The predecessor of FC Groningen was founded as Unitas in 1915. When Unitas joined the Eerste Klasse Noord (First Northern Division) their name was changed to GVAV (Groningen Football and Athletics Association). The Eerste Klasse Noord was a football league that consisted of teams from the northern provinces Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe, of which the winner went on to compete for the national title against the winners of the other four regional leagues. During the days of the Eerste Klasse Noord, GVAV stood in the shadow of Be Quick 1887 and Velocitas, two other sides from the city of Groningen. GVAV succeeded in winning the Northern championship only once, in 1940, whereas Be Quick 1887 and Velocitas were crowned northern football champions on respectively 18 and 11 occasions.
After the KNVB allowed professionalism in 1954, the Eerste Klasse Noord, along with the other regional leagues, ceased to exist. The five regional leagues were integrated in a nationwide league set-up. From the city of Groningen the clubs GVAV, Be Quick 1887, Velocitas and Oosterparkers turned professional but the latter two soon had to step back to amateurism. During this time, GVAV steadily rose to become the most prominent team in the city of Groningen. Be Quick stayed professional until 1964, leaving GVAV as the only professional football team in the city of Groningen. In 1971 GVAV was rebranded to represent the whole of the city. GVAV's traditional blue, white, and red were dropped in favor of green and white, the municipality colors, and the name of the team was changed to FC Groningen.
FC Groningen has enjoyed top flight football for most of its existence, although the club was relegated to the second division after its third season.
The club was then propelled back into success by the Koeman brothers, Ronald Koeman and his elder brother Erwin Koeman together with defending midfielder Jan van Dijk resulting in qualification to European football for the first time in the 1982/83 season. Their best season in the Eredivisie was during the 1990/91 season when they finished third.
The 2005-06 season turned out to be one of the best in a long time for FC Groningen, with the club finishing 5th place in the league. This allowed Groningen to enter the play-off tournament for the UEFA Champions League third round qualification. However, they were beaten by Ajax in the finals who scored a goal two minutes before the final whistle.
By finishing fifth in the league, FC Groningen qualified for European football for the first time in 14 years, where they were defeated 4–3 on aggregate in the first round by Partizan Belgrade.
In the 2006/07 season FC Groningen again managed to gain entrance for the UEFA Cup. They ended the season in 8th place but thanks to the play-off tournament system, in which they beat Feyenoord and FC Utrecht, they qualified for the UEFA Cup where they faced ACF Fiorentina in the first round. Both matches in Groningen and Florence ended in a draw, 1–1. FC Groningen were defeated after penalties and knocked out in the first round.
On 13 April 2008 part of the west stand of the Euroborg was set on fire when a supporters' tifo-action went wrong. This happened when thousand rolls of toilet paper were thrown down from the stand and the large pile of toilet paper caught fire just before the beginning of the match between FC Groningen and AFC Ajax, a fierce rival of FC Groningen. The match was postponed and replayed 3 days later.
At the end of the 2009–2010 season Ron Jans, who had been the manager of FC Groningen for 8 successful years, stepped down. He went on to become the head coach of SC Heerenveen, the local rival of FC Groningen.
Groningen started the competition with two draws against Ajax (2-2) and AZ (1-1). The team went on an eight match unbeaten run until beaten by leading champions FC Twente (4-2). The first half of the season was the best ever in Groningen's history, going into the winter break with no less than 39 points and a third place. The first match of the second half of the season ended in a 1-2 loss against FC Twente, ending an impressive run of 10 wins and 1 draw at Euroborg Stadium. After a cup-loss at FC Utrecht (3-2), Groningen went on to beat rivals SC Heerenveen, with former manager Ron Jans, 4-1, Dusan Tadic scoring two of the goals. A week later Groningen recorded their biggest ever win in the Eredivisie. Bottom of the table Willem II was thrashed with 7-1, with top scorer Tim Matavz scoring his first ever hat-trick in league football. Then followed a period of heavy losses against Roda JC, Heracles Almelo (both 1-4) and Feyenoord (1-5) before breaking the deadlock with a 0-1 win at NAC Breda. Groningen climbed again in the table to draw their final game against PSV (0-0), only just missing out on direct Europa League qualification.
In the play-offs Groningen started with a 2-3 loss away at Heracles Almelo. They were supported by their two away goals and won the second leg at home, beating their opponents 2-1 to progress to the Final of the play offs for European qualification, in which they took on season sensation ADO Den Haag. The first leg was played in Den Haag on 26 May, and the return match on 29 May in Euroborg Stadium. At the end of the first half, the score was 1-1, resulting in ADO Den Haag getting the ticket. But at full-time it was 5-1 to FC Groningen thanks to a penalty in the last minute, which meant there had to be penalties to decide who got the ticket. Matavz and Sparv missed for Groningen, so Den Haag got the ticket after all.
After serving three years for Groningen, captain Andreas Granqvist moved on to sign for Italian Serie A side Genoa. Top scorer Tim Matavz also headed for the exit door after three games to sign for PSV. Fredrik Stenman in turn left to join Club Brugge.
The new season started with ups and downs for Pieter Huistra's side. Inexplicable losses away from home were followed by home wins against Ajax (1-0) and Feyenoord (6-0), as well as a draw against FC Twente (1-1). The new side was full of inexperienced players, but Groningen managed to end the first half of the season in 8th position. Groningen decided to extend the deal with manager Huistra by one year, just days after being thrashed away at PSV (6-1).
