Diary of a Fresher 2013/2014

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a fresher already, about to be a fresher, or have memories of being one in years gone by. If you do read this to the end and think “Well, that’s happened to me, what was the point of that then?” The point is that you are going through/have gone through the same thing. Because the main thing that I have noticed already from being on campus at Leeds Trinity University is that EVERYONE is in the same boat. That empathy has led to close friendships being formed instantaneously from walking through the door for the first time. I feel like I’ve known my flatmates for months already, and it has only been five days so far. Being chucked together in the same hallway tends to have that effect, I’d imagine. Perhaps in the same way that cell-mates in prison get to know each other when they’re put away. Or an analogy to that effect that sounds a bit more cheery.

Not that I’m trying to compare University to prison in the slightest; it’s quite the opposite. From a personal perspective I can’t say a bad word about the place as yet. Yes, the ceiling in my room has inexplicable holes in it but I’ll cross that bridge when they become big enough to make me freeze in winter. No biggie. In a sense, that cheap and cheerful student lifestyle adds to the whole experience; we know we aren’t in five-star hotels but we just get on with it and enjoy ourselves.

As I write, tuition hasn’t started yet. When it does, the complexion of life may change somewhat, as we will actually be here for a purpose other than a cycle of drinking, meeting people and sleeping (in that order). I know for a fact that most, if not every student at any University this year will be looking forward to starting their course if they haven’t already. I’ve already had the all-too-uncommon thought “Oh yeah, I actually want to learn…” I can’t say that’s happened to me before any academic year. Ever. The only reason I can think of behind this is that everyone is here because they have the ambition to get the degree and job they want, without having to go through lessons that they don’t like at all. I can’t say that RE was much of a highlight when it was on my school timetable…

Of course, homesickness is a factor, and it will be the same feeling whether you’re three miles from home or 300. For most freshers this is the first time we’ve been away from home, and for some it is harder to adjust to that than others. But the beauty of empathy is that you will always have your flatmates to lean on whenever you’re not feeling great about being away from home.  

In any case, I’m sure I’ll keep you updated through the year; and if you’re going through the same thing, that makes writing this worthwhile. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get changed into a “Where’s Wally?” costume for a themed night. I’m loving Freshers’ Week.

 

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Mumford and Sons have already rocked Lewes, and they haven’t even played yet!

Music fans and football fans came together in the hundreds today at Lewes’ historic Dripping Pan football ground to watch Mumford and Sons, selected others from the Gentlemen of the Road tour and teams entered from Lewes itself enter into the arena of 5-a-side football. Bonfire United, a selection of players representing Lewes’ seven Bonfire Societies, won the day; beating Lewes FC comprehensively in the final (ominous, if you’re a Rooks fan…)

Mumford and teachers from Lewes Priory school faced off for third place, and the Priory teachers came out on top in that match. But today was about more than football. I spend and have spent quite a big chunk of my life in Lewes and nothing of the scale of GOTR has ever even looked like it’ll happen in Lewes. Of anywhere that Mumford could’ve chosen to have held this festival, they chose the sleepy little County Town with a deep history behind it, simply because they “like the vibe of the place”. If it’s good enough for them, it’ll be good enough for most of us…

I’ve also seen more than my fair share of matches at the Dripping Pan, and not many have rivalled the kind of atmosphere that was generated there today. For the first time I can remember, Lewes has come alive and I’m not just saying that for the blatantly obvious cliché. This festival has given the town something to talk about, something to look forward to. Now 25,000 have descended onto the Convent Field to see the music unfold. If this was annual, or in a larger city like London, it’ll be forgotten fairly quickly. Not in Lewes. This is the sort of event that will go down in folklore, ‘most definitely something to tell the grandchildren about. 

The best part about this is that Mumford seem to understand the importance of this to a town like Lewes. The football tournament today gave them a chance to meet the fans (including myself, as you’ll see from the picture below!) and they made sure that they made time for everyone. This was from the other players to the referees to the droves of fans on the sidelines as well. 

When I met Ted Dwane, I asked him how he was now after he had an operation to remove a blood clot in his brain, his response? “Yeah, definitely getting there, mate!”, and all four members actually seem like genuinely nice blokes, too. When one player went down injured during a match, even though he wasn’t playing, the first person to run over to offer help was Marcus Mumford (who, by the way, is actually half-decent in goal!)

