After competing in junior competitions, including the Victorian Football League seconds until 1924, Coburg was admitted as a senior club in the Victorian Football Association in 1925 – a move which was pivotal in allowing Footscray, North Melbourne and Hawthorn to leave the Association and join the VFL that same year.
Coburg was immediately successful in the VFA, playing finals in its first season and winning three consecutive premierships from 1926 until 1928; however, these were the club's last top-division premiership for more than fifty years. Coburg was runners-up to the Northcote Football Club in three successive seasons from 1932 to 1934, and was also runners-up in 1941. The club was dominant in the junior/seconds competition from its inception in 1928 up to World War II, winning nine seconds premierships in thirteen seasons, including four in a row from 1937 until 1940.
Coburg had prolific goal kickers Lance Collins and Bob Pratt during the 1930s and 1940s. Collins, in his first full season in 1936 (he was injured in 1935 and played one game), kicked 16, 12, 11 and 10 goals in separate games to kick 116 goals for the season; in 98 games for Coburg Football Club (VFA) his tally was 432 goals. Bob Pratt, who crossed from the VFL without a clearance at the beginning of the throw-pass era, kicked 183 goals in the 1941 VFA season for Coburg, which was then the highest number of goals kicked in a VFA season until Ron Todd of Williamstown (VFA) beat that record and kicked 188 goals in 1945. Pratt and Collins together hold the record for the most goals by two players in a season: they kicked a total of 256 goals in 1941. Pratt kicked 22 goals in a match against Sandringham Football Club: a club record.
The club's existence was threatened in 1965, when the City of Coburg leased Coburg Oval to the VFL's North Melbourne Football Club, leaving the club without a home ground. After going into debt attempting to fight the council's move, the club came to an arrangement to merge with North Melbourne, and fourteen committeemen left the club and moved to North Melbourne as part of the merge; but, dissenting committeemen and life members opposed to the merger formed a rival committee, and with the support of the VFA executive, were able to continue operating Coburg as a stand-alone club in 1965, playing games in Port Melbourne. The club's future was still in doubt until it could find a new permanent home ground; but North Melbourne's move to Coburg Oval, which was intended to be long-term, ended up lasting only one season, allowing Coburg to return to Coburg Oval and continue operating there from 1966 onwards.
The only J.J.Liston trophy winner for Coburg was Jim Sullivan in 1967. Prior to 1943 the Best and Fairest Award in the VFA was the 'Recorder Cup'. Coburg VFA winners were Peter Reville (ex-South Melbourne VFL) who was the equal winner in 1936 and E. "Snowy" Martin in 1927.
Jim Sullivan was credited by club statistics to have amassed 54 kicks in a match in 1969, which is the second highest recorded in senior football competition and the highest in the VFA competition. Coburg has the second highest number of reported players in a VFA match, which occurred in the 1933 Grand final against Northcote Football Club.
After many years in the doldrums, the club enjoyed somewhat of a rebirth in the late 1970s, with a continued period of success until the 1990. During that time, the club won three flags (1979, 1988 and 1989), finished runner-up another two times (1980 and 1986) and won four minor premierships (1980, 1986, 1988 and 1989). Even so, the club's off-field position was not secure during this time, and the club was at risk of folding in 1982-83. VFA legend Phil Cleary was a member of all these games, as either a player or a coach.
Dave Starbuck holds the club record for games, with 219, played mostly in the 1950s. He is closely followed by cult figure, Vin "The Tank" Taranto, who played during the 1980s and the dark days of the 1990s, when the club was at its lowest and almost folded. Third on the games list, on 205 games, is Cleary.
The affiliation ended after the 2013 season; Coburg returned to operations as a stand-alone senior club in the VFL from 2014, and returned to the nickname 'Lions'. The club has been coached by former North Melbourne player and former Western Bulldogs assistant coach Peter German since 2014.