The second half of the season was disastrous. Groningen only managed to win two games (Excelsior 0-1 and PSV 3-0) and they finished in a disappointing 14th place. This fell way short of the target set at the beginning of the season. Pieter Huistra was sacked by the Groningen board for his failure to motivate the side.
On 23 May 2012, Groningen announced that the 43-year-old Robert Maaskant would be the new manager. He signed a one year contract.
FC Groningen announced on 11 March 2013 that it would not be renewing its 1-year contract with Maaskant.
On 4 April 2013, it was announced that Erwin van de Looi - previously assistant to Robert Maaskant - was assigned as new manager for the seasons 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
On 18 May 2014, Groningen defeated AZ Alkmaar 3-0 on aggregate in the playoffs to qualify for the UEFA Europa League for the 2014-15 season, ending the season with a 10 game unbeaten run. This was the club's first European appearance since 2007. The club, however, fell at the first hurdle as they were beaten in the the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round by Aberdeen FC. The first leg in Scotland ended 0-0, and goals from Adam Rooney and Niall McGinn secured a 2-1 victory for Aberdeen in the second leg.
When GVAV was reformed as FC Groningen in 1971 a competition was subscribed to come up with a new crest. The winning design was created by Reint Rozema. It showed an abstract character G, referring to Groningen. The "simple but strong shape of the crest" (as it was described by Rozema) had to symbolize the nature of the people of Groningen. The crest's form was inspired by the truncated icosahedron pattern of a football. In 1993 the mythical flying horse Pegasus was added to the crest. The supporters opposed this change and the crest was restored to its original form in 1996.
FC Groningen's official colours are the city's green and white. Although the crest was green and white from the beginning, the team's first ever home kit was purple. After the club's first season, the purple kit was exchanged for a green and white one. FC Groningen have played in these colours ever since. The design of the shirt continued to change until 1991, when a kit with two vertical stripes was adopted as FC Groningen's standard. Since 2006 the colour purple has been revived as the team's third colour and is used in the away kits.
The club plays its home games in stadium Euroborg, with a capacity of 22,329 seats. In December 2005, the club played its last match ever in the 12,500 seat Oosterpark Stadion after having played there for 72 years. The average attendance in 2004/05 was 12,500 people. This has risen to just under 22,000 people in the new stadium. There are plans to expand the stadium to a capacity of 30,000 or 40,000. The Euroborg Stadium is known to be one of the more atmospheric of all Dutch stadiums. Despite its relatively short existence, it has already earned the nickname the Green Cathedral.
Euroborg is easy to reach by public transport. Train station Groningen Europapark, located 200 meters from the stadium, is served every hour by a number of trains (coming from Groningen Central, Veendam and Germany) and buses. There are also a number of car parks (marked as P1, P2, etc.) in the surrounding area. The stadium is located 2.5 kilometers/1.5 miles from the city centre of Groningen
Having no other teams of a similar size in its nearest proximity, FC Groningen lacks traditional rivals. SC Veendam was the nearest professional team to Groningen until the club dissolved in 2013, but as FC Groningen and Veendam were in different divisions during most of their histories, and Veendam had a significantly smaller following, a strong two-sided rivalry never developed.
In the 1980s, incidents between the hooligans of FC Groningen and FC Twente led to a fierce rivalry between the clubs' respective hooligan firms. Encounters between FC Groningen and Twente often led to violence in and around the ground during the 1980s, 1990s and early years of the 21st century. After FC Groningen moved to the Euroborg Stadium in 2005, supporter violence around matches with FC Twente disappeared almost completely due to the superior safety conditions of the new ground. Although aversion against FC Twente remains to exist among FC Groningen's most fanatical following, the fierceness of this rivalry in general is considered to be something of the past. In a similar vein, yet significantly lesser fierce and long-lasting than the rivalry with FC Twente, the hooligan firm of FC Groningen has maintained rivalries with FC Den Bosch, PEC Zwolle, Cambuur Leeuwarden, and NAC Breda. However, antagonistic feelings towards (the fans of) these clubs mostly were limited to the hooligans of the club and barely existed among the rest of FC Groningen's following.
A feeling of hostility towards Ajax is more widespread among all categories of FC Groningen supporters. Although relatively insignificant from the perspective of the Ajax fans, home matches against Ajax are considered main events by most FC Groningen supporters. Remarkably, away matches against the Amsterdam side are not deemed equally important. This rather one-sided rivalry can be explained by a more general aversion of the inhabitants from the more rural and peripheral northern regions of the Netherlands towards people from the Randstad and Amsterdam, who are stereotyped as being arrogant and haughty.
Since the late 1990s, a more local rivalry has developed between FC Groningen and SC Heerenveen (located 60 kilometers from Groningen). Around this time, SC Heerenveen became a regular in the Eredivisie and no longer met regularly with its nearest and primary rival Cambuur Leeuwarden, which mostly was active in the second tier. FC Groningen and SC Heerenveen are seen as representing the two neighboring northern provinces of Groningen and Friesland, between which a more general rivalry exists. Therefore the match between FC Groningen and SC Heerenveen is referred to as the Derby of the North.