Hawking's formula for World Cup win

Thurrock Gazette: Professor Stephen Hawking unveils a new scientific formula to predict the chances of England succeeding in the World Cup, in Cambridge. Professor Stephen Hawking unveils a new scientific formula to predict the chances of England succeeding in the World Cup, in Cambridge.

It might seem the obvious answer to getting England's football team out of the black hole they have languished in since 1966.

Who better to turn to than Britain's most celebrated physicist and black hole expert Professor Stephen Hawking?

The best-selling author of A Brief History Of Time was asked to apply his mathematical genius to the cosmic-scale challenge of guaranteeing World Cup success for England in Brazil.

Prof Hawking duly came up with not one but two solutions, both couched in the arcane language of "general logistic regression modelling".

One formula described