Unfortunately I can’t make it to the show tonight through work, but you can bet your mortgage on me being there tomorrow. I wouldn’t miss this even if you paid me. I want something to tell the grandkids… So even before the music starts all I can say is thank you, Gentlemen of the Road, because Lewes definitely needed this.Image

Just Why Do Fans Hate Repeated Sporting Success?

I was watching the British Grand Prix from the comfort of the sofa on Sunday to witness the largest cheer of the day from the partisan British crowd coming on lap 42, in which World Champion for the last three years and current Championship leader Sebastian Vettel retired with a transmission failure. Unsporting, yes, but reflective of opinion for sure. Sky commentators theorised at the time that the sheer glee of Vettel’s retirement came from previous events, such as in Malaysia when he committed the ultimate unsportsmanlike act in disobeying the orders of his team/employers to steal the victory from his overall more popular team mate. But I think it’s more than that. The global audience of Formula 1 has had to sit back and watch Sebastian Vettel win from pole position with the fastest car time and time again, with any hiccups being more scarce than Britain winning anything in the Winter Olympics; or Sir Alex Ferguson blaming anyone other than a referee for when his team dropped any points. It’s just not natural.

Pathologically, I think that us sport fans simply lament the continued success of others. I say ‘continued’ because we don’t mind when someone wins something/tastes general success for the first time. We often feel happy that the latest event to herald a new talent is something to revel in. Of course we do. Why shouldn’t we? Someone has achieved a goal and has deserved it. Well done, them. Win the same thing over and over again however, and we won’t like them anymore. Because it’s boring. Put Manchester City up against Grimsby Town and very few of us will want City to win. Because we would expect them to.

One thought is that we might simply want to see entertainment. I’m pretty sure that in football a 3-3 draw between two evenly matched teams would be much more intriguing than a 7-0 rout. And in F1, a race with five different lead changes is far better to watch than the fastest man in the fastest car running away with the race and everyone finishing where they started. We should know, that’s all that happened for the first half of the last decade with a certain German driving a Prancing Horse… Along the same vein, in competition at the highest level spectators would expect to see a strong fight for supremacy, but if one person/team is metaphorical streets ahead of the opponent the spectacle is taken away to a certain extent.

If there’s one thing that sports fans love more than anything, however, it’s a good underdog. The 1000/1 outsider that can bring a brief smile when they defeat one of the big guns. And you only have to mention one word to sum up underdog stories this year so far: Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal crashing out in a tennis Grand Slam first round for the first time in his career against Belgian Steve Darcis; and the almighty Roger Federer falling in the second round against the un-fancied (and virtually unheard of) Sergiy Stakhovsky, who broke the Great Swiss’s run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter finals that he had reached previously. The tennis fan pages were in uproar, and rightly so. Because the fact of the matter is that upsetting the norm is what keeps sport interesting.

When Wigan defeated Manchester City to win the FA Cup in May, other than if you’re a City fan, obviously, the sporting fan community was ecstatic with that result. David had befallen Goliath (or another clichė along that line…) and for one day at least, we could smile knowing that people in Bookmakers’ up and down the country had made a lot of money on the extreme odds against the underdogs when they put a cheeky quid on. Drinks are on me tonight, lads. (But Wigan got relegated from the Premier League soon after, so let’s just gloss over that for now…)

Even when people decide to support those that win everything, that seemingly makes them suddenly lower in our expectations. This breed of people are often classed as ‘Glory Hunters’. It must be great for you lot, never having to taste defeat with the team you support. So don’t be surprised to see someone wearing a Man Utd shirt one week and a Chelsea strip the next when you see them at the pub. If you know anyone that does this, give them a telling off from me. Many thanks!

The great voice of F1, Murray Walker said in an interview this month that he was happy that he wasn’t commentating during the peak of the Schumacher dominance, branding it “The dullest period I’ve seen in F1”. And he’s right. It was. The same driver winning race in, race out, week after week. And in football, Man Utd won the Premier League? Again? Wow, I love a bit of excitement, I do, nothing predictable about that at all… So I can conclude with you now that repeated success truly is boring. Simple answer to a big question, really. The one exception I can think of is the Olympics. If the same person wins the same event, it’s only every four years, so we don’t really care. If the same teams/people win everything every week, it’ll get to the point where there won’t be any point wasting our time watching for the results when we already know what’s going to happen. But as Usain Bolt wins his races in the public eye very sporadically, we can let it slide. So there’s my message to you, sportsmen and women: keep it interesting, let someone else win once in a while. Then you’ll be liked more.

