John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

As nice as Christmas is, as enjoyable as Thanksgiving can be, my very favourite holiday is New Year’s.

My affinity for it is partly genetic. My Scottish ancestors would, of course, go to church on Christmas but they wouldn’t exchange presents until Hogmanay– the Gaelic word for New Year’s Eve – and then they'd party until the early morning. New Year's Eve was the biggest celebration of the year.

In fact, my grandparents’ generation was the first one in my family to open presents on Christmas morning. I was raised with the annual tradition of first footing, a ceremony I look forward to every year.

But what I like most about NYE is that unlike other holidays it looks ahead to the future. Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Canada Day, whatever, they’re all anniversaries or commemorate past events. They all invite retrospection and contemplation of the past. That’s good and necessary, but it doesn’t always encourage progress.

New Year’s, on the other hand, is filled with optimism.  Sure, you can reflect on the past year, but the emphasis is on planning and hoping for the best in the next 365 days. There’s a blank slate ahead of you and December 31st is your day to figure out what you’re going to create. On January 1st, you put that plan in to motion.

As you'd expect, I’m pretty crazy about resolutions. I probably average a dozen every year, covering every aspect of my life. I always make sure I’ve got at least one resolution for my health, personal relationships and my career. I like to be thorough.

Kathryn Schulz’s “Even absurd new year's resolutions do you good” in today’s Guardian reaffirmed my love of the resolution. 

“Our resolutions are not failed acts of the will, but successful acts of the imagination. You will not enrol in a doctoral programme and spend more time with your kids and lose 20 pounds in 2011 just by resolving to do so. But you will be far more doomed to fail­ - and far more emotionally impoverished - if you never even dream up those plans in the first place.

“That’s why our resolutions, even at their most delusional, strike me as the best possible way to start a new year. They bring us back in contact with all the phantom versions of ourselves, those reverse ghosts that haunt our future, waiting to be embodied. Just as other forms of wrongness as optimism propel us out of bed the morning after a wasted day, our annual resolutions propel us into a new year, hopeful all over again that we will be better people in the days to come.”

It’s that recommitment to one’s self that I find so appealing. It’s something that anyone can do. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or an atheist. Your age, race, gender or sexual preference are inconsequential.

Refocusing and reconsidering one’s life are all-inclusive pursuits and healthy ones to boot. Unlike other holidays, New Year’s Eve transcends all the cultural divisions we place on ourselves. It’s more accessible than any other day of the year and an opportunity to create some positivity in our lives.

New Year’s is a universal celebration.

I love that feeling of renewal and rejuvenation and I hope that after reading this post you take a few minutes today or tomorrow to evaluate and plan your new year.

All the best to you and yours and have a happy and productive 2011.


Mea culpa: Manchester United is in financial trouble

Almost two years ago I wrote on my defunct blogthat European soccer fans should “relax” about foreign ownership like Tom Hicks and George Gillet of Liverpool and the Glazer family of Manchester United.

Yesterday BBC News announced that Manchester United’s debt has now reached £716 million(that’s $1.1 billion USD), with patriarch Malcolm Glazer handing out loans of £1.67 million to each of his children who happen to be directors of the club.

Hey ManU fans? My bad. I was wrong. The Glazers have put your club at risk with their mishandling of team funds. A small piece of good news is that the Red Devils can stay afloat as long as they keep winning, which they are sure to do.

The original uproar surrounding United was sparked by the Glazers’ takeover of the publicly traded franchise, effectively taking it off the market. The closing remark in my original post was: “Thanks to [the European] system of relegation and ranked leagues, for these men to make money, they need to make sure that their teams are constantly competitive.”

I still believe that, but the Glazers’ tenure as owners of Manchester United is definitely putting my theory to the test.

United is still one of the best teams in the English Premier League. They’re currently in third place, one point behind first place Arsenal, and in a position to return to the Champions League. Forward Wayne Rooney is one of the best players in the league, with 14 goals so far this season.

Their merchandise is as popular as ever, with their familiar red and gold logo still gracing jerseys, shirts, hats and all kinds of kit.

So where is all this money going? Running a professional team of Manchester United’s calibre is always a costly enterprise, but to the tune of £716 million?

According to journalist David Conn on the Guardian’s Football Weekly Extra podcast, the Glazers have loaded the club with the debt they had taken on to buy United. That’s right; the team is paying for its own purchase. That original debt, plus interest and the usual litany of fees from banks and lawyers, has eaten away at the club’s value.

It gets worse. Conn says that contrary to manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s claims, the £80 million in transfer fees collected from Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer won’t be available for roster acquisitions, as the money has already been paid towards United’s debt.

In their most recent financial report, Manchester fully acknowledges that if they can’t continue their current competitive pace, they are in grave financial trouble.

This reinforces my belief that relegation/promotion and on-field success are still the keys to making money, but there is still cause for concern. The Glazers are making the same mistakes that launched the financial downturn that is still affecting the global economy. Debt to pay off debt is never sound planning. Although the football side of the team can maintain this pace, the business side definitely can not. Things have to change at Old Trafford, and soon.

Fans of Manchester United, and soccer fans as a whole, should be keeping their eyes on this situation. There’s more than just pride at stake on the EPL tables with United needing on-field success to stay afloat financially.


Today’s discovery: artistic cycling

Thursday morning my friend Gord Barrett sent me a link to the video below, which he found on the Guardian’s weekly YouTube sport round-up.  Watch just the first minute of it and you’ll see why I found it enthralling.

Seemingly a cross between pairs figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized diving and, of course, bike riding, the entire video is absorbing, even with the Bryan Adams soundtrack.

The performers are Carla and Henriette Hochdorfer, two artistic cycling prodigies who won the Junior Masters Championships in 2008 and 2009, the 2009 German Championship and the 2008 and 2009 European titles.

Carla is 18, while her younger sister Henriette is just 14. They’ve got a staff of three guiding them and insuring that they excel in international competition.

According to the ever-dubious Wikipedia, artistic cycling was invented in 1888 by German-American Nicholas Edward Kaufmann but the first World Championship for men wasn’t held until 1956. Women had to wait until 1970 until they had a title to call their own.

It seems to be more popular with women, particularly in Germany. Katrin Schultheis & Sandra Sprinkmeier won the most recent World Championship while proudly sporting the black, orange and yellow colours of their homeland.

Unfortunately, the only other information I could find is this page that details the specs of the bikes and the performance area in artistic cycling.

If anyone has any more information on the world of artistic cycling – like whether or not it’s performed in North America – please leave a comment. I'm fascinated and want to learn as much as possible.