A Player’s Coach in Our Corner - A Soccer Saint in our Smiles
By Ben Winderman
Soccer at any level is impractical, unscripted, and unpredictable. It is soccer’s spontaneity that makes it irresistible. The high school game is often criticised by soccer enthusiasts for it’s frenetic and reckless pace. It is said therefore to lack artistry and elegance. Coach Eddie Leigh taught so many players to focus on what the game, at any level, is able to give. His enthusiasm was contagious and because he gave himself, he taught others how to do the same. Generosity is learned and as we mourn the loss of this wonderful coach we simultaneously promise the spirit of giving.
Ed Leigh was a “player’s coach.” The consequence of that is that players would stay on Ed’s teams. “We loved him,” said his players collective, and they all did, in fact so much so loved that they wouldn’t leave. Imagine in the heart of hyper migration in search of the next and the latest Eddie Leigh found a way to remain the here and the now. People like Walt Bahr, John Oberholtzer, Hal Heffelfinger, Stanley MacFarlane, Joe Guerreros, Eddie Leigh, George Tote, Mike Barr, Randy Garber, Mike Gorni, Paul Duddy, Dave MacWilliams, Stuart Malcolm, Bobby Wilkinson, Terry Underkoffler, Tom Quintois, Mike Koch and so mention unmentioned here have cultivated in an incredible community of teammates, players, player’s parents, fans, colleagues, competitors, and comrades. Most importantly players.
Players do move goals, players don’t pout, player do get through the technical stuff, and players don’t worry too much about the score; “It’s how you play,” Ed Leigh would say to them, and then prove. Eddie Leigh played everyone for at least a half! How many coaches do that? WE LOVE HIM!
Eddie was inventive in a creative and consistent way. His fundamental belief however was based upon the idea that certain kids love to play soccer, and other kids adore it. Therefore and predictably Eddies goal for any practice was to “get to the fun part.” If you’ve here the phrase “the game is the greatest teacher” then you have been invited to learn soccer in the best possible way. Eddie was quick to win over legendary coach Walt Bahr at Frankford and after completing very successful collegiate career Ed went into coaching; but make no mistake, being a “players coach means that you play, with the kids at practice.
That was what Eddie not only taught so many coaches, but in a sense he gave us permission. For many years I coached a team with my close friend Albert Zielke at the Ukrainian Club. It was through Albert that an old phrase started to emerge; “Who’s ready to play…” repeated the idea. I heard it for at Penn State Soccer camp. Coach Bahr gathered us all on the fields by the open tractor trailer.
Coach Bahr looked around at his staff of current and recent PSU players and announced that all of them were completely unnecessary! I remember Jerry Moyer laughing, so i laughed too. Then Coach Bahr gave us all a can of cool Coke, imagine, and invited us back to PLAY night soccer matches. We actually went early to watch the “Coach’s game.”
Later that summer I made my mom buy me packs of solid grey t shirts. Occasionally I’d splash water on the collar to resemble sweat, that would make me look so something. I got it and I love it; that I was in the right place; playing soccer, coaching, watching it, talking about at the UGH bars, dressing it, living it, and believing in soccer. When Coach Bahr said the next night befor our Coke break that it “never rains on a soccer field,” I accepted his statement without skepticism. I’m not sure if Eddie used that one or not, Obie would know. “Speed up so that you can slow down,” “Okay then let’s get em playing.”
Years later I met Ed at an EPYSA Soccer Camp and you can imagine the first thing he said.
But Eddie pattied his own chest and smiled, “You don’t need me,” he insisted. You only need the game, the game is our greatest coach,” he paused and lowered himself from above. “Who wants to play?”
It didn’t work for players because of repetition, not was it solely effective for it’s truth; it work because Eddie said it, he believe it, and he was in every way sincere, believable, and beloved.
Marykate Bateman, a player on the 2013 State Title Team shown above continues her soccer career at the professional level for the French team (HAC) Havre Athletic Club today and eagerly credit Coach Leigh.
“I cannot imagine anyone who has made a more positive impact on Philadelphia soccer,” Bateman explains. “He let us all fulfill our goals and took the time to connect with us on a personal level. He was more concerned with character than our play.”
I’m not sure how to explain the phenomenon of incongruence, but this soccer community simultaneously intimate and enormous. Dan Mannella is the current director of coaching at FC Bucks an assistant coach at Lasalle, and along with Dan’s wife described Eddie Leigh as a “proud papa watching his daughter for St Joe’s, and later becoming the primary architect for the advancement of the women’s game in this area.
“He made everyone he coached better,” Mannella paused. “It didn’t matter the level Eddie Leigh was going to make you a better player and person.”
Cindy and Dan have been instrumental in the process of elevating of women’s soccer in our area.
“Eddie is responsible for bring us ECNL,” which provide a pinnacle for our growth. Still,” Dan laughs, “It’s often about just getting them playing."
Mike Koch the Head Coach for Quakertown Women’s Soccer posted these words about Coach Eddie Leigh:
“The soccer community lost one of the true icons of the game.Eddie Leigh has influenced so many players and coaches and leaves a legacy that will be passed down for generations. Ed was the most unassuming person, never bragging about his accomplishments, but always willing to help everyone. He has grown the game he loved and developed players on the field and in life. I am thankful for the opportunity to coach with Ed and the lessons I learned from him. The quality of the women's game today is a reflection of Eddie and a select few others that blazed the trail. Prayers to his family on the loss of this great man.” Coach Koch described walking across the Disney complex with Coach Leigh and watching 35-40 of the best collegiate coaches in the country running over to Eddie to say hi and shake his hand.”
Coach Leigh taught many people how to play, and most of them will tell you that they’re extremely thankful for that, Eddie Leigh learned the game well down at Lighthouse, and taught it even better. But many if not all of those same people insist that what he gave them was much more significant that what he taught.
“Eddie issued invitations to improve for players of every imaginable ability," Dan Mannella explained. "He’d always make each player better.”
Eddie Leigh insisted that the soccer pitch was a place for giving not goading, respect and not “gamesmanship,” Glory Ed understood comes and goes, but friendship gives us an immortal immortal promise. This about your old teammates, or the people you have coached with. Soccer creates a sense of permanence, which I believe Eddie Leigh’s smile represents.
Or go further, ask any of Eddie Leigh’s colleagues and competitors, disciples and divas, destroyers and Explorers, Eddie Leigh was a man of his word. Let’s honor Coach Leigh with some great practices (or games) this afternoon, get through the drills so they can get playing.
Eddie Leigh cared less about the score than the sanity. “When they get older,” he’d reassure everyone, but regardless everyone played; so simple and noble and decent.
In honor of Ed momentarily forget the color of your kit and the address of your field. Your shirts should be grey anyway. Remember that an opponent is not an enemy, if not for their willingness to class, there would be noone to play, and real players always wanna play. Know that we are all teammates, friends, and siblings in soccer.