Category Archives: sport

The EURODIM conference and the World Cup Final

For most of my recent career I have attended a conference series on defects in insulating materials, which is, essentially, my research area. These conferences take place every two years, and alternate between a European and an ‘international’ destination (which can also include Europe). The European conferences, known (possibly unfortunately) as the ‘EURODIM’ series, occur in World Cup years, and mostly take place immediately after the Final, so that it has become a tradition to show the World Cup Final at the welcome reception on the Sunday night before the conference starts. This happened in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, and I will describe each of these occasions, including a couple of photos.

But let’s start by going back 20 years, to 1998. That year I organised the conference, EURODIM1998, at Keele. The World Cup was held in France, and the final was between Brazil and France. That year the conference had already finished by the time the final took place, and I wasn’t travelling back from anywhere, so we watched it at home. My Brazilian colleague, Mário, who had helped me organise the conference, watched the final with us, and was disgusted by the result, which saw France win 3-0, and featured Brazil’s star player at the time, Ronaldo, clearly playing in an unfit state. (Mário was also present at all the subsequent occasions described below).

In 2002 the World Cup was held in Japan, and the conference, EURODIM2002, in Wrocław, Poland. We arrived in Wrocław on the Saturday before the final, and watched it in our hotel the next day. This time Brazil beat Germany 2-0, so Mário was much happier, and much Polish beer was consumed!

EURODIM2006 was held in Milan, Italy, and that year the World Cup was held in Germany. The final was actually between France and Italy, so Milan (and probably most of Italy) closed down for the final. I remember that we got to our hotel late afternoon, and found a pizza place that was showing the final. Mário is of Italian descent, and after the final whistle (Italy won on penalties), we lost him for a few hours! He probably joined the celebrating crowds in the city…

In 2010 it was South Africa’s turn to host the World Cup, and EURODIM2010 was held in Pécs, Hungary. The conference organiser arranged a big screen at the conference reception venue to show the final, which was between Spain and The Netherlands. Spain won this 1-0, in spite of very rough play (as I recall) by the Dutch, but my main recollection of the evening was another colleague, Alan Chadwick, getting frustrated because he couldn’t get an English commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live online, and using his cigarette lighter to try to see what he was doing in the darkened room. Well, it was funny at the time, especially if you know Alan (photo below taken by Mark Read).

 

And so to the last World Cup, in 2014, which was held in Brazil, while EURODIM2014 was held in Canterbury, Kent. Once again, we watched the final, which was between Germany and Argentina, at the conference opening reception. Germany won 1-0, leading to much celebration by the German delegates at the conference (see photo featuring Volkmar Dierolf). Fortunately there were no Argentinians present. The fact that Brazil were not in the final didn’t go down well with the Brazilian delegates!

EURODIM2018 will be held in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and due to the conference timing, the World Cup Final (from Russia) will take place after the conference has finished. But I am not attending this time (my Head of School duties earlier in the year made any kind of preparation impossible). So I will watch the final at home. Mário will be visiting (after attending the conference), and will arrive in time to watch it with us. Let’s hope for a better result for Brazil (and dare I say it, England) this time. However, Brazil have just drawn their opening match with Switzerland, and England have yet to play, but it’s early times yet. The significance of this year is that it will be the first time in at least 20 years that I will able to watch the final and enjoy the tournament as a whole without having to prepare for a conference and travel to it at the same time!

Incidentally, EURODIM2022 is likely to be held in Ghent, Belgium at the usual time, but the World Cup in Qatar will most likely be held in November/December (due to the climate). So it may be some time before these events coincide again!

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Manchester United: reality and hype.

After last year’s disappointments, it was always going to be a case of rebuilding the team this year. Although it would have been nice to have beaten Arsenal last night, ultimately the FA Cup was a distraction this year. Van Gaal has bought some good players, and the team is coming together, despite what the ‘unbiased’ pundits say. Now the emphasis must be on improving on last year, when the team came 7th. I don’t necessarily think that getting into the Champions League places is a ‘be all and end all’ for this year. It’s a worthy aspiration, but a top 6 finish in this rebuilding year would be entirely acceptable if one takes a realistic view of what is possible. Challenging games lie ahead, and LvG and his team must hold their nerve and do as well as possible for what remains of the season.

The ‘magic’ of the FA Cup

With all the FA cup matches that have taken place this last weekend there has been the usual hype about the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup. I suspect the reality is somewhat different for most premiership clubs, whose main concern is staying in the PL and maybe getting into the European places! For them it is at best a distraction and at worst a nightmare.

There have been more than the usual number of upsets this weekend, but that isn’t ‘magic’ for all the clubs concerned. For example Chelsea and Manchester City are out, and Liverpool and Manchester United have replays. Getting knocked out is bad for team morale, and having a replay means yet another match to schedule in an already crowded timetable.

For premier league clubs, playing in Europe, either in the Champions League or the Europa League is an aspiration, and is far more important than the FA Cup. This is not just a matter of finance, but also prestige.

I think it will only be a matter of time before we see the FA Cup (and even more so the League Cup) becoming the province of the Championship and the lower leagues. PL clubs have neither the time nor the interest to participate any more, and although it might be a while before they admit it, it will happen sooner rather than later!

