The Fear Factor

THE FEAR FACTOR   by Don McMahon

While pondering the mysteries and obfuscations of the universe and the AAA, I suddenly realized that there is a common thread running through life and professional sports, like football, that could help explain, in some small way, the strange goings-on that occur in our beloved Game.

Let us start at the beginning and end at the end, (a bit radical, but this is Untold and we do it our way here). What exactly am I trying to say? Well, given that all the stakeholders involved in the Beautiful Game seem to behave rather aberrantly and mysteriously at least once a day (or thereabouts), it behoves me to try, as a retired psychologist, to explain these aberrations. So here goes:

Fear is a natural and essential response to a threat, perceived or real, which presents itself in our environment. Anything or anyone can become that threat, and can do so out of the blue, without warning or reason. In terms of football, the fear factor can be very real, or at least imminent and ubiquitous.

SAF was an object of fear for all and sundry in his entourage, with the exception of his wife, of course, whose role could have been to drive him to drink (apparently not much of a challenge), but of course we don’t really know that.

Let’s start with the earliest years of a footballer’s experience. Most parents encourage their children in football in a positive manner. However, because of the dependent relationship the child has with his or her parents, the kid wants to do well and not shame their parents, so they feel fear of failure or disappointing their parents.

In the worse case scenario, the parent(s) can exacerbate this fear by deriding their child’s efforts and bullying them. So even the most talented and gifted children like Beckham, can face this emotion more than once in his young life.

Once the child turns into an adolescent, and IF the child’s talent and skills have developed properly, the child can relish the prospect of considering a professional Football career. Fear accompanies them at all times; fear of failing to make the ¨grade¨, fear of long-term or terminal injuries, fear of personal or inter-personal conflicts, etc. By the time they reach adulthood, a good percentage of their experiences have been based on fear and its effects on them.

ManU were reputed to be one of the most fearless Clubs in the EPL but one of the most fearful collection of players when dealing with SAF. I once read that they won so much NOT just because they were driven to win BUT they were afraid to lose and piss off their dear leader.

Every EPL player plays in a climate of fear, even our beloved Gunners. Wenger is NOT seen as a fear figure but rather a father figure who you don’t want to disappoint. That partly explains some of our less loyal ex-pats who had no compunction about betraying his trust and jumping ship. Yet, despite this climate of forgiveness and support, many feared their futures.

Players, whose livelihood depends on them staying fit, in form and eligible to play naturally fear the consequences of long-term injury, a poor run of form, regular disciplinary punishments and so on. Those people who can cause such setbacks are seen as real and immediate objects of fear. Orc-like Neanderthals who scythe their opponents, teammates who fail to support and include them in the game, officials who turn their backs on the Laws that protect players, managers who dislike them for one reason or another, supporters who identify them as ¨deadwood¨ and ¨not worthy¨, media hipsters who latch onto the slightest of rumours to vilify and denigrate them for a cheap headline, football administration who treat the same events differently based on which Club they play for, and so on. Some entire teams will play in fear of losing rather than in the determination to win!

Game officials face a constant threat and fear of abuse, retribution, ¨discipline¨, demotion as well. Some apparently even fear certain figures based on their reputations as ogres, and will do everything in their power to assuage the wrath awaiting them if they make unfavourable calls.

This self same fear drives some supporters and fans to behave in a rather bizarre fashion, myself among them. On occasion, during a very difficult, crucial and trying game, I’ll switch the channel or surf to another site rather than suffer through the stress of watching AFC. When I eventually switch back, after a complete change of clothes and a shower, I usually rejoice at the scoreline (at least for most of this season) and breathe a great sigh of relief.

There are those, however, who cannot abandon their fear of failure. They are often seen to criticize all and sundry at AFC (or another Club) and prefer the pessimistic, apocalyptic view of events, thus, rather ineffectively (but in their own minds, rationally) diminishing the fear felt at the prospect of their team failing. The worst of this lot we call the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal, the AAA.

They are afraid of HOPE and prefer to wish ill on everyone and everything Arsenal, mocking those who do keep the faith as wearing ¨rose-coloured glasses¨ and being eternal optimists. For them, fear is the key element in their relationship with AFC and they thrive in spreading it like the plague.

Finally, we see the administrators of Fifa, Uefa, the national associations, their FA’s and the various amateur and professional leagues. FIFA and the Blatterfull live in constant fear of being exposed as the sycophants and bottom-feeders they are. They spend excessive amounts of time and energy (and money) covering up and denying the putrid odours emanating from their septic Association.  Uefa is afraid of Fifa, the FA’s are afraid of both, amateur and professional leagues are afraid of everybody and the Sports minister is afraid of the electors and his party leadership. The police are afraid of corruption and criminality in the game, the other authorities don’t give a damn or pay lip-service to efforts to eradicate it.

Fans are afraid of rising ticket prices (and other costs), of their team getting relegated or dropping into the Europa Entropy Cup, of bankruptcy or receivership, of being emptied of their promising youth, of dropping attendances, etc. The only ones who seem to be really enjoying the game without much fear are the amateurs joyfully kicking about preserving the original intent of Association Football.

Fear, among other things drives the professional game today. Greed, indifference, corruption,  subterfuge, abuse, racism, sexism, bias, injustice, manipulation, intimidation, brutality, and numerous other excesses also mitigate this toxic mix. An association of people who experience this distressing cocktail, when all they wanted was to participate and be entertained, are experiencing a counter-productive way of life.

