4 min reading time

Old Clubs, New Beginnings

Geelong and North Melbourne: how they got here, what they achieved in year one, and what the future holds

In 2019, Geelong and North Melbourne joined the NAB AFL Women’s competition as the first expansion teams. Although they took different paths, there are many similarities in the teams’ stories. Importantly, both recognise and understand the importance of their clubs’ histories and links to local areas. Their stories are about perseverance, continuity, legacy, community, opportunity, evolution, and – above all – uniting people through football.

Writer and director Nick Musgrove spent time with key people from the Cats and the Kangaroos – and but a handful of people in local communities those teams have already positively impacted – to outline how they got here, what they achieved in year one, and what the future might hold.

THE port city of Geelong, some 75km south-west of Melbourne, abuts Corio Bay and the Barwon River, with a spectacular waterfront one of its treasures. On July 18, 1859 – before it officially received 'city' status – Geelong had its own football club, formed at the Victoria Hotel, on the corner of Moorabool and Malop streets. Geelong's town hall had stood for only four years and the railway line to Melbourne had been running less than two. Its population was nudging 20,000. For the next 160 years, the club that would become known as the Cats grew in perfect synchronicity with the city. Manufacturing and processing industries boomed with the population.

The Cats grew in perfect synchronicity with the city.

By 1925, the American automotive giant Ford Motor Company announced Geelong would be the home of its first Australian manufacturing site. Such was the importance of the football club to the town, that Ford offered the entire Geelong football team jobs at its factory, starting that year.

Geelong would go on to win its first Victorian Football League premiership that season, highlighting the beginning of one of the oldest and most successful sponsorships in world sport, a partnership that continues today.

By the end of 1963, Geelong had won six League premierships, but a close-to 50-year drought would follow, a period that included four grand final loses between 1989 and 1995. During this latter era, Geelong had formidable playing stocks, including Gary Ablett Snr, Paul Couch and Garry Hocking, who would later would be named in the Cats' team of the century. 

A disappointing 2006 season led to some serious internal soul-searching. The drought ended in emphatic fashion in 2007 when Geelong beat Port Adelaide by a record Grand Final margin of 119 points. The Cats won again in 2009 and 2011, and have missed the finals only once since the run started. The club is enjoying an era of sustained success.   

On October 7, 2016, Ford closed the doors of its Geelong factory.

On October 7, 2016, Ford closed the doors of its Geelong factory. More than 600 employees lost their jobs. Many lacked another vocation or skill to fall back on. It was a body blow to countless families living in the city and beyond, and to the heart of the city itself.  Ford would continue as the club's major sponsor, though undeniably, something significant and spiritual had been lost.

Only a week later, Geelong Football Club assumed control of the North Geelong Magpies, a team playing in the VFL Women's competition. The Cats' rationale was simple: they wanted a women's team of their own as a stepping-stone to earning a licence to play in the AFL Women's competition, which would start in February of 2017 with eight teams. Geelong was not among the first wave of teams, but was determined not to be left behind as broader interest in women's football continued to grow.

On February 2, 2019, the Cats' AFLW team played its first ever match, at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong.

The Cats' inaugural AFLW game

01:10 May 27. 2019. 9:00 AM

Highlights package from the Cats' inaugural AFLW game at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong.

"If we can prove we're good managers of this team and also good partners in development of women's footy in the region, we think and hope the AFL will grant us a licence," CEO Brian Cook said of the challenge ahead.

It took plenty of hard work, but he was right. Geelong would get the nod to be part of the competition's first expansion phase, winning its licence in late-2017 and officially joining in 2019.

The Cats' inaugural AFLW list included 20 players who lived and worked in Geelong, many as teachers. In many ways, they were reprising the endeavours of the premiership-winning Ford factory workers from nearly a century ago, a group of locals who worked in Geelong and played for the club of the same name. 

On February 2, 2019, the Cats' AFLW team played its first ever match, at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong. On a warm summer Saturday evening, the crowd nudged 20,000.

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