Brighton vs Palace in the Play-Offs? Oh, go on then!

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Football has rivalries that span from town to town, city to city, even country to country if you look far enough. All of which mean so much to the fans of the teams involved. And Brighton and Hove Albion’s rivalry with Crystal Palace is no different. In 94 meetings between the teams, Palace have come out on top 37 times, Albion 34 times, with 23 draws. So not much to separate them at all.

As rivalries go, this is a comparatively new one in the Football League structure. The Seagulls and the Eagles only developed a grudge towards each other after an FA Cup tie in 1974, that Palace duly won 1-0 in the second replay of the tie (played at Stamford Bridge) after Palace player Phil Holder got the winner. However, this came after a disputed penalty retake from Brighton, the first kick was scored by Brighton’s Brian Horton, but the referee ordered a retake for apparent encroachment, that Horton missed.

It’s often in the biggest stakes between two enemy teams that rivalries can come to a peak. But as is the case now, the Seagulls meet the Eagles in the semi-finals of the Championship Play-Offs over two legs to secure a place to play in what is described as “The richest game in football” (as monetary benefits of the Premier League are estimated at £100m for the teams that get promoted): The Championship Play-Off Final, at Wembley; on Monday May 27th. So the stakes don’t really come much higher than this.  

The first leg is scheduled for Friday May 10th at Selhurst Park, whereas the return leg comes three days later at the AMEX, both with 7.45pm kick off times.

Both teams will fancy their chances, with Brighton topping the Championship form table since January; and both teams taking convincing wins 3-0 each at home in their meetings earlier in the season. Palace manager Ian Holloway has already tasted Play-Off success with Blackpool in 2010, and he would be hoping to pass as much of that experience on as he can to his current crop of players to give his team the best chance possible of advancing.

So, what of Glenn Murray? Former Albion hero, then moves on to Palace and carries on in the same prolific form as he had when he left the South Coast; finishing the season with the Championship Golden Boot, after netting 30 of Palace’s 72 league goals this term, one ahead of Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes. His reception when he comes to the AMEX for the second leg will undoubtedly have an edge to it, whether that has an effect on his performance or not remains to be seen. In terms of Brighton’s efforts in front of goal, the Seagulls have scored 69 times this season, with Craig Mackail-Smith scoring 11 and January signing Leonardo Ulloa pitching in with 10 in his brief stint with the Albion. Other players have been brought in on loan with Premier League experience in the form of former England defenders Matthew Upson and Wayne Bridge, and they have had a positive bolstering effect on the ambitious Albion squad in their hunt for promotion.

Asked for their thoughts in going into the two-legged encounter, both managers tried to keep a perspective on the upcoming fixtures but the tension of the affair is already showing. Brighton manager Gus Poyet said after beating Wolves 2-0 on the last day (to seal relegation for them) “It is not a normal game [against Palace]. How can you make this into a normal game of football? I will be trying my best to think only about football. What it comes down to is two games. We`ll have a great go. We are certainly one of the teams in the best form having gone nine games unbeaten.” Incidentally, Palace also sealed relegation for their opponents on the final day, Peterborough United, after winning 3-2 (their first win since March, after a run of nine games without a win), Ian Holloway after the game: “What I’m finding out really quickly about this group is the confidence they have. We’ve come through it all now and I think we’ll be stronger for that against Brighton.”

So, the stage is set for the 180-minute battle for a shot at the £100m game. Both teams will be ready, both sets of fans likewise. Rivalries always intensify in the biggest games. The football will decide who gets the bragging rights over the 40 miles separating both teams, and the occasion of a Wembley final. My tickets are in the post…

Claire Williams Becomes Deputy Team Principal At Williams

Andy's GP Blog

It has been confirmed that Claire Williams has been appointed as the Deputy Team Principal of the Williams F1 Team, a role she will assume with immediate effect. This new role will see her work alongside her father and Team Principal Sir Frank Williams, and has created a clear succession path for the Grove-based outfit.

