Archive for Newcastle United

Switching Allegiances

Posted in Biographical, Education, Football, Rugby with tags , , , , , on February 3, 2013 by telescoper

So here I am, then, in the office on a Sunday afternoon,which I suspect is going to be a pretty regular occurrence for the foreseeable future. I mainly came in to sort out papers for tomorrow’s Senior Management Group meeting, which will be the first such meeting I’ll be attending in my new capacity. I have managed to prepare for it in fine style by losing my diary, which isn’t a very good start to my career as any kind of manager.

Yesterday was taken up with flat-hunting which, if all turns out well this time, was successful. I also had time to watch a bit of the opening match of the Six Nations Rugby between Wales and Ireland. For the last five years or so I’ve always been in Cardiff for Wales’ first home game of the competition, although I’ve never actually managed to get a ticket for the match. It felt a bit strange not being there anyway. It has to be said that Wales were pretty chronic in the first half, going into the break at 30-3 down, but they recovered in the second half and it was quite an absorbing match all considered. Ireland’s excellent defence held off a spirited Welsh comeback and Ireland won 30-22.

Although I’ve lived in Wales for a while, and have enjoyed the match-day atmosphere in Cardiff, I’ve never switched allegiance from England as far as rugby is concerned. Later on yesterday England beat Scotland in their opening match of the Six Nations, showing quite a bit of flair in doing so but also making quite a lot of mistakes. The 38-18 scoreline flattered England, I felt, and they’ll have to up their game a lot if they’re going to match Wales’ Grand Slam last season.

Football is another matter in which allegiances are difficult to change. Many’s the time I’ve thought of giving up being a Newcastle United supporter but I’ve never managed it. I disapprove of people who think they have an option concerning which team to support, actually. I was born in Newcastle therefore I support Newcastle United. That’s the end of it. We all have our cross to bear. Anyway, yesterday brought an unexpected ray of sunshine into a gloomy season for the Toon with a 3-2 victory over Chelsea. Following a first away win of the season against Aston Villa last week it may even be possible that they’ll avoid relegation. Perhaps.

Switching allegiances between universities is almost as difficult. In today’s academic world we’re supposed to think of higher education as a marketplace in which different institutions compete for funding for both teaching and research. I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea that opening up higher education to “market forces” is in anyone’s interests. Certainly on the research side, there are so many collaborations between groups in different universities that cooperation is more the rule than competition although, as with any rule, there are exceptions. Friendly rivalry is as good a thing in higher education as it is in football, but anything more serious than that can only be justified in the case of Sunderland.

They don’t make FA Cup finals like these any more..

Posted in Football with tags , , , on May 5, 2012 by telescoper

You have to go back to the 1950s – before even I was born – for the last time my own team won the FA Cup, but they did win it three times in that decade, including in 1952 when they were watched at Wembley by the new Queen Elizabeth II. Sixty years on we’re approaching the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but I don’t think Her Majesty is watching. Neither am I, in fact, because the FA moved back the kick-off to 5.15 from the traditional 3pm. Sacrilege.

P.S. The score in the 1955 FA Cup Final was Newcastle United 3 Manchester City 1. Fans of Manchester United will be hoping that there’s a similar result in tomorrow’s Premiership match between the same two clubs!

R.I.P. Gary Speed

Posted in Football with tags , , , , on November 27, 2011 by telescoper

I’m overwhelmed with sadness at the news that Wales football manager Gary Speed has died at the age of only 42, having apparently taken his own life. This news is all the more devastating because it was so unexpected, at least to those of us who don’t know the circumstances of his private life. This is neither the time nor the place to speculate about what might have driven him to suicide, but it is time to pay tribute to an extremely talented player who, in the results of recent months, was beginning to show what great potential he had as a manager of the Welsh National Team. More importantly, and however feeble a gesture it must be at such a time, I’d like to express my deep condolences to his family and close friends. I can’t imagine what a terrible ordeal they must be going through. I only hope that time will bring them consolation, and some form of peace.

