Highlights of 2013

As the year 2014 quickly approaches, another memorable year full of remarkable events comes to an end.

The Academy Board recognises Daniel Day-Lewis as the most revered leading actor in the history of the Oscars

The 85th Academy Awards, hosted at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on 24 February 2013, became a historical night for the Oscars and Daniel Day-Lewis when the British thespian became the first person in history to collect three Best Actor gongs.

The Highlights of 2013

He collected his third golden statuette on the night for a pitch-perfect portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s aptly titled Lincoln. His previous two wins had been in 1989 for My Left Foot and again in 2007 for Paul Thomas Anderson’s incredible opus about ambition colliding with religion, There Will Be Blood.

What does a man do when bestowed with such an incredible honour? Make light of the occasion with an ingenious injection of humour, of course. After presenter Meryl Streep announced the nominees and the winner, Day-Lewis took to the stage and with deadpan stony seriousness as he nervously mumbled into the microphone ‘Three years ago, before we decided to do a straight swap, I had actually been committed to playing Margaret Thatcher and Meryl was Steven’s first choice for Lincoln. I would have liked to have seen that version.’ You can’t top that.

The prisoner who became president

I won’t say a great deal here as this news is still so fresh and I’d like to dedicate an individual post to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela. Save to say that with Mandela gone, one of the world’s brightest lights has been extinguished alongside him.

Nelson Mandela

A man who stared defiantly into the face of injustice without flinching, ended the apartheid, brought a divided nation together as one, fought against inequality and poverty and inspired millions around the world. A leader, an activist, a philanthropist and a truly iconic figure who simply made the world a vastly better place to live in not just for South Africans but for the wider international community.

It is now that we must remember Mandela’s achievements and celebrate the extraordinary life of a unique and brilliant man.

Andy Murray becomes the first Briton since Fred Perry to win a Wimbledon title

I’ll be honest, I’ve not always taken to Andy Murray as a tennis player, but having fondly adopted Britain as a second home, I was rooting for a British public so desperate to celebrate a compatriot lifting the trophy after an agonising 77-year wait.

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In the end, Murray made the seemingly impossible all look rather straightforward, winning the title as he did in three straight sets and shrugging off decades of unwanted history in the process with consummate ease. Even the notoriously elusive British sunshine appeared to want to get a glimpse of the action, making a welcome appearance under which Murray would sparkle.

It was a defining moment in British sporting history when with Murray on match point watched on as Novak Djokovic drove his final shot into the net. Not just for the lucky observers on Centre Court or the tennis loyalists on Henman Hill parked outside, but for an entire nation that wept with delirious delight. Probably for the first time since Geoff Hurst belted the fourth goal against Germany in the dying moments of the World Cup north of the River Thames in Wembley some 47 years earlier.

A celebration of the career of Alex Ferguson

The year 2013 will also be remembered for when football’s most respected and successful football manager finally hung up his boots (sorry) as Manchester United boss. Holding the reins from 1986 for 26 long years thereafter, Sir Alex became the Manchester United’s longest ever serving manager, collecting a whopping 38 trophies in the process.

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Most careers feature a smattering of highs and lows, but Ferguson’s was blessed mostly with the former. Having said that, many forget that he started life at Old Trafford on a rocky path and by today’s standards of hiring and firing at the drop of a hat, it’s arguable if a young Ferguson today would be extended the opportunity afforded to him early in his Manchester United managerial reign to go on and accomplish all that he did.

In September 1989, Ferguson suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat away to fierce rivals Manchester City, prompting one disgruntled Red Devil’s fan to hang a banner declaring ‘Three years of excuses and it’s still crap … ta-ra Fergie.’ It’s doubtful that this particular fan would make his identity known today. Still, at the time, he wasn’t alone and many journalists called for Ferguson to be sacked during a period of turmoil that Ferguson himself described as ‘the darkest period [he had] ever suffered in the game’.

Following a run of seven games without a win, it was widely felt that an in-form Nottingham Forest would dispatch Manchester United in their third round FA Cup tie and Ferguson’s United managerial career would be brought to an abrupt halt. Instead, United escaped with a narrow one-nil victory, a result largely felt to be the one that saved Ferguson’s skin. United went on to win the competition beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in a final replay and handing Ferguson his first major honour as United boss.

In 1993, Manchester United, inspired by the signing of King Eric Cantona became the first club to be crowned Premier League Champions, ending a 26-year League Championship barren spell. Two years later though and Ferguson came under heavy scrutiny again when he sold a trio of high-profile players during the summer transfer window and placed trust in his youth academy fledglings to fill the void. A move that prompted the now infamous ‘You can’t win anything with kids’ speech by Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen.

Needless to say, United went on to win their third league title under Ferguson in 1996 with the aforementioned youth team players that included: Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Paul Scholes. They beat arch rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup Final the same year to claim a second league and cup double in three years. A year later and they added another league title taking the tally to four in five seasons.

In 1999, United reached their first UEFA Champions League Final under Ferguson. They trailed to German giants Bayern Munich with the full ninety minutes on the clock expired. One minute into added time, substitute Teddy Sheringham nabbed an equaliser from a corner before fellow sub Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored the winner minutes later. The last gasp U-turn was one of football’s most dramatic moments and the victory capped an unprecedented treble for Ferguson.

United added a second UEFA Champions League honour to their burgeoning trophy cabinet on 21 May 2008 after a dramatic 6-5 penalty shootout victory against Chelsea in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. The game marked the first ever all-English UEFA Champions League Final.

The following year, United secured another league title making Ferguson the first manager in English football history to win three consecutive Premier League titles on two separate occasions. It secured Ferguson his eleventh league title at Manchester United, giving the club 18 overall and putting them on level pegging with Liverpool’s all time Championship haul record. A record that Ferguson would go on to surpass making Manchester United officially the most successful English football club of all time.

On 8 May 2013, Ferguson announced he was to retire at the end of the football season. In almost no time at all the significance of his achievements and his legacy are prominent and undeniable. Only a few months into his tenure and already Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes, handpicked by Ferguson, is struggling despite inheriting a Championship winning squad.

At the time of writing United are languishing in 8th place in the Premiership table following consecutive back to back defeats at Old Trafford against Everton and Newcastle. Unthinkable under Ferguson’s watch but quickly becoming a sad inevitability under Moyes. After 26 years in charge, it’s taken a mere matter of months for the reality to sink into with the Old Trafford faithful, Ferguson’s departure truly is the end of an era, the most successful era of that any club in the history of football has enjoyed.

There were controversies along the way, of course, the David Beckham eye injury allegedly from Ferguson kicking a football boot at the player during a dressing room rant stands out. On that note, it was Ferguson’s notorious dressing room disciplinary tactics that coined the phrase ‘the hairdryer treatment’.

Ferguson’s influence didn’t stop there, he even had an inadvertent impact on the everyday dialect utilised by football fans up and down the country. His persistent harrying of touchline officials spawned the phrase ‘Fergie Time’, a term used to describe mysteriously added injury time at the end of a football match where United would often score a last-gasp winner or salvage a point from the clutches of defeat. Elsewhere the great man himself coined an affectionate term that became commonplace among pundits and fans, ‘squeaky bum time’, a term used to describe those anxious moments at the end of the match where United would cling to a narrow lead awaiting the referee’s final whistle.

A colourful and eventful journey that even the most ardent anti-Ferguson detesters cannot deny added many dimensions to the world of football for two and a half decades. All in all, it is safe to say that there really was ‘only one Alex Ferguson’ and the likelihood of such a dominant reign of football as that enjoyed by Manchester United is unlikely to ever be witnessed again. Here’s to you Alex. Thanks for the memories.

Fingers crossed for the breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s

Finally, and perhaps the most important – should it come into fruition in the future – the discovery of the first chemical to prevent the death of brain tissue in a neurodegenerative disease. The discovery of this compound is being hailed as a ‘turning point’ in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

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On a personal level, I have known people experiencing the horrendous effects of this horrible degenerative disease and my fingers remain crossed for the New Year when hopefully the brave and brilliant scientists working on this cure can enjoy every success.

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