If this fear factor continues to increase, there is a very likely outcome….paralysis and dissociation from their original, noble  goals and the possible demise of a great tradition. What can we do to avoid this happening, or is it too late?


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20 Replies to “The Fear Factor”

  1. I was going to say well done for a great analysis then I remembered that you are the expert. My praise would be nothing but condescension. I’ll rather say thanks for the enlightenment.

    May I add in my own little way that while we can never conquer fear altogether, we can at least suppress it with optimism and if we still cannot do this, then we need to desist from spreading our fears and pessimism to others. I don’t think that is too much to ask.

  2. I humbly beg to differ.

    Fear is not a bad thing, it is actually a good thing. It is a defense mechanism which protects the individual, and a very useful way to obtain control, for the leader.

    In the words of one of the greatest philosophers and thinkers (Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 17):

    “Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails”.

  3. TommieGun,

    I find your choice of “one of the greatest philosophers and thinkers” very interesting (not saying you are wrong 🙂 ). I agree with you that fear has it’s advantages but as a motivational tool, it produces reactive actions rather than proactive ones.

    I guess we as individuals ultimately have to decide whether we want to be loved or feared. I’d rather be loved than feared. Love breeds respect, fear breeds loathing. Those who are afraid of you would do as you say but I doubt that they would apply any creativity or initiative of their own.

  4. sometimes we need to fear at some moments of our life. I believe the knowing the right time to exhibit fear makes us humans. However I feel the line should be drawn as at when fear wants to lead us to do evil. That’s when we need to control our fear.
    “Perfect love faster out fear’ so says the Bible.

  5. @ Boo – why is it interesting? I don’t think it’s under dispute that Machiavelli was one of the greatest. Not my personal no. 1 favorite, but he is up there with the best. Sometimes too simplistic, and most probably lacking in moral values, in my opinion there is no one who understood human nature better than him.

    On a personal note – fear is a very useful mechanism, up to the point of paralysis and desperation, it can motivate, focus and help to get rid of mistakes.

  6. Very thought provoking article Don. You are right, there is so much fear about nowadays. I think one way to combat it is what the Arsenal team seem to have at the moment, solidarity. Being able to trust and cooperate with the people you work with.

  7. TommieGun,

    Look at the parenthesis. I agree with your assessment of his greatness as a thinker. I was only being cheeky by saying “very interesting”.

  8. Machiavelli wasn’t actually a philosopher, even in his own mind. He was among the first political scientists and political advisors in history. He did advocate for the value of fear as one method of controlling the masses but he also advocated for benevolent dictatorship, wise regency and other more mundane approaches to governance.
    A little bit of fear is relatively harmless, but a far more productive emotion is desire. Wenger has been able to promote this drive and desire based on a positive feeling and confident attitude, which are the antithesis of fear-based management. Too much fear leads to dystress and excessive indecision. Psychologists refer to this phenomena as the fight or flight mechanism, an important aspect of our primordial, serpentine brains. It is a basic survival instinct and works well in simple, daily life but less so in more complex situations, where it can lead to paralysis or indecision.

  9. If you have experienced both (a fear based leadership vice a encouraging, formative based form of leadership) situations, as I have (perhaps many of the readers, too), the difference is quite stark. Banishing fear of failure has lead me to be more creative and successful in my professional life as a school teacher and in my two main sporting interests(football and ice hockey), too.

  10. The question as to whether or not fear is a good thing or not is an interesting one and will depend on the parameters in which fear is being discussed.

    My opinion (and I admit I am not a qualified psychologist) is that in most circumstances fear is a destructive reaction which can lead individuals into making ill conceived judgements and actions rather than reacting in the most beneficial and logical manner.

    My experience is that leaders and individuals who act to promote the positive will achieve much more than those who try to motivate by fear. Red Nose would appear to be an exception – but his success may well have been due to many behind the scene arrangements rather than just by the more obvious fear factor.

    Fear, arrogance, out of control ambition and dishonesty seem to go hand in hand – all lead to the dark side!

  11. Some bloggers have lauded the reputed salutatory effects of fear but clinical and in-field research has shown that this is almost universally wrong. Here are some of the undesirable effects of even a small amount of fear, as evidenced by such research:

    1)Physical debilitation and cognitive confusion, even in common and non-intensive fear provoking situations: freezing up and unresponsiveness despite acute stimulation
    2)Generalization of such responses from specific to nebulous situations that may resemble, even vaguely, the fear provoking circumstances: phobias and tics, hysteria, reality blindness, irrational behaviour
    3)A disassociation from community and others leading to feelings of isolation and powerlessness:constant intimidation and fear of everyone
    4)Diminishing risk-taking and initiative based on irrational avoidance of known best practices: survival modes and keeping one’s head down
    5)Tendency to lie or exaggerate in order to save face or preserve one’s credibility: plausible deniability and political duplicity
    6)Extreme risk of being dependent upon other’s twisted approval and reliance on one’s success being tied to manipulative and abusive miscreants: bullied individuals and submissive victims blaming themselves rather than their tormentors

    If the above (just a few of the vast array of symptoms)seem to remind our UA faithful of the AAA and other sad denizens of the dark side, it should come as no surprise.

  12. Well done Don for this educative article.

    Well, Im not an expert in Philosophy or Psychology but I simply prefer to operate in faith, hope and love (which usually give the desired result) than to operate in fear which does not work for me at all.

    Worst types of fear being fear to live or die. Whereas Love teaches that to be absent in body is to be present with the Lord. You see, love wins in the end.

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