Sky Sports’ virtual conferences have somewhat helped to satisfy football fans’ itches throughout the coronavirus crisis by supplying us with quality content centered around their two treasured Tweedles; Dee and Dum, Neville and Carragher.

The to-and-fro of bickering and banter hints at the bitter rivalry between the club sides each of the former stalwarts represent. Their distinct accents magnify it. Old habits, pertaining to linguistics and allegiance, apparently die hard.

Getting the living embodiments of Manchester United and Liverpool FC to meet eye-to-eye is an understandably tricky task that makes for great television. What I find most interesting, therefore, is when the retired footballers are united in agreement.

It happened recently: both readily accepted and openly admitted that it was their fear of failure, rather than their yearning for success, that was the driving force behind their progress and achievement.

I initially pondered whether their confessions were correlated to an overflow effect from the positions in which they played. Causal effects of being defensive minded and intent on stopping rather than scoring goals, I thought.

“If we don’t lose, the other team can’t win”

Football is, in essence, a binary game: the team that puts the ball in the back of the opponents net the most times wins. Or, conversely, seen through a conservative lens this means that you can only win if you concede less goals than your adversary.

If your team scores a goal and your opponent doesn’t, your team wins and you receive three points or progress to the next round of a cup competition. This is the best case scenario.

If your team doesn’t score a goal and neither does your opponent, it is a tied game and the teams share the spoils; one point is better than none. This is the second best case scenario.

If your team doesn’t score a goal but your opponent does, then your team loses and receives no points or is eliminated from the cup competition. This is, clearly, the worst case scenario.

The final scenario listed above is the only one in which there is no reward for your effort. You do not get extra credit for showing your work or being close to the answer.

Logically you might wonder why we don’t award a win with three points, a tie with two and a loss with one. Could it be that the points distribution has been structured as such so that the fear of failure – the thought of ending the 90 minutes empty handed – encourages teams to dig deeper?

It’s a system that favors the bold and commensurately compensates the brave. A single extra point won from a dramatic late comeback can make a massive difference come the end of the season.

Fear of failure is inherent within us

The more I searched, the more I found that Neville and Carragher’s failure fearing philosophy has helped to propel others towards achieving success in their own lives.

Footballers, film stars, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and professionals in pretty much every career you can think of make no bones about it: the menace of not ‘making it’ is a potent fuel for your inner fire.

The proclivity to actively seek out negativity and use it to guide us towards success is, in fact, an inherent trait that has served us evolutionarily as a species.

This negativity effect evolved because it helped to keep our ancestors alive in a time where life had to win every day and death needed to win only once. There were no hospitals, antidotes or vaccines. Every new day dawned a new test of the survival of the fittest.

For our prehistoric forefathers it was much more important to pay attention to not eating poisonous berries than savoring the taste of the really good ones. Neville and Carragher enjoyed the sweet taste of a win, of course, but a loss would leave a much longer lasting, unpalatable bitterness.

Similarly, if our ancestors missed out on a great opportunity for good food or sex or any other life affirming action, well that’s too bad, but they might be presented with another crack at the whip the following day. If they failed to notice a dangerous predator, however, that would put an end to their life.

Our minds, therefore, have been shaped by evolution to pay attention, and homage, to risk. The consequences of failure were far too costly for us to miss.

Nowadays, however, the ramifications of the reverse is the danger on our doorstep, particularly in the world of football. How many talents have fallen from grace and glory as a result of too much success and too soon?

Is success more dangerous than failure?

If when we were younger we got everything we wanted and succeeded at everything on our first attempt, it’s safe to assume that we wouldn’t be so successful in later life.

The worry that their affluent offspring wont amount to much as a direct consequence of their comfortable upbringing is a common concern that billionaires share. They understand that human beings need to experience strife to have a successful life.

At least, trials and tribulations teach us to be resilient and make us appreciate the good in our lives. If you want the rainbow you’ve got to put up with the rain.

At best, overcoming adversity helps to create a bulletproof mindset and conditions us to tame our tigers and use them as tools for our personal development and growth.

At some point or another every fledgling footballer will suffer a setback, but the painful memory of this negative experience is exactly what propels them forward.

When I was 10, I didn’t make the cut for my regional team. The following year I claimed the captaincy after tearing up the trials. A year after that I was signed by Manchester United.

As much as I’d feared it, I needed my failure. As much as I’d wanted to impress, I needed to prove those that had doubted me wrong. As much as I wanted to succeed, I needed vengeance.

Self-help gurus tell their audiences to imagine how we would feel if they didn’t take the action to get out of whatever hole they find themselves in. Internet entrepreneurs tell their audiences to ‘fail fast and fail often.’ Authors tell theirs that ‘every failure just means you’re another step closer to success.’

How losers become winners

To know the feeling of being strong, you must have also been weak. To know the feeling of going fast, you must have also gone slow. To know the feeling of being a winner, you must have also been a loser.

Of course, you’re absolutely right in thinking that everybody wants to be a winner, and by default you must also therefore believe that nobody wants to be a loser.

Perhaps this is why those that formed the aptly named Losers Club in Stephen King’s popular novel IT went on to have such successful careers later in life.

Bill Denbrough, a stutterer, overcomes his fear of words by learning to put coherent sentences together on paper and becomes a best-selling author.

Eddie Kasprak, a Hypochondriac, uses his fear of almost everything to create a successful career as a risk analyst.

Ben Hanscom, an overweight boy, uses his fear of rejection to carve himself a chiseled body and career as an architect, creating beauty where there previously was none.

Richie Tozier, a jokester, leans in to his fear of never amounting to anything more than the perpetual class clown to become a successful stand-up comedian.

Beverly Marsh, a lower middle class girl with an abusive father, uses her fear of abject poverty and paternal problems to become a fashion designer and create luxurious products that command positive attention, affection and admiration.

Mike Hanlon, one of the only African American boys in town, uses his fear of being an outcast to unite the Losers Club and ultimately defeat the novels eponymous villain.

Stan Uris, a sweet but shy Jewish boy and qualified accountant in later life, fails to harness his fear upon learning of the resurgence of IT and takes his own life. Could this be King serving the reader a stark notice of how detrimental failing to conquer your fears can be?

IT – most often depicted as Pennywise the killer clown, although also known to take on various other forms – is theorized to represent fear itself, of which, as the saying goes, there is no greater fear.

This dancing, prancing, terrifying portrayal of fear teases, scares and ridicules the teens making them feel inferior, afraid and insecure. But once the Losers learn how to control that fear and utilize it by reducing it and – literally and figuratively – putting it in a box, IT can no longer terrorize them.

Failure in itself isn’t threatening. It is just a source of feedback on your current level and a driving force to lift you higher. Just ask Carragher and Neville, if you can understand their accents.