It is as a player for the club I follow, Newcastle United, that I will remember Gary Speed best. He joined the club in 1998 and was a mainstay of Bobby Robson’s team until he left in 2004. Rarely troubled by injury,  he was a fine attacking midfielder, especially strong in the air,  with a good goalscoring record, and was a firm favourite with the fans on Tyneside for his skill and commitment.

Rest in Peace, Gary Speed (1969-2011).

The Easy Winners

Posted in Football, Music with tags , , on April 19, 2010 by telescoper

I’ve been a bit busy today so all I’ve got time to do is mark the news that by beating Plymouth Argyle, 2-0 away from home Newcastle United have won the Championship. In truth they only needed one point from their remaining three games to be sure of the title, but they passed the winning post in style with a comfortable victory that in fact condemns Plymouth to relegation. This may not mean very much to most readers of this blog, but I can assure you that being a Newcastle supporter is sometimes a thankless task and ‘m absolutely delighted to see the club return to the Premier League in such  a surprisingly convincing way.

I was thinking of posting a little bit of music to celebrate, and this sprang to mind. It’s my favourite Scott Joplin rag and it’s called – appropriately enough – The Easy Winners. It was written in 1901 and the original sheet music is decorated with pictures of sporting events. It is also one of the few rags that the composer himself recorded as a piano roll, although I have my doubts as to whether this is actually that version..

This Sporting Life..

Posted in Football, Sport with tags , , , on April 3, 2010 by telescoper

Although it’s meant to be a holiday I’ve actually been in the department most of the day working on some research (or, rather, writing up some old research). Since I’ve been tapping away at the keys most of the day I haven’t got the energy to write much, and I’m looking forward to a drink and a spot of curry in a few minutes’ time followed by a crack at the jumbo-sized Guardian Easter crossword compiled  by my favourite setter, Araucaria.

However, for the purposes of my own record-keeping – this blog is, at least in part, some kind of a journal – I thought I’d make a quick note of the day’s sport. Usually as we near the end of the football season I get into a state of nervous anxiety wondering what sort of mess my own team, Newcastle United, are going to make of the run-in. However, today I’m pleased to say they followed up Monday’s win against Nottingham Forest with another victory, 3-2 away at Peterborough. Although their opponents are the bottom club of the division at the moment, I always thought this would be a tricky game and so it proved if the press reports are to be believed. Peterborough in fact took an early lead, and Newcastle didn’t equalise until stoppage time in the first half. They then went 3-1 up, only to have one goal pegged back by a determined home team.

That result might have sealed promotion to the Premiership for Newcastle, had Nottingham Forest done the decent thing and lost to Bristol City. They didn’t lose, but only managed a draw. The gap between Newcastle and Nottingham Forest is now 15 points with Forest having five games to play while Newcastle have six games left. It’s extremely improbable that Newcastle will lose all 6 of their games and Forest win all 5 of theirs, so I think we’re pretty much guaranteed to go up. We need just one point to turn that into mathematical certainty.

Today was a big game here in Cardiff too, between Cardiff City and fierce local rivals Swansea. Police helicopters were circling the town all day and there was a heavy presence of uniformed officers trying to ensure there wasn’t any trouble at the match. This too was a close-fought game. With the score at 1-1 until stoppage time at the end of the match, Michael Chopra popped up to score a winner for Cardiff. They’re now hard on the heels of Nottingham Forest in fourth place, with 68 points to Forest’s 71. Cardiff might still have to play Swansea in the playoffs. That could be interesting..

And finally, it’s worth noting that today was the day of the annual Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race in London. I’m not going to pretend that I follow this sport particularly closely, but the occasions on which I’ve been to watch the spectacle have been very enjoyable (even though Oxford has beaten my own Alma Mater every time I’ve bothered to watch it). It’s usually more of an excuse to have a few drinks while watching other people busting a gut than a genuine interest in the sport. Still, I do have a residual loyalty to Cambridge University so I was delighted to find out that they won today. If I’d seen the pre-race odds, I might have had a bet as Oxford were clear favourites.

