Thoughts on Neil Taylor and Seamus Coleman

Seamus Coleman being comforted by teammate, Shane Long.

These are the facts. During a World Cup qualifying match between Wales and Ireland, a Welsh player named Neil Taylor left his feet on a tackle and lunged with his leg straightened, his studs showing, into the shin of an Irish player, Seamus Coleman. The contact resulted in the double compound fracture of Coleman’s leg – his tibia and fibula to be precise.

These facts are beyond dispute – the gory result of Taylor’s tackle is on the internet for anyone with an iron stomach to google should they so desire. I will not post the pictures here.

Now for my disclaimer. I have been a Seamus Coleman fan for as long as I have been an Everton fan, which is well over a decade now. I had never heard of Neil Taylor before the incident. Does this fact color my disgust? Possibly. Does this fact change the dismal outcome for Coleman? Not in the slightest.

Now for my admission. I was livid. Fueled by that anger, I am among the so-called “trolls” that took to social media to castigate Taylor for his recklessness.

Now for my perspective. I have played football/soccer as an amateur since I was a small child – suffice it say for over three and half decades now. I know the game. I know how to tackle the football. I know how to hurt an opponent. I know all of those things as an amateur. Neil Taylor is a professional. He most certainly knows how to tackle the ball and how to hurt his opponent.

So is it right for fans (or trolls as the pro-Welsh media seem to prefer) to use social media to vent our anger? I have no doubt Neil Taylor “feels bad” for his tackle on Coleman. You’d have to be a psychopath to not feel bad about breaking someone’s leg. But guess what? Coleman is out of football for at least a year and maybe for his career, while Taylor, feeling bad and all, will get his four or five match ban and be back out on the pitch playing the game we all love. Is that justice? No.

We now live in a world that connects fans with athletes via social media, and with that connection, comes a bit of extra accountability. Should athletes only expect to open their social media accounts to find praise and adulation? Or should they also expect to find criticism of their play where criticism is due?

I am hopeful that the surge of fan disgust at the type of reckless, callous play that resulted in Neil Taylor’s breaking of Seamus Coleman’s leg, will plant a seed in the backs of the minds of everyone taking the field. “What kind of player do I want to be?” For me, Neil Taylor will forever be known as the hack that broke Coleman’s leg. That will be his legacy. That will last much longer than his four or five match ban.

The three types of “soccer haters”

With another Woman’s World Cup victory in the American trophy case, with the US Men’s National Team continuing to show well, and with MLS adding more and more teams to the mix (including my new hometown team, Atlanta United) it’s safe to finally say that soccer has arrived in the United States.

That’s not to say that for the diehard among us, it hasn’t already been here, but now it seems that the sport has turned the corner and people who may not have had any involvement in actually playing the game, either themselves are by watching their kids, are starting to tune in.
All that said, there are still a few detractors out there, so this piece is dedicated to those few stubborn souls who remain unwilling to let the joy of the beautiful game wash over them. Through extensive scientific research, which is to say my own personal anecdotal experiences reading a few online sports forums over the last few years,  I have determined that there are three types of “anti-soccer fans”, if it’s possible to be an anti-fan of anything. We might call these people, asoccerists.  Here they are:
1. The Soccer Hater: This is your sports fan who understands the basic rules of soccer, but was most likely humiliated playing it as a kid. They will isolate one negative component of the game (e.g., diving or fan violence) and then extrapolate that to the entire sport. In conversations about soccer, they will try emasculating the sport by using third grade homophobic playground tactics such as calling the sport, “gay” or “unmanly.” And as any one who has taken psychology 101 will attest, they are simply manifesting a response to their own insecurities.  They may also believe soccer to be “communist” or “socialist.” They will use the term “Euro trash” to describe all soccer players, not really knowing what they are describing. These are your typical soccer trolls. Semi-mainstream American sports media has a few: Jim Rome, Chuck Klosterman, Frank Deford, basically shock jock types preaching to their own collective choirs with no real thinking or analysis behind anything. They have an irrational fear of the sport as being “un-American,” without realizing that it’s the most popular participatory sport in the US by a couple of orders of magnitude. They are scared of soccer and its popularity so they lash out at it.
2. The Perplexed Soccer Observer: Unlike the soccer hater, these fans simply don’t understand the game. Through no fault of their own, they have not been exposed to the game either as a player or observer which means they are most likely typical, middle-American, apple pie and NFL, MLB, NBA types. They look at final scores as an indication of match quality and equate high scores with good games (which we know can be mind-numbingly dull in soccer) whereas a 0-0 draw to them is an abomination (and again, we know these matches can leave you without fingernails). They don’t understand positions so they don’t recognize when the players are creating and exploiting space, they don’t see nuance of movement or get the mental acuity required of assessing omni-directional options. They don’t yet appreciate the basics of passing skill, trapping skill, vision, strength on the ball, shooting, heading, multi-step thinking, changing points of attack (unless they played basketball), and so on; therefore, when they flip the TV channel to a match, all they see is a ball being moved from one person to another with “no purpose.” Of course the soccer-literate among us know that the purpose is always to create an opportunity. The perplexed soccer observers are not closed off and they will ask questions. We need to be patient as these people will eventually grow to love the game like the rest of us.
3. The Soccer Agnostic: These are sports fans without an opinion, which is to say that they are extremely rare. They are probably big fans of cycling or bull riding; meaning they could not care less about soccer, football, baseball, basketball, or hockey. They represent .0001% of the sporting world. Again, using my scientific analysis.
Let’s go kick the ball around, shall we?