Vale Aussie rules great Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer
Graham "Polly" Farmer, one of the greatest Australian rules footballer of all time, has died aged 84, surrounded by his family at Perth's Fiona Stanley Hospital.
The legend of many generations will be remembered as a game-changer at his peak and a role model to some of the best players to have played the game.
Farmer, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 60, will be long remembered for his feats as both a player and coach at the most elite levels of the game.
His daughter Kim, who was with her father when he died, said she shared many special moments with him during the past week.
"We have just shared our last precious moments with our dear dad and grandfather," she said
"It's been an amazing life shared with a beautiful man. We will miss him."
Farmer was raised at Sister Kate's orphanage in Queen's Park, Perth, his famous nickname stemming from constant chatter as a young boy reminding someone of "Polly the Parrot"
He remained eternally grateful to Sister Kate, claiming without her he "wouldn't have had an ice block's hope in hell of ever leading a normal life".
It was at Sister Kate's that he suffered a severe bout of poliomyelitis, leaving Farmer with his left leg shorter than his right, leading to a distinctive gait that would haunt opponents and opposition supporters alike as he dominated football fields in Western Australia and Victoria with his unique style in the 1950s and 60s.
And Farmer, who is survived by his wife of 62 years in Marlene and children Brett, Dean and Kim, was arguably the most unique of all given he changed the game via the razor-like handballs shot out with equal dexterity from either hand.
A major beneficiary of those hands was Billy Goggin 78, who remains forever grateful that fate provided him with what he regards as the best viewing seat in the game.
Goggin was one of the finest rovers the code has seen and his 248-game career with Geelong from 1958-71 coincided with the six seasons of the man he believes is the best to play the game in Farmer, or "Pol" as his teammates refer to him.
Farmer's understanding with Goggin was to the VFL as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were to figure skating or jockey Hugh Bowman and Winx to a racetrack. They appeared in near perfect sync from the moment Farmer played his first game for Geelong at Princes Park on Saturday, April 21, 1962.
"My brother Matt had played for Victoria against Western Australia in Perth and came back saying he had just seen the best player in his life. He said 'don't worry about Ted Whitten and Ron Barassi, this Polly Farmer bloke is something else'. He was right," said Goggin.
"Polly is the best player I have ever seen. There are others with loads of talent but when you put the whole package together, Polly was the best. He could jump that high, he was incredibly strong, a beautiful kick and the finest handballer the game has seen.
"As ruckman and rover it took us a little while to work together because he was unusual in that he used to palm the ball with his left hand. In the end we didn't talk, we just looked at each other. Polly was very calm and even when he got upset he would get over it quickly, although he couldn't tolerate fools and in football he would have met his fair share.
"His attitude lifted those around him, but Polly was as close to a professional footballer as you could meet because he trained every day. We didn't have weights at the football club when he arrived so he would go to the local gym and lift heavier weights than the weightlifters.
"He used to work at a tyre place in Geelong West with John Buckenara, who was the father of Gary, where he would spend a lot of time handballing. In fact you hardly ever saw him without a ball in his hand.On the field he was our coach.
"When he came back to Geelong as coach between 1973-75 he was ahead of his time. He wanted his players super fit but a lot of them weren't and couldn't do what he wanted them to do. In the end the club didn't give him enough time. Had they stuck with him, Geelong would have been a Premiership side but they were shortsighted."
By the mid-1960s, Farmer and Goggin were regular members of Victoria's state side and would travel together for training at the MCG. It was a time when legends such as Bob Skilton, John Nicholls, Kevin Murray, Ron Barassi, Barry Davis, Jack Clarke, Ken Fraser, Darrel Baldock and Ian Stewart wore the Big V.
"Don't worry, when Polly walked in he was the star. They all looked up to him and recognised him as the best player. John Nicholls was a wonderful player but I reckon even if he would say he learnt off Polly. He could play anywhere, any position on the ground including small back pocket if you wanted. Polly was the master of them all.
"There was a great ruckman from Perth named Jack Clarke who could leap, but have a look for the picture that shows Polly sitting on his shoulders. It tells you everything you need to know. Just as importantly, off the ground he was a lovely person who was naturally kind-hearted."
Goggins doesn't like comparing players but he says facts are facts: "How many of those Team of the Century sides was he named in?," asked Goggin. The answer is an extraordinary six, made up of the AFL, indigenous, East Perth, West Perth, Geelong and Western Australian. And nobody gets anywhere near matching that.
Like Goggin, John Sharrock played with Farmer in Geelong's 1963 Premiership side, having met the man who would become his "second father" on a pre-season trip to New Zealand in October, 1962.
"Pol became my second father because I had moved away from Tooleybuc to Geelong and missed my parents. He and his wife Marlene were very good to me, as they were to all the Geelong players of the time. Pol was a beautiful bloke who cared for others," recalled an emotional Sharrock, 75
"Some of the boys in Fred Wooller, Colin Rice and Terry Callan flew over to see Pol to say their final farewells. They found it very confronting but for them it was a matter of saying goodbye. 'Ricey' always wanted to rove to him but sadly whenever Pol came off the ball for a rest, so did Bill Goggin. He was too smart was Bill.
"Before a game Polly was very intense, before his time. He trained twice as hard as we did and he studied the opposition harder than anyone, and not just his own opponent in the ruck. I remember playing a pre-season practice game against Albury in 1963 and playing on Fred Goldsmith and getting a few kicks (Sharrock booted 7.6) but that wasn't enough for Pol. He instructed me to use my right foot when kicking for goal because it would come in handy at some stage of my career.
"He would tell me before a game the weaknesses of my opponent. He would also see things in their game during a match and explain them.You know what else, he was as tough as anyone? He didn't go out looking for it but if someone backhanded him, he would repay with interest. The only difference was he performed the act with more style and could make it appear accidental. I think the only time he got reported was for Hawthorn's "Delicate Des" Dickson after he ran me into a fence. Pol hit him with a backhander but the umpire reported him for striking with his left hand, when it had actually been his right hand. So he got off on a technicality."
Like Farmer during his years in Geelong, Sharrock became a car dealer, again claiming he was taught by a master: "I bought my first car from Polly, a second-hand FC Holden that had 27,000 miles on the clock. I ran into the old owner about three weeks later and he asked my how the car was going? I said 'it's fantastic, but so it should be because it's only done 27,000'. He replied 'that's funny, when I traded it the car had done 52,000' (laughter). They had given it a little trim (or haircut as it was known at the time).
"But Pol paid me back five years later when he moved back to Perth. He and Marlene sold the family home in Belmont in Geelong and I had just moved into Highton. He asked me "John, how old are your washing machine, fridge and stove?" I explained they looked really old, about 15 years, so he kindly offered to swap his, which were virtually new. They were all white and worked OK so what where was the problem?
He was always a quick thinker."