Not at all a bad day results-wise. I almost finished my paper too…

The Thieving Magpie

Posted in Football, Opera with tags , , , on March 30, 2010 by telescoper

Well, I’ve spent the evening working as well as following an important night’s football. My team – Newcastle United – were playing their promotion rivals Nottingham Forest at St James’ Park (in Newcastle). Going into the game Newcastle were at the top of the Championship, 10 points clear of third-placed Nottingham Forest with a game in hand. With 80 points from 38 games, and only 8 remaining to play, a win would virtually guarantee that Forest (on 70 points after 39 games) couldn’t catch them and Newcastle would therefore be in one of the top two positions guaranteeing them a return to the Premiership next season.

Although this was apparently a commanding position, I’ve been a Newcastle supporter for too long to take anything for granted; they’ve demonstrated their ability to throw away apparently unassailable leads far too often for me to feel complacent. Fortunately, they didn’t let me down. Two second-half goals (from Shola Ameobi and Jose Enrique) saw them win 2-0. Now 13 points clear of third place (with Forest only having 6 games to play), they are on the brink of automatic promotion. Mathematically they now need 6 points from 7 games to be sure, but they could seal it on Saturday away against bottom club Peterborough, if Nottingham Forest lose against Bristol City.

I confess that I get badly affected by nerves when following games on the radio or TV. I’d much rather be there in the flesh, but sadly that’s impractical. When the final whistle went tonight I was enormously relieved and more than a little bit elated, despite the heavy cold I’ve got at the moment.

Anyway, I thought it called for a bit of musical celebration. Newcastle United’s nickname is The Magpies, so I thought I’d offer the overture from Gioachino Rossini‘s Opera La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie).  It’s not the greatest opera, but the overture is superb. Apparently Rossini had to be locked in his room and forced to write it as the deadline for the first performance approached. If that’s true, the pressure had a positive effect on him because what he produced is a cracker.

This performance is tremendously virtuosic – as you’d expect from the Vienna Philharmonic – especially in the accelerando part at the end, which is wonderfully exhilirating.

I’ve only known a few professional classical musicians at a personal level, but all of them, when asked, said that the composer whose music they most enjoyed playing was Rossini. I was always surprised to hear that, but listening to this piece I can certainly understand them. It’s got to be great fun playing this…

P.S. Another thing worth mentioning is that the current owner of Newcastle United Football Club bears more than a passing resemblance to Rossini!

Results and Transfer Gossip

Posted in Finance, Football, Science Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on February 6, 2010 by telescoper

I had to skip the usual trip to the Poet’s Corner last night and go home early because the general state of fatigue I’ve been in suddenly morphed into a fever. I went home at 5, went straight to bed, and it was only Columbo’s frantic pawing that woke me up several hours later. I had not only missed a leaving party for Kate Isaak, who is now off to work for the European Space Agency, but also slept all the way through Newcastle United’s splendid 5-1 hammering of Cardiff City in last night’s Coca Cola Championship match at St James’ Park.

Despite home advantage, and the fact that Newcastle won the corresponding away fixture here in Cardiff, I thought this tie would be pretty difficult for Newcastle so I was overjoyed to see the result when I finally roused myself from feverish slumbers. It seems that Newcastle’s recent signings in the January transfer window actually came good, especially Wayne Routledge who gives the side a much-needed injection of pace down the wing. Cardiff City, on the other hand, didn’t buy any players at all because they need all the cash they’ve got to pay off an outstanding tax bill and thwart various winding-up orders that have been served on them. The turbulence behind the scenes seems to have worked its way onto the pitch: the blues are definitely the most erratic team in the division, winning 6-0 only a week or so ago and then getting thrashed 5-1 yesterday.

And just to make  my allegiances clear, I do have a soft spot for Cardiff City and do want to see them do well – except when they’re playing Newcastle. Once a Geordie, always a Geordie…

Results of a different kind were the topic of discussion around the School of Physics & Astronomy yesterday, as it was the official day for tutors to hand the results of the 1st semester exams to their tutees. It’s always great to see students leaving their tutor’s office with a big smile on their face, which happened rather a lot yesterday.  Some, of course, got more disappointing news, but to them I’d just say that it’s only half way through the year so there’s plenty of time to recover. Stick at it, and don’t let setbacks get you down.  I hope to see even more happy faces in June than I did yesterday….

