It is the end of March 2015 and as is customary at this time of the year, the great seasonal exchange between the northern and southern hemisphere is taking place. For the most part of the year, the earth is tilted at an angle on its axis, exposing different parts of the planet to varying amounts of sunshine. This creates the different seasons. From March to August, Northern hemisphere latitudes experience warm weather while the South experiences cold, winter weather. From October to February, Southern latitudes experience warm weather while Northern latitudes experience cold weather.
Towards the end of March and September however, the earth is not tilted and all parts of the earth receive more or less equal amounts of sunshine. The sun path is directly over the equator. This is the equinox period that your primary school geography teacher made a point of gathering the class in the field at midday just so you could observe the overhead sun.
From March 21st to June 21st, the earth begins to tilt such that the Northern hemisphere is more exposed to the sun. This marks the start of spring in the North. The tilt continues gradually such that by June 21st, the tilt is at 23.5 degrees north and the Tropic of Cancer is the closest latitude to the sun. This is summer in the Northern hemisphere and the sun’s path is higher in the sky. Days last longer than nights and more of the earth’s surface area is exposed to direct sunlight, hence hotter days. The reverse is true for the Southern hemisphere at this time of the year where winter means the sun’s path is lower in the sky. Days are shorter than nights and less of the earth’s surface area is exposed to the sun making for cold times. The change is also gradual in the South such that autumn starts from March 21st culminating in winter by June.
The northerly tilt starts to reverse after June 21st and by September 21st, we are back to point zero when it is equinox again. The southern tilt begins post September 21st reaching its climax on December 21st when the earth is tilted at 23.5 degrees south and the Tropic of Capricorn is the closest latitude to the sun. The warmer weather conditions favour the South at this time of summer while the North experiences winter.
Being at the equator, we don’t get to experience any of these extremes as we lie midway between the extreme tilting of both hemispheres. We get more or less the same exposure to sunlight throughout the year. What we get to experience is subtle, like the overhead sun at midday and the beginning of the short and long rains in September and March respectively.
For football fans like myself, there is another change post equinox in March that is eagerly awaited; the onset of daylight saving. In early spring, usually the last Sunday of March, European countries move their clock forward by an hour at 1 am, what they refer to as daylight saving. The rationale behind shifting the clock an hour forward is to maximize on the extra hours of daylight in spring and summer. During this time, the sun rises earlier than usual. So for instance if the sun will rise at 5am as opposed to 6am in winter, moving the clock forward means you wake up an hour earlier than usual and take advantage of the sun. It also avoids a situation where you have to get dark curtains to keep out the sunlight when sleeping in the morning. The extra hour also makes for more sunlight in the evening, something that people in the Northern hemisphere take full advantage of during summer. The rationale, history, support for and criticisms against daylight savings are well articulated here and here if you’d like to read further on that.
This year, daylight saving in Europe begins on the 29th, the last Sunday of March. After 1:59am, clocks in Europe will be adjusted to 3am instead of proceeding to 2am. For football fans in East Africa, this means that football matches will be kicking off an hour earlier than usual since we won’t be shifting our clocks forward. Early kick off in the EPL will now be at 2:45pm East African Time. More importantly, Champions League games and other midweek games will kick off at 9:45pm and end by 11:30pm as opposed to kicking off at 10:45pm and ending at 12:30am.
The extra hour of sleep is most welcome by football fans as we get to indulge in our favourite past time without having to compromise on our sleep. That extra hour is also the difference between games ending earlier therefore reducing the time we play hide and seek with cops when watching football at the local pub after Mututho time. If your team has been beaten in a crucial game, you get an extra hour of lying in your bed in rage and still having somewhat enough sleep. The alternative is finding yourself wide awake and angry in bed at 2am, frustrated by the loss and the fact that you cannot sleep. The level of crankiness in the morning is as a result taken a notch higher.
The onset of daylight saving is also the unofficial start of the business end of the season, what Sir Alex famously referred to as ‘squeaky bum time’. The quarterfinals of the Champions League begin shortly after and the domestic leagues enter the last stretch of fixtures. This is usually a time of excitement for Man United fans where we are guaranteed crucial games that come thick and fast, just as we are guaranteed that seasons will change. Sadly, this has not been the case since the great Sir Alex retired. This year, we are experiencing a less glamorous – but crucial – version of squeaky bum time where we are engaged in a ‘rat race’ for fourth place, as Van Gaal described it. There’s been an upturn in our fortunes in recent weeks to match the change in UK weather from the glum of winter to the sunny days of spring.
Daylight savings end in the last Sunday of October in Europe. Clocks are turned back to 1am after 1:59am instead of proceeding to 2am as they revert back to standard time. This makes up for the lost hour when transitioning to daylight saving.The US has its own dates for the start and end of daylight savings in keeping with their tradition of having different units of measures and pretty much every other standardized thing from the rest of the world. It is a pity that daylight savings cover just the tail end and the early weeks of the football season as leagues take a break during the summer.
As for Man United, it is our hope that just as daylight saving is temporary and standard time eventually resumes, our post-Ferguson blip is temporary and normal service will soon resume. Here’s to a great end to the season and a return to our place at the high table.