In all the tributes and obituaries that appeared on the passing of Geoff Polites it is remarkable that only one even alluded to or mentioned in passing his career at the highest level Australian football – including the Sydney Swans of which he was a Life Member. It was a career that included umpiring thirty-nine VFL senior matches between 1976 and 1979.
Geoffrey Paul Polities was born in Melbourne on 5 November 1947 and was brought up in Cheltenham where he played junior football and cricket in the bayside area before deciding to take up umpiring. He joined the VFL Reserve Grade umpires in 1967 and in 1970 was promoted to the senior list. He had had an early taste in July 1968 when appointed to a Mornington Peninsula FL to fill a spot during a shortage.
His first year on the list was interrupted after only four matches when he joined Ford Australia as a Product Planner and completed training in both the United States and Europe. A full season in 1971 was followed by another year off in 1972 but from 1973 onwards he was a constant in both country and city matches.A first country final in the North Central FL began a climb through the major country leagues until his VFL Reserve Grade debut in May 1974 at VFL Park.
For much of that year (10 matches) he stayed in the Reserve Grade and finished with finals in the Murray and Goulburn Valley Football Leagues and the Mid-Murray Grand Final.
A consolidation year in 1975 was followed by a sensational 1976. The introduction of the two-umpire system bought big opportunities and Polites grabbed his. He earned Heritage Number 276 when he debuted at Victoria Park in August. His partner was Harvey Lyons and they teamed up the following week at VFL Park. Twenty matches in 1977 and another ten the next year were highlighted by a night series quarter-final between Richmond and Carlton. During the second half of 1978 he was dropped to the Reserves and was unable to break back into senior football before seasons end.
After beginning the 1979 season with six consecutive senior matches Polites burgeoning career with Ford meant a move to Sydney and he had to retire with 39 VFL, 36 Reserve Grade and 81 country matches to his credit
Later he found his way back to football. Following subsequent Ford positions as Southern Region Country Sales Manager, Merchandising Manager and Eastern Regional Manager, he returned to Melbourne in 1985 as General Sales Manager, Ford Australia and held this position until July 1988 when he resigned from Ford to become Dealer Principal of the City Ford Dealership in central Sydney.
Swans coach Colin Kinnear arrived in 1988 and on a friend’s recommendation went to see Polites.
“I said would you like to be involved in some way?” Kinnear said. “Andhe asked in what capacity? I said I am looking for a match-day team manager and a runner and as soon as I said runner he said: ‘Oh, I would love to do that.’
“There he was running the biggest car dealership in Australia and he became my runner and he went on to be the No. 1 bloke at Ford and have a long career at the Swans.” At various times Polites was also interchange official, selector and assistant coach at the Swans, passing on his knowledge in the coach’s box on match days to both Rodney Eade and Paul Roos.
Polites was sitting in the coaches’ box on grand final day 2005.
At the time of his passing, aged 60, Polites was CEO of Jaguar and Land Rover, a position he had held since 2005 and which followed his Chairmanship of Ford world-wide. He had been battling cancer for sometime and finally succumbed on 20 April 2008 while on a visit to Melbourne from his home in the UK.
Geoff was recognized by his umpiring peers as being totally professional. He approached his umpiring as he did his business career. What may he have achieved in his umpiring career had he not chosen to pursue the course he did? If his success in the corporate world is any guide, he would have made the top in umpiring.