The club was formed in 1891 and after competing in junior and local-metro competitions between 1891 and 1924, Coburg was admitted into the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in 1925 – a move which was pivotal in allowing Footscray, North Melbourne and Hawthorn to leave the VFA and join the VFL (now AFL) that same year.
Due to the club being admitted to the VFA, the Coburg Oval’s grandstand was redeveloped in 1925 and the design won many accolades for it’s design which was at the forefront of architecture at the time.
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 who joined the club from Carlton and South Melbourne respectively 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 434 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.
YEARS OF FINANCIAL STRUGGLE
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 Coburg 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.
PREMIERSHIPS AND REVIVAL
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 but thanks to the intervention of some club legends managed to survive.
VFA legend Phil Cleary was a member of all these games, as either a player or a coach.
For the 1996 season, the VFA changed it’s competition name to the VFL.
1999-2000 COBURG FITZROY LIONS
In 1999, the club was re-named Coburg-Fitzroy Lions and wore the Fitzroy Lions guernsey on various occasions, especially against the AFL reserves sides. The relationship only lasted two full seasons.
In 2000 the VFL accepted the admission of the Victorian AFL teams’ reserve teams into the competition as either a full AFL reserves team EG: Geelong or as a AFL/VFL team EG: Box Hill Hawks (Hawthorn reserves).
2001-2013 RICHMOND ALIGNMENT
From 2001 until 2013, Coburg had an alignment in place with the AFL’s Richmond Football Club, which saw Richmond’s players eligible to play senior football for Coburg when not selected in the AFL. During this time, the club changed its nickname from the Lions to the Tigers, and its best performance during that time was during 2007, when the seniors finished as runners-up and the reserves side won the premiership.
During the alignment the club would play some home games at Highgate Reserve, Craigieburn each year between 2009-2012. This arrangement ceased in 2012.
In 2012 the VFL Reserves competition was renamed the AFL Victoria Development League. Coburg won the AFL Victoria Development League Premiership in 2012.
RETURN OF THE LIONS
The affiliation with Richmond 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 was coached by former North Melbourne player and former AFL assistant coach Peter German between 2014 and 2017. In 2016, the club created a Junior football club which participates in the Essendon District Football League. In 2018 and 2019 the club was coached by another former North Melbourne player in Leigh Adams.
At the completion of the 2017 VFL season, the VFL removed the AFL Victoria Development League (Reserves) competition. This meant that from season 2018 onwards, any Coburg listed player that was not to get a VFL game would go back to a local football team for the weekend’s game.
In 2019 the club created a record for club membership by breaking 1000 members for the first time and achieving a total of 1268 members which saw it place 2nd of all VFL standalone sides for that year.
2019 also saw the club announce that it had secured $7million towards the total redevelopment of Coburg City Oval’s changeroom, offices and social clubroom facilities.
Since the club has gone standalone again, the club has had Adam Saad (Gold Coast/Essendon), Michael Hartley (Essendon/Hawthorn), Luke Ryan (Fremantle) and Robbie Fox (Sydney) drafted to the AFL.
In August 2019, the club announced that it will be coached by former player Andrew Sturgess for the 2020 season which was to see the club play it’s home games away from Coburg due to the redevelopment.
However in March 2020, after a promising off season campaign which saw the addition of several key recruits and a financial result of a profit posted for the first time in five years, the 2020 VFL season was suspended due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. As a result, the AFL announced that upon the possible resumption of the 2020 season, no AFL players were permitted to play in any second-tier competition due to the health and safety concerns surrounding the pandemic. This put the chances of the season resuming in jeopardy, as all AFL Stand Alone clubs withdrew from the competition. However the remaining stand alone clubs and three aligned clubs (Box Hill, Casey and Sandringham) were all keen to participate in an eight-team competition. It was announced on the 16th of June that a shortened season would occur beginning on the 1st of August. However on the 7th of July, after stage three lockdown restrictions were imposed by the Victorian Government, the season was officially cancelled the next day.
In August 2020, after years of planning for an inaugural women’s team, announced its first coach in Liam Cavanagh.
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 1990s. Third on the games list, on 205 games, is Phil Cleary.