The announcement of this new appointment was initially scheduled to take place before the start of the new Formula 1 season, however with the death of Lady Virginia Williams earlier in the month, both Sir Frank Williams and Claire Williams elected postpone the announcement due to family privacy. Claire will play a pivotal role in the day to day running of the team, and will continue her role as the Commercial Director of the British outfit. Claire Williams began her career within the team in 2002 as the press officer, and has since worked her…

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Sebastian Vettel: Brutal, Childish, Ruthless; Superb.

The great Ayrton Senna once uttered the now immortal words of “We are competing to win. And if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.” And those words seem to have resonated with no one more so than Sebastian Vettel. His defying of team order “Multi 21” (to bring the cars home in formation) behind team-mate Mark Webber showed that there is a difference between simply driving a Formula 1 car and racing one. Quite a few incredibly fit athletes can drive a car in formation and happily amble around a track to the finish, but I could probably count on one hand from the archive of past drivers that would actively disobey their employers to go and get the result for themselves. Not that I’m condoning what Vettel did at all, the 25-year-old shouldn’t have won that race. Like a naughty child, when he was told not to do something, the first thing he does is to go out and do it.

Thanks to the coverage that is available to us, the humble fans of racing, we were able to hear most of the communication in the pit lane surrounding the fracas that was the Malaysian Grand Prix. “This is silly, Seb, come on.” Was the call from Christian Horner on the pit wall, after he passed his team-mate for the lead. This was instead of the more obvious “Give the place back, you were told to stay behind and that’s what we expect you to do.” Way to assert your authority, there. Vettel had the front after the race to plead miscommunication, but we all heard it from Francis ‘Rocky’ Rocquelin (Vettel’s race engineer) “Okay, Sebastian… three-second gap, save your tyres”. The response slightly later on: “Mark is too slow, get him out of the way.” sheer ignorance if nothing else. It’s not as though he could have misheard all of the transmissions, for example “Careful, Sebastian, careful” (when the two cars were close together). Also, to preserve tyre life the drivers are often asked to stick to target lap times, Vettel was asked for a 1:42.0, he went out and set a 1:40.446 on the lap before he passed Webber.

To rub salt in the already gaping wound, Vettel then took to the radio to attempt to justify his taking of the lead “I was really scared, all of a sudden he was swooping and I had to lead the line”. No wonder he got the one-finger salute from the Australian across the garage. But this was going to happen. Sebastian sensed an opportunity. Fernando Alonso (whom he would consider one of the biggest rivals to the title) was out of the race with a spectacular front wing failure at the start of the second lap, and Vettel wasn’t going to let anyone get in his way of another seven points, even his own team-mate. The general consensus of this has been ‘He shouldn’t have done it, but that’s the mark of a champion’.

While his championship qualities were shining through, as ‘Rocky’ told him immediately after the race “You wanted it bad enough, but now you’ve got some explaining to do”. Mark Webber had just as much right as Seb to go out and win that race. And seeing as team orders are currently allowed in F1, that’s what the team wanted as well. Even though Seb broke the in-house rule, Mark could have just as easily have gone ‘You want a war? You’ve got one…”, turned up his engine again and fought him to the finish. But he didn’t take the chance. Fuel saving may have had something to do with it, but while Vettel wasn’t wanting to cast himself as the Number Two, Webber seemed almost content with second place, among the seething that would’ve undoubtedly been happening under the helmet.

I’m going to be honest with you here, I don’t like Sebastian Vettel. While he has a chirpy, affable exterior, his will to win (while admirable) borders on Schumacher levels. And that’s dangerous. His target has always been known: he wants to become a legend. His mentor and friend the Seven-Time World Champion himself is a legend. But whenever you talk about the career of Michael Schumacher in retrospect, amid all the brilliance there’s always going to be a ‘But’. Surely, Vettel doesn’t want that for himself? His almost enthroned position within Red Bull and the eyes of Helmut Marko have led him to have these outbursts of Spoilt Child Syndrome moments. I’m sure that, at the age of 25, he has many victorious years ahead of him. But if he continues in this vein, he’s not going to be a legend with many friends left.

Should Football Managers be recycled in the same way as Players?

“That’s just modern football, though, innit?” seems to be the response to anything ludicrous or remotely controversial that happens in the game nowadays. Ronaldo being sold for £80m? Arsenal charging closer to that amount than you would think for a season ticket? Even a Manchester United player getting sent off and Sir Alex getting angry… It all leads to that one quote. The rather brutal sacking of Nigel Adkins from Southampton earlier in the season caused a great deal of shock and disgust from the great and the good of football. The Saints at that time had lost just two of their last 12 Premier League outings and were sitting pretty above the relegation places, so the news of Adkins’ departure came as a surprise to say the least. The club brought in Mauricio Pochettino in the hope that he could supersede the achievement of the back-to-back promotions of the Adkins era.

Many were dumbfounded by the decision because Nigel Adkins was actually doing a perfectly decent job at the club. But as is with human nature, you always aim to seek out the optimum option available to you. While Adkins could be doing a job that would keep Southampton afloat, the board think that Pochettino can simply do a better one. Was Nigel Adkins a victim of his own success, perhaps? The same can be said for the recently relieved-of-his-duties Brian McDermott. Both had hugely successful tenures in the Football League, and that hadn’t quite transferred into the Premier League, for one reason or another. While their dismissals may have been cruel, imagine being a player for a second. You’re in good form, then it tails off and you have a spell on the bench. Eventually, you fall out of favour altogether, seeing as the bright young talents have taken your place and are proving themselves to be worthy of it. Next thing you know, you’re being sold on to another team to get first team football again, and the process may well repeat itself again and again until retirement.

It’s almost taken for granted, now, that some players can be shuffled around from club to club, season after season. So why shouldn’t the same apply to the managers that they play under? A managers’ transfer market would be something that I would be very interested to see… Deadline Day filled with frantic phone-calls from Chief Executives and Chairmen to try and wrangle the best manager they can. Implausible, certainly, but not impossible in the future. The cycle of players is one that goes around surprisingly quickly. If you were to take a look at the squad you supported four seasons ago to what it is now, while the core of the squad in some areas may be the same, the players around it are likely to have changed completely. It may not be the ideal way to operate in terms of consistency, but that is just the way the game is, to make each squad as good as it can be and (subconsciously) to change the team so opposition can’t suss each team out very easily.

On the subject of consistency, it seems that managers are being cycled through alarmingly quickly; in the lower leagues in particular. 33 managers out of 92 teams in the Football League structure have received their marching orders this season, a five-year high; with a further 70 coaching staff exiting as well. Taking Blackburn Rovers’ situation of having a new gaffer on a bi-monthly basis into account, around a third of Football League teams have parted company with the boss of the first team since August. Has football become so arrogant as a sport that it sees the players as being ‘above’ the people that choose whether they play or not? Or is that just the way it has to be now? You decide for yourself. When most managers start a job, they usually say something along the lines of “We’re going to need time to adjust”, and very bluntly many don’t seem to get that time. Football is a results-based business, but some forms of human discretion have disappeared altogether. While performances may be worthy of points, circumstances don’t always favour those in bad form. As Brendan Rodgers is always keen to point out, his style of playing has taken time to implement and for the squad to get used to a certain way of playing. To relearn that twice or three times a season as a player must be incredibly difficult; and so unnecessary.

If you’re reading this and running a football club at any level and things aren’t going your way at the moment, think about what is going on. If you actually watch the games, you’ll see why you lose. But if you run a bigger club and you’re detached from the everyday workings of the club, you shouldn’t own one. It’s as simple as that. But I don’t have unfathomable amounts of millions in my bank account, so I wouldn’t know what it’s like. Of course, if your own money is being pumped into a project, you’re going to want good results. It’s only natural. But maybe perseverance is what’s needed, instead of another new face at the helm.

In summary, then, football managers aren’t in safe jobs. Neither are the players. To make the grade, both careers take an exceptional talent and years of moulding and training to be anywhere close to successful. But age and physical fitness are smaller barriers to managers, and the career-span of a player is generally far shorter. So that says to me that players flowing in this conveyor-belt-like nature makes more sense than doing the same for managers. But that doesn’t make it fair, because “That’s just modern football, though, innit?”