Pharmakos/Pharmakon: The seduction of immortality

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?

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.


  1. Phil – this is a timely piece. On the front page of Sunday’s Age was an article about a bloke who takes HGH so he can ride his bike faster on weekends and so he looks younger. Pretty sad really.

    But you are right – the fans put the pressure on the team to perform. So they (some of them) find a way.

  2. Read that article, Dips.

    Found it to be a bit wordy – for example, who writes, ‘property consultant with a $12,000 bike’, when you can simply write ‘cockdonkey’?

  3. Litza – incredible! After reading it on Sunday morning I turned to my wife and said “What a cockdonkey” or words to that affect.

  4. Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster.
    Define ” cockdonkey”, it hasn’t made it into the Macquarie yet.

  5. I can’t quite define it yet, strangely, I can offer synonyms such as ‘cork-soaker’ (check SNL sketch on YouTube) and butt monkey.

    Excellent article Phil.


  6. Well said Phil. My thesis is that the business of football has got in the way of football business.
    There is so much money sloshing around the system that gets spent on things no fan (and probably many clubs) really want or need. We all have to have them (20 assistants and analysts; 3D video and statistical analysis of player performance by 111 different KPI’s; sports ‘science’ and Frankenstein supplements – legal or illegal).
    My theory is that none of this adds to the quality or watchability of the game – just some egomaniac coach’s defensive strategies.
    And there is no advantage in any of it in very short order. If it added value every club soon has one – to keep up not to gain an edge.
    Mutually Assured Destruction.
    You are right that we fans have all tacitly consented, but I still think that money (in all its forms) runs (and sometimes ruins) the game.

  7. Good stuff, Phil.
    Why can’t all teams be like the mighty Clifton Hill Veterans CC, and indulge in performance-enhancing beer and sausage rolls?
    And finish one game outside the final four.

  8. Well there goes my pineapple MOC. And I thought you blokes were certainties.

    Phil, you’re making me feel awkward. It’s my illusion and I’ll live in it.

  9. Thank you for your comments boys. The one area I omitted was the gobsmacked politicians. They couldn’t ‘catch’ a cold.
    Dips, I read that piece today and couldn’t believe how matter-of-fact that bloke was about taking HGH. Litza, the ‘cockdonkeys’ on horny goat weed are taking over the sports and entertainment world. We must be vigilant.

    Peter B, spot on about money being thrown around to justify an extra 1% edge. So futile. MOC, playing cricket with the Hillers this year has alerted me to the real reason I fell in love with sport and that is to play more, watch less. Harmsy, is it really an illusion if you are aware it is?

    I think Pink Floyd might have foreseen this debacle in Empty Spaces. The lyrics and the clip warned of this sort of stuff and we didn’t listen.

    What shall we use
    To fill the empty spaces
    Where we used to talk?
    How shall I fill
    The final places?
    How should I complete the wall…

    What shall we use to fill the empty spaces
    Where waves of hunger roar?
    Shall we set out across this sea of faces
    In search of more and more applause?
    What Shall we do Now?
    Shall we buy a new guitar?
    Shall we drive a more powerful car?
    Shall we work straight through the night?
    Shall we get into fights?
    Leave the lights on at night?
    Drop bombs?
    Do tours of the east?
    Contract disease?
    Bury bones?
    Break up homes?
    Send flowers by phone?
    Take to drink?
    Go to shrinks?
    Give up meat?
    Rarely sleep?
    Keep people as pets?
    Train dogs?
    Raise rats?
    Fill the attic with cash?
    Bury treasure?
    Store up leisure?
    But never relax at all
    With our backs to the wall
    Backs to the Wall

  10. Great stuff, Phil.

    By the way, does that Horny Goat Weed work?

  11. Your royal boganess

    Your insights are certainly in play in many ways across society. Just as they drive athletes to push the envelope they drove the paparazzi into that tunnel chasing Diana. Football supporters demand that they’re teams win at any cost, just as the readers of womans day demanded intrusive photos of Diana at any cost. All this stuff is connected. Pity is, I don’t think it is something that can be conditioned out of us. It seems more like something that is hard wired. I do know of one little oasis where you can escape it all though. Try the Whitten oval … we Bulldogs are use to failure, so I’m sure out boys are under a little less pressure to jab themselves or pop pills.

    Thought provoking as ever Phil. Keep them coming

  12. “There is a sickness in our society and sport is only a reflection of this malady.”

    I think you’re absolutely spot on Phil. Horny goat weed. Milk thistle. 5 pharmacies in one block. Science rules our society. People believe it. They have to. The scientist has become the modern day shaman, the village priest – we have to believe what he says, because it’s “scientifically” proven. Only he can heal us. Never mind that stupid people like me don’t understand a word about what he is rambling on about. How would I know? I’m labelled a fool if I don’t believe the scientist and his big bang theory, but deep down I find it just as fanciful as any of the creation accounts. I might try some of that horny goat weed though – is it covered under my health insurance?

  13. Andrew Starkie says

    yeah, how’d the horny goat weed go?

  14. DBlassone – if you watch/read the advertisements closely, very few say scientifically’ or clinically proven – instead, they say ‘tested’. In most instances, these tests simply revealed they’re nothing more than a placebo.

  15. I haven’t tried the HGW (Horny Goat Weed) yet as it still being analysed by the ‘Integrity Unit’ (Wife). Will give a blow by blow description if I ever get around to it. Right now George Costanza’s mango theory is doing the job. Thanks for the concern!

  16. If we were to list all the ingredients that went into creating our current culture, I’m sure the ones you write about would be in the recipe.

    On a similar vein is a quote I used in a submission a while ago:

    DICK POUND: Hein, you guys have a huge problem in your sport.
    HEIN VERBRUGGEN: What do you mean?
    POUND: The doping.
    VERBRUGGEN: Well, that’s really the fault of the spectators.
    POUND: I beg your pardon. It’s the spectators’ fault?!
    VERBRUGGEN: Well. Yes. If they were happy with the Tour de France at 25K, you know we’d be fine. But, if they want it at 41 and 42,the riders have to prepare.
    POUND: Well, you heard it here first, you got a big problem.

  17. Telling example Pete. That short exchange speaks volumes about the problem.

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