By Phillip Dimitriadis
‘Pharmakos’ refers to a drug, spell-giving potion, druggist, poisoner, by extension a magician or a sorcerer. A variation of this term is ‘Pharmakon’, meaning sacrament, remedy, poison, talisman, cosmetic, perfume or intoxicant. Who was to know that Plato’s musings would metamorphose into ‘The Weapon’, ‘The Pharmacist’, ‘Dr. Anti-Aging’ and ‘The Fan.
I want to make it clear from the outset that my use of the term ‘WE’ in this article does not include each and every fan. It is more about a critical mass that has formed a sinister energy since footy became fully professional in the 1990s. However, I will stand by my assertion that we are all to some degree, guilty by association.
Last Friday I was down at my local neighbourhood in High street Preston. With the shock of the ACC findings still swirling through my mind I noticed something that made me think about why drugs and chemical remedies have become readily accepted.
In one block there are FIVE pharmacies.
There is a sickness in our society and sport is only a reflection of this malady. I had to pick up my cholesterol medication so I decided to look around. The vitamin sections were crammed with various arcane elixirs, promising to assist in everything from improving memory, relieving stress, boosting energy, stopping pain and maintaining erections.
The avoidance of death was everywhere to be seen. Mortality is a dirty word in the modern pharmacy. We must be fitter, stronger, sharper and more durable, to maintain quality in our busy lives.
Who created elite sport?
We, the fans must also share some responsibility for the current sorry state of affairs. Our teams lose a couple of games in a row and talkback is flooded with disgruntled callers threatening to tear up memberships and vowing to never attend another game if they don’t sack the coach. We want success and we want it now, whatever it takes, win at all costs.
The seduction of immortality is too great. A historical imprint must be left. We need to tell our grandkids that we saw a premiership. No one can take away the memory, the feeling of euphoria, the sense that we are part of something successful that happened in our time.
We want to engage, to hitch our identities to the wagon of our clubs so that we can feel part of something bigger, something that history and mortality cannot erase. It gives us hope, a sense of purpose, meaning, something to do and something to take our minds off our inevitable mortality.
We buy our gold memberships, subscribe to Foxtel, listen slavishly to every radio soundbite, read our club websites, newspapers, fantasy leagues and blogs. We have crossed a threshold that is hard to turn back from. We are in a matrix where the actions of others affect our mental health, our social relationships and how we spend our time.
Modern sport has become a drug and we are the addicts looking for the hit. Our elixir has become our poison.
We helped create this monster and now we wonder why we’ve been cheated. Like the Essendon boys, we also gave our consent without really thinking about the consequences. The mythical Frankenstein has become all too real and he’s pissed off with his makers. We have made him our scapegoat, yet we were the ones that consented to his creation in the first place.
We have become obsessed with results. The intricacies of the game have given way to the final score and the bottom line because we are not happy with just watching our teams play.
When players were semi-professional they also had an identity away from their chosen sport. Kevin Sheedy the plumber stands out as someone we could associate as having dual vocations. Part of the fun of watching the Junior Supporters Club every Sunday morning was to see what jobs players did away from the game. There was a sense of earthiness and humanity in the semi-pro that does not readily appear today.
There seemed to be a healthier balance between the importance of playing to win and being a winner by playing. Perhaps sentiment is blinding me, but clubs represented place, a territorial symbolism that most fans could relate to by virtue of an explicit geographical connection. Now the ‘Brand’ has taken on the symbolic force of place, but how connected are we to it?
We demanded better stadiums so our feet wouldn’t get sore and heaven forbid we might go home to find a splinter in our backside. We demanded better facilities so we can take little Johnny to the footy to see his heroes without the fear of being spat, pissed or vomited on from the collective bogan in the outer. Yes, we laughed at his larrikinism from a distance, but we didn’t want to subject our children to such dystopian influences. Better to upgrade to a gold membership to insulate oneself and ones family from this oafish vulgarity that taints our viewing pleasure.
I have a better idea! Why don’t we subscribe to Foxtel so we don’t have to go to every game? We can be part of the immortal quest from our lounge rooms as long as we are paid up members. Our membership cap proves our allegiance. We can check the betting odds and watch some unknown kid from GWS rack up stats so we can brag to our mates about how cheap we got him in Super Coach or Dream Team! If only that kid could add a few kilos of muscle he’d be a gun and I’d be sure to win a prize.
What are the odds of Gold Coast leading Collingwood at quarter-time? 8 to 1! Better take some of that and boast about how clever I was earning money from the opposition leading at the first break. I still support the Pies, I knew we’d win, so why not make a bit of cash on the side. Did I tell you I got Mick Gatto’s autograph the other day. Lovely bloke, so friendly and down to earth.
Game over. Better head down to the pharmacy to buy some Milk Thistle so my liver can absorb the celebration. While I’m there I might buy some Horny Goat Weed to satisfy the missus. Isn’t it great to have 5 pharmacies to choose from? I’m a winner. Living the dream.
What did Plato know anyway?