Football teams like Cardiff City aren’t the only things to be enduring financial uncertainty these days, either. Even the Premiership clubs of the university sector are feeling the pinch. Many institutions around the country are planning departmental closures and redundancies, but you know it’s serious when it hits the big colleges in London. Last week University College (UCL) and Imperial both announced plans for large-scale layoffs, and this week they were joined by King’s College which plans to sack 205 academics, including 30 in the School of Physical Sciences and Engineering.

The background to all this is that the cuts announced by Lord Mandelson in December have now been officially passed on to English universities by HEFCE, but one suspects also that in some cases this is being used as a cover for other management decisions. Imperial, for example, is going ahead with the purchase of new property in Wood Lane for a cool £28 million at the same time as cutting academic positions costing a fraction of that.

Amid all the gloom, however, it is nice to be able to report some good news. Cardiff University was almost declared bankrupt in the 1980s when it failed to get to grips with the cuts imposed by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative  government which were similar in scale to those being implemented by New Labour. It was brought back from the brink, however, and since then has managed its finances with almost excessive caution. Other universities have scored spectacular successes in the League tables by spending money freely on fancy research initiatives and overseas campuses, but in the new reality of austerity Britain these may turn out to have been risky ventures.

By contrast, “Safe and Steady” has long been the motto in Cardiff. We might not have done brilliantly in the RAE but the insitution has an extremely sound financial base that should put it in as good position as any to withstand these difficult times. Moreover, we’ve just heard that the University management has agreed that the School of Physics & Astronomy can go ahead and make  four new academic appointments, and that these will be accompanied by substantial startup packages with which the new appointees can begin to equip their own laboratories. This involves a considerable investment in the School from the University’s central coffers and I think it’s fantastic news. I doubt if many UK universities are going to be investing so heavily in physics at this time, so this is an extremely welcome development. It’s always nice to buck the trend.

The adverts will be going out pretty soon, so the transfer window is about to open.  I look forward to meeting our new signings in due course, and I’m confident that they’ll help us climb up the League.

If only I could say the same for Cardiff City…

Cardiff City 0 Newcastle United 1

Posted in Football with tags , , on September 13, 2009 by telescoper

I spent most of this afternoon at Cardiff City’s new stadium at Ninian Park (which is just over the road from the old one, in fact). The date of the fixture between Cardiff and Newcastle had been in my diary for weeks but by the time I got round to buying tickets it was sold out except for the Premier seats at £65 a go. I decided to go for it anyway and me and my colleague Derek (another astronomer) went in the posh lounge for drinks before during and after the game. I even had the proverbial prawn sandwich. It makes a big difference having food and drink available before and during the match, and although I’d never been in the upmarket part of a football stadium for a match before it’s something I could definitely get used to. In fact the comfort level was a bit more like you would find at the Opera (which I’m off to on Friday as it happens) than a football match.  Although the chorus was not very tuneful I enjoyed their renditions of  Chi è il bastardo in nero and l’arbitro è un coglione.

With seats at the top level of a packed stadium, we had an excellent view of the game. The atmosphere was brilliant – a contrast to the mid-week international I watched in an empty ground a few days ago.

Cardiff City were  either very nervous in front of their first full house or perhaps just stunned by the horrible sight of Newcastle United’s hideous away strip of two-tone yellow stripes, shown on the left modelled by defender Steven Taylor. It took the home side ages to settle, especially their back four who looked jittery throughout the game.

Newcastle were all over Cardiff in the first half and it was no surprise when the away side scored, from a poorly-defended corner which was eventually  put away by Coloccini. Thereafter Cardiff attacked only sporadically. Chopra – an ex-Newcastle player himself – carved one good chance but Rae skied his shot. The Toon were comfortably up 1-0 at half time.

