Book review: Classic Cats – Geelong’s Premiership Years 1951-1952

Classic Cats: The Story of Geelong’s Premiership Years 1951-1952

Bruce Kennedy and Michael Rogers

The famous Geelong Flyer was the first officially named train to operate on the Victorian Railways.  Steamrail Victoria provides the opportunity to step back in time to ride the fastest train of the 1920s, a D3 Class Steam Locomotive, with a day return trip from Southern Cross Station in Melbourne to Geelong.  Classic Cats invites readers to take a trip back in time and understand what made the 1951 and 1952 Geelong premiership football teams great, and able to achieve what the club had never achieved before – back to back premierships.

With all our advances in technology we still cannot hop on a train to take us back in time.  However, excellent historical research, skilfully crafted into a tapestry of incisive information, is the next best thing.  This book more than delivers on this!  Classic Cats draws from a wealth of historical evidence, photographs, interviews with players, cartoons and statistics.  The match statistics, while comprehensive, are woven cleverly into the narrative and presented clearly so as to enhance, and not detract from, the story telling.

Classic Cats is far more than an analysis of what transpired in 1951 and 1952.  The book looks at the origins of Geelong as a country team in a football competition dominated by Melbourne teams.  Importantly, the book walks the reader through the challenges of the 1940s, in a section titled 1940s: Journey to Oblivion and Back.  This includes the impact of the Second World War, the (temporary) withdrawal from the competition in 1942 and then the emergence of key players and club support that would lay the foundations for success in 1951 and 1952.  The book also traces the trail from Corio Oval to Kardinia Park as the playing venue.

One very strong feature of Classic Cats are the personal profiles of key players, coaches and administrators – Jack Jennings, Reg Hickey, George Goninon, Bernie Smith and Russell Renfrey – to name just a few.  Throughout the book there are photographs, cartoons, anecdotes and media grabs that enrich the storyline.  To help us look through 1950s glasses, Classic Cats examines field positions and the emergence of Geelong’s playing style, the tough playing conditions in some home grounds in Melbourne, media coverage of football and reminds us that back then mud was a challenge to performance in many matches.  Classic Cats is not insular in its approach, and includes profiles and statistics for Melbourne teams in the competition.

Classic Cats guides the reader through each week of the 1951 (the Jubilee Premiership) and 1952 (Back to Back) Premierships, before and after match day.  The content is rich, from news on training and ‘in the mix’ team selection, and weather and ground conditions to highlights of the match, including dominant players and turning points during games.  Match information stands alongside the discussion of each game, and includes the team, best players and milestones, as well as statistics on goals, quarter by quarter scores, attendance, scores for other teams and the ladder.

Some statistics amaze, such as the crowd of over 49000 who attended the Geelong-Carlton match at Kardinia Park just before the finals in 1952.  Finals matches, and especially the two  Grand Finals are presented and analysed in much greater detail than the home and away matches.  While keeping football, and the Geelong team, as the centre of attention, Classic Cats highlights other football news and national and local news items that provide context for the Geelong premiership story.

Importantly, Classic Cats also provides profiles of the premiership players.  The book itself is a classic, prepared by Geelong Football Club ‘tragics’ who have taken an idea, that is to tell the story of the 1951 and 1952 premierships, and made it a startling reality.  The book is enriching to read through, but is also a good reference to keep handy.  From time to time choose a week or two and, and imagine you were there, or focus on players and club supporters and administrators who played a role in the premiership success.  Classic Cats is a mine where the gold is easy to find!

We are in a time when the print media is being challenged as never before.  One day perhaps we will realise that we have lost something in the family discussions around the footy news – collecting the morning paper, turning to the footy news (Geelong first) and then, afterwards,  seeing what else is happening in the world.

I highly recommend Classic Cats for Geelong supporters, but also for those who have an historical interest in AFL football or how successful teams emerge and achieve greatness.  One of the most poignant pictures in the book is the photo of the welcome home crowd for the 1951 Premiership team – the joy of winning after the struggles during and after the Second World War.  I was fortunate to be among the crowd celebrating the 2007 Premiership win at Kardinia Park, the first in 44 years.  This kind of joy transcends time.  We are part of a great sporting team that has once again achieved greatness, but whatever journey we go on in the future the story of the 1951 and 1952 Back to Back Premierships has now been told in Classic Cats.

Purcase details: $40.00 + 12.50 postage & handling.

The webpage is, or those interested can make enquiries to [email protected], or write to Footy Histories, 6 Sharp Place, Melba, ACT, 2615.

People can also google “Classic Cats Geelong 1951-1952” and it will bring up the link.


  1. I DON’T have to imagine in my mind’s eye, Denis, the 1951 season. I was there at many home and away matches, especially at Kardinia Park.
    But most importantly I was at the ’51 grannie when Dicky Reynolds ran onto the MCG — in desperation, really — as 19th or 20th man to try and snatch the win for the Dons.
    He didn’t, of course, and for those who can’t remember the Pivotonians won: 11.15 (81) to Essendon’s 10.10 (70). The crowd at the G that afternoon was 85,795.

    Bernie Smith won the ’51 Brownlow from Ronnie Clegg and Bill Hutchinson and Georgie Goninon won the goal-kicking with 86 majors.
    That made it just the 2nd time that a VFL club had won the flag, the Brownlow and the goal kicking in the one season.

    My maternal grandfather and Jack Jennings were good mates. They were both publicans so had a lot of trade talk to indulge in while I scooted off for an ice cream at half-time.

    Grandpa’s biggest ever regret was that he failed to get the recruiting boys at Geelong interested in Maryborough brothers Don and John Nicholls. Don was supposed to be the pick of the pair, but as we all know now Big John turned out the prize catch.
    Grandpa owned a couple of hotels in Maryborough, later one at Inglewood and in the 1940s the big one overlooking Geelong’s Western Beach. Not far from Drumcondra. He retained close ties with Maryborough, though.
    So eventually the Nicholls went to BlueBag heaven at Carlton.

    Interestingly for a lifelong Geelong fan, I developed my loathing for Hawthorn back then. When they failed to trouble the scorers in 1950 [0-18], won just the four games in 1951 and registered five, measly wins in 1952.
    My school and footy mates at the time loved it when we belted the Hawks. Collingwood, Essendon, Carlton: yep those wins were good.

    But Hawthorn. That was the icing on the cake. And still is.
    Nine-zip in our favour since Sept., 2008 !!

  2. Stab Punt Jim says

    Richard J
    George Goninon kicked the most Goals in the season of 1951 including the final series. The John Coleman Medal is awarded yearly to the Australian Football League player who kicks the most goals in home-and-away matches. In 1951 George, kicked more goals than John Coleman but John Coleman won the medal.
    The great Peter McKenna of Collingwood is the AFL’s first John Coleman Medal Full Forward to predominantly kick the drop punt as his set shot for goal.
    Stab Punt Jim

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