The new Premier League season: finance and hype

With the start of the new Premier League season less than a week away, I find myself not exactly looking forward to it. All the top teams have been busy spending ridiculous sums of money to strengthen their squads – OK, it’s what you have to do, but it has diminished the sport so much that the financial clout of club owners is almost more important now than the skill of their players. It was almost inevitable that Manchester City won the league last season given the amount they spent!

I loved the World Cup because it was possible to enjoy the football for its own sake, with no particular team allegiance, especially after England’s somewhat rapid exit. Watching a game and admiring the skill of the players with no concern for the outcome of the game was an unusual experience!

Then there’s the hype and general nastiness between rival fans which has been magnified by social media. This has led me to  try to avoid seeing football related Tweets and Facebook status updates, which is a challenge to such a frequent user of social media as myself!

My team, Manchester United, had a terrible season in 2013-14, which can be put down to a number of factors which I’ve discussed in previous posts. Of course I hope they’ll do better this time, but for my own sanity I will be avoiding all kinds of media reports on their performance in the coming season. It can be very emotionally draining, and at the end of the day, it’s only a game!

So here’s to a good season. I’ll be watching how it goes from a distance, but for my own sanity (and the sanity of those close to me), I won’t be commenting or getting involved.

Watching the Winter Olympics – a new therapy?

In between all the lecture and meetings preparation of the past two weeks since returning from my Hannover trip, I have been surprised to find that I’ve enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics – especially the downhill skiing and snowboarding events. Somehow, watching someone flying down a sheer face, and perhaps combining it with some jumping and other seemingly impossible twists, has calmed me down and helped me to get through this busy period. Now it has all finished, I shall miss it.

The Sochi Winter Olympics had a difficult build up, and no doubt the questions raised before the games started have not been resolved. But in terms of organisation, it seems to have been excellent, and all the venues worked well as far as I could tell. The organisers did a good job, and setting political issues aside for the moment, they deserve congratulations.

Contemporary thoughts of a Manchester United supporter

I’ve supported Manchester United since 1968, when I was 11. That was the year they first won what was then called the European Cup (more information about that here). There wasn’t much football on TV in those days, but I remember watching the match with my father on our black and white TV, and thinking that this would be a good team to follow. I wrote down the names of the players (including such legends as Bobby Charlton, Styles and Best), and the rest, as they say, is history. I should say at this point that my father was a great football man, and a Newcastle United supporter. I often wonder what he would make of the way the game has changed in the years since his death in 1986.

Throughout my early University years, as an undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral researcher, football didn’t play a major role in my life, largely because of most of the places where I lived (which had not much TV access at all; hard to imagine now), and the fact that I had very little time to watch it anyway. I moved to Keele University in 1986, the same year in which Alex Ferguson arrived at Manchester United. Having a more stable life, and my own TV (!), I was once again able to follow ‘my’ team. And later, in 1994 I married Angela, a ‘proper’ football enthusiast, who introduced me to Champions League football on TV, and generally rekindled my enthusiasm for the game. Over these years, Manchester United steadily became stronger and better, culminating (of course) in their treble win in 1999. From then on, up to the end of the season in 2013 when Ferguson retired, the trophies kept coming in. It was tempting to become complacent, but at the back of my mind was the feeling that it couldn’t last for ever.

So, fast forwarding to the end of the season in 2013, I supported David Moyes as replacement for Ferguson (see an earlier post). Although this support has been tested over the last few months, I still think he’ll turn out fine, provided he is given time, and money to add to the team. At the time of writing, Manchester United are a poor 7th in the league table, and they are out of the FA cup. Survival in the Capital One Cup depends on overturning the first leg result by beating Sunderland by a sufficient number of goals on Wednesday. The transfer window is open until the end of the month, but so far there is only speculation about new players joining the club, or of players leaving.

So, having supported my team for nearly 46 years, these are obviously trying times! But I have come to the conclusion that there is no point in bemoaning poor performance, since Manchester United are now going through a period of change, and (just as happened in 1986) it might take several years for them to rebuild. It seems unlikely that they will qualify for Champions League football next season, and even a top 6 finish isn’t guaranteed. So it’s a case of taking each game as it comes, enjoying the successes when they happen, but being philosophical about the defeats. It will take time, but Manchester United will rise again!

An eventful week for Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement has been on the cards for some time, so when the rumours started flying around on Tuesday night I was not particularly surprised. After all, he has served the club immensely well for over 26 years, and it made a lot of sense for him to retire on a high note, leaving the club in a strong position. So, as I have said on Twitter and Facebook this week, thank you, Sir Alex. Manchester United won’t be the same without you, but I do wish you the very best for your retirement, and I’m pleased that you will still be associated with the club.

Regarding Sir Alex’s successor, David Moyes, I am positive. He has been labelled as having insufficient experience, and no cup-winning pedigree, but I think that is less important than the fact that he will put the interests of the club first. He can (and will) learn the other skills quickly. Far better to have David Moyes than a mercenary managed like Jose Mourinho, who would be in it for himself first and the club second!

Finally, a word on Wayne Rooney. I think it is now time for him to go. This is the second time he has had an apparent attack of restlessness, and last time he probably only stayed because Sir Alex persuaded him to. Now he should move on; it will do him good to try his undoubted skill outside his immediate comfort zone.

There will be interesting times ahead for Manchester United, but I am confident that the club is in good hands, and that is the best that can be hoped for now.