There weren’t many clear-cut chances in the second half, with Newcastle content to sit back and protect their lead keeping the ball as long as possible. This might have been a mistake if Cardiff had managed to put anything together going forward, but their attacks were generally disjointed and lacking penetration. Chopra was the home side’s only real threat but he didn’t show much in the second half. Newcastle’s policy of playing a single striker – the lone Ranger – paid off in this phase. Although he rarely threatened goal himself  he provided an extremely useful channel through which  his defence could clear the ball. Alan Smith (captain for the day) played just in front of the back 4 in a 4-5-1 formation and showed good skill as well as determination.

Cardiff threatened a few times – including a shout for a penalty for handball that was rightly turned down by the official – but didn’t really look like getting an equaliser until, in stoppage time, a slip Coloccini let to a foul by Smith. His second yellow card got him sent off and also left Cardiff with a free kick in a dangerous position just outside the Newcastle penalty area. Nothing came of it, however, and shortly afterwards the referee blew the final whistle. Cardiff’s use of free kicks and other set-pieces was very poor throughout the game, in fact.

I’m biased of course but I think Newcastle thoroughly deserved to win. Nolan, Barton, and Smith were much more composed in midfield than their opposite numbers and Harper, who didn’t have that much to do, looked very solid in goal. Missing Ameobi up front through injury they picked a less adventurous side than perhaps they would have done for a home game.

There weren’t many shots on goal at either end and the only goal came from a set piece, but the game was played at a good tempo and was very enjoyable to watch.

I’d like to mention that the Newcastle fans in the far corner to our right at one point started singing “there’s only one Bobby Robson” in honour of the recently deceased legendary Newcastle and England manager. Cardiff fans all round the ground responded spontaneously with respectful applause. Good stuff.

A beautiful sunny day, a big crowd (25,000+), an excellent game, played in a good sporting atmosphere, and of course the right result. What more could you want? Actually, a few more beers down in Cardiff Bay which we had too.

Newcastle United now have 16 points from 6 games and remain unbeaten at the top of the championship. Cardiff City slip back from 4th place to 8th.

Divided Loyalties

Posted in Biographical, Science Politics with tags , , , , on May 16, 2009 by telescoper

It’s easy to tell that summer is on the way. England are playing the West Indies at Cricket. It’s the penultimate weekend of the Premiership football season. The undergraduates are taking their exams. I’m sitting with a pile of projects to mark. And it’s raining.

I suppose I have to mention the football. My team, Newcastle United, gave themselves a chance of avoiding relegation on Monday night by beating local rivals, Middlesborough 3-1. A win today at home against Fulham would pretty much have guaranteed safety. They lost 1-0. It now looks inevitable that they will be relegated after 16 years in the top flight.

It’s a thankless task being a Newcastle supporter. I’ve followed them all my life and they have managed to avoid winning any competition of any significance since the Fairs cup in 1968 (now called the UEFA cup). They have loyal fans and a wonderful stadium, but somehow seem completely unable to convert that into success on the field. This season they were doomed as soon as the manager Kevin Keegan quit over the owner Mike Ashley’s refusal to allow him to be involved in signing any players. After a period without a manager, during which they lost game after game, the club appointed veteran relegation specialist Joe Kinnear, who did OK for a while then at Christmas had to go into hospital with heart problems. Another run of poor results followed until, in desperation, the club appointed the iconic former player Alan Shearer to his first managerial position. His lack of experience showed, though, and he’s only managed to win one game. In short, the season has been a shambles.

When my father died (about 18 months ago), I thought that my interest in Newcastle United would wane. Football and music were the only two things we had in common after my parents split when I was about 12 and I went to live with my mother. I saw him only rarely in later years,and much of the time we spent together involved talking about football. However, I still find myself getting nervous on match days and looking anxiously for the scores whenever they’ve been playing. It’s like there is an umbilical cord that still connects me to my home town and I can’t get rid of it.

That feeling was reinforced yesterday when, following a conversation at the RAS Club last week, Robert Smith sent me a booklet that he had received when he attended a conference in Newcastle in 1965. The Official Guide to Newcastle upon Tyne (priced 2/6) filled me with a mixture of nostalgia and amusement. Ironically, given the football team’s inadequacies the motto of the city is FORTITER DEFENDIT TRIUMPHANS, which was also the motto of my old school, the Royal Grammar School (also mentioned in the booklet).

The little picture on the left shows the armorial bearings of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne. The official blazon is: Arms:- Gules three Castles triple towered Argent. Crest on a Wreath of the Colours. A Castle as in the arms issuant therefrom from a demi Lion guardant supporting a Flagstaff Or, flying therefrom a forked Pennon of the Arms of Saint George.

Supporters: – on either side a Sea Horse proper crined and finned Or.

Obviously supporters don’t guarantee success, even if they’re proper crined and finned.

Of course, I shall be disappointed if and when Newcastle get relegated next week, but I don’t go along with all the guff in the newspapers about how it will have dire consequences for the city. They’ve been relegated twice before in my lifetime, and the world didn’t end then nor will it now. In any case, I’d reckon the Football Club has taken much more out of the economy of Newcastle in recent years than it has put back into it. Hard-earned cash from supporters has gone straight into the pockets of overpaid players and inept management staff. Maybe relegation will shake the Club up, which will be good in the long run.

Anyway, every cloud has at least one silver lining and this one has two. At the start of the season, I was prescient enough to place a large bet on Newcastle to get relegated at quite long odds. I expect to be handsomely compensated by Mr William Hill when they do go down. The other thing is that they will have to play Cardiff City in the Championship next year, which will give me the chance to see them play in Cardiff’s brand new stadium.

Incidentally, Cardiff City blew their promotion hopes in spectacular fashion. Needing only to avoid losing to Preston North End by 5 goals in order to secure a place in the play-offs, they lost 6-0.

Meanwhile we’ve been coming down slowly from the high that was Thursday’s launch of Herschel and Planck. I was surprised to see Matt Griffin in the department yesterday afternoon because he was actually at the launch in Kourou. He had left after the launch and flown directly back to Cardiff (via Paris). Our other representatives will return over this weekend, and things will start to get back to normal.

Matt told me that he was so impressed with the professionalism of Arianespace, that he wasn’t at all nervous about the launch. Matt’s instrument, SPIRE, will switch on during 22 May and testing will start. I’m sure that Matt and his team will be more than a little nervous about that!

Assuming both Planck and Herschel work satisfactorily, the next problem we will have to face is the deluge of data that will shortly be upon us. The astronomers at Cardiff University have submitted an application for rolling grant support from STFC (not Swindon Town Football Club) to enable us to extract scientific results from new data especially from Herschel. Unfortunately, though, the coffers are pretty bare and it seems very unlikely that we will get the substantial uplift in funding we need to carry out the work on a reasonable timescale.

A rolling grant is intended to support an ongoing research programme. Typically the grants cover 5 years’ funding, enabling the group to offer longer term contracts to staff than is allowed by the 3-year standard grant format. After 3 years of the rolling period, the group has to bid again for another 5 year period but the timing means there is always two years’ grace, meaning that if renewal is not recommended the group still has two years’ funding so the plug isn’t pulled immediately. If an extension is offered but at a reduced level of funding, a group might decide to refuse the new grant and carry on with its existing two years, perhaps to apply in the following round.

The problem with the current financial situation is that STFC barely has the funds needed to continue its existing rolling grants. In other words if all the groups applying for rolling support declined their new contracts and rolled on their existing grants, STFC would only just be able to pay them. In such a situation there would be no new grants or any kind of increase in existing rollers. The implications for successful exploitation of Herschel and Planck appear to be grim and there could well be a lot of difficult decisions within the department to be made if we have to operate within a much reduced budget.

It would be ridiculous if a billion-dollar mission like Herschel ends up stymied because of the relatively small sums needed to exploit the data, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Football teams aren’t the only organizations to suffer from bad management.

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