Let’s start by getting all the important facts out in the open. Neil Taylor’s challenge on Seamus Coleman was inexcusable. No matter what you say about it, there is no defence for a challenge like that. If, at any point in this post, you think I’m making excuses for him, please refer back to that over-arching fact.
Secondly, I’ve got to know Taylor a little from his years at Wrexham, and that has influenced by opinion of him. He’s a charming, articulate young man, obliging, thoughtful and sincere. This naturally makes me biased towards him, as does the pride I feel in seeing his career blossom. Watching a player score against Russia in the European Championships and remembering that I was there for his last goal, in front of less than three hundred fans at Greys Athletic, does that to a person. While that bias hasn’t made me overlook the seriousness of his actions on Friday, it has provoked me to look askance at the reaction to what he did.
How Taylor’s foul has been reported, and handled on Twitter, is an illustration of the dangers of fake news. While the obvious danger of this phenomenon is the spreading of blatant lies, the frustrating accompaniment to this is the fact that often, as in this case, the sheer horror of his tackle was more than enough. There’s no need to embellish this story.
And yet, immediately, that’s what happened. One of the most prominent and pathetic reactions to was the circulation of a photograph of Taylor and Joe Ledley, with the absurd allegation that they were laughing as the stricken Coleman was treated.
The practice of taking a burst of photos and grabbing the one which, in a fraction of a second, captures a misleading facial expression, has long been a staple for tabloid journalists, not to mention lazy football commentators who want to detect something from a manager’s “body language”. For years, if a coach isn’t grinning wildly on the touchline, he’s “concerned” about what he’s seeing. The fact that you never see coaches grinning wildly on the touchline is, of course, irrelevant.
But the rise of fake news and the opportunity to push half-baked agendas on social media has taken this moronic pastime to a dangerous level. When a woman in a hijab is subjected to disgusting abuse because a photo misleadingly seems to show her walking unperturbed through the aftermath of the Westminster Bridge attacks, society needs to have a good look at itself.
While the Taylor-Ledley photo has a massively different, far less serious, context, the same lessons can be learned. So many people now take their news from headlines on social media feeds without bothering to read the article. People can be vilified because bad-minded individuals get their thrill from maliciously misleading us, and because too many of us buy the clickbait headline without stopping to check, or think.
Other coverage of Taylor’s challenge has followed the same dangerous pattern. Photographs of a challenge on Kyle Walker and the aftermath of a clash with Dusan Tadic have been used to accuse Taylor of past misdemeanours. Without seeing the challenges, it’s unfair to judge them, but of course that doesn’t stop them being used, recklessly at best, maliciously at worst, to smear Taylor.
For what it’s worth, I’ve had a look at the two challenges. They’re both, I think, misjudged attempts to win the ball: the one on Walker is by far the worse one, and although I think he’s trying to win a bouncing ball and misjudging how high it’s bouncing, the challenge is lacking control and deserved some punishment; the one on Tadic looks spectacular because it draws blood, but it looks to me like a player trying to clear a bouncing ball and inadvertently catching an opponent.
If I wanted to be misleading rather than honest, of course, I could just point out that the Tadic challenge didn’t draw a booking and the Walker one wasn’t even given as a foul, and leave it at that.
The thing is, why bother dressing Taylor up as something he isn’t? That challenge on Friday was horrible. Why distract from that? I think the answer probably says something depressing about those who feel the need to jump in and intervene. They either take pleasure in trying to maximise the unhappiness of others – it’s tricky to see twisting facts to publicly attack someone in any other way – or they have a depressing lack of self-esteem. They see something major happen, and their first thought is “How can I draw attention to myself through this?”
When I think of how thrilled the authors of these tweets and other social emissions must have been as they watched the interactions rack up, I’m forced to ponder whether Nigel Farage felt the same as the offers from American TV came in after the Westminster Bridge terror attack, or whether Katie Hopkins monitored the hits on her MailOnline article savaging London for allowing itself to be attacked by being tolerant of others.
Football is small beer by comparison, but human nature remains consistent no matter which lens you look at it through. Stick to the facts. Neil Taylor made a very bad tackle. He’s no monster.