. Jimmy Bartel became the club’s fifth Brownlow medalist. Steve Johnson won the Norm Smith medal as best on ground in the grand final, and nine Cats were named as All-Australians.
Geelong’s VFL team also took out the flag, with captain James Byrne winning the Liston Trophy.
The Cats again made it to the grand final in 2008 after losing just one game, however Hawthorn was too good on the day.
Geelong bounced back in 2009, taking the honours over St Kilda in one of the game’s greatest grand finals. After trailing at every change, the Cats held St Kilda goalless in the final term to win by 12 points.
Gary Ablett also took the Brownlow medal with an amazing 30 votes.
After a disappointing preliminary final loss in 2010, Chris Scott took over as the senior coach and returned the Cats to glory.
Under Scott the Cats went through the season with only three losses, winning 19 games to finish second after the home & away campaign.
In the finals the Cats were brilliant, beating Hawthorn, West Coast and Collingwood easily to claim a ninth premiership.
Club greats Cameron Ling, Darren Milburn and Cameron Mooney retired after the season, hanging up the boots with seven premiership medals between them.
Geelong continued to challenge for the flag in 2012 and 2013 but fell short. All-time greats Matthew Scarlett, David Wojcinski, Paul Chapman, Joel Corey, Josh Hunt and James Podsiadly all departed following these seasons.
Once again in 2014 the Cats positioned themselves for a tilt at finals football finishing the season on 17 wins. However, the Cats followed up with a straight sets exit in the finals.
2015 became the Cats first year since 2006 they missed out on finals football after fading late in the year and finishing 10th on the ladder.
At the end of the 2015, the Cats went on a major recruiting spree landing experienced players Patrick Dangerfield, Scott Selwood, Lachie Henderson and Zac Smith. Those players helped the Cats return to the finals, winning 17 of 22 games during the home & away season to finish in second place on the ladder. One of the highlights of the season was the consistency of Daniel Menzel, who played the full year after four knee reconstructions.
The Cats first final was one of the most dramatic in recent times, with Geelong holding a narrow lead for much of the game. Hawthorn had a shot to steal the win after the siren, but a missed shot saw the Cats progress to the preliminary final for the eighth time in 13 years. Sydney proved too strong in the preliminary final.
Dangerfield enjoyed a brilliant season, winning the Brownlow medal with a record 35 votes. Dangerfield and Selwood (captain) were selected to the All Australian team at the end of the season.
At the end of the 2017 season, one of the game's greatest players - Gary Ablett Jnr - returned to Kardinia Park following a trade with the Gold Coast Suns.
Whilst Ablett's 2018 season was full of highlights and memorable moments, teammates Patrick Dangerfield and Tom Stewart were the two Cats selected in the All Australian side.
In 2019, Geelong welcomed its inaugural AFL women’s side with Melissa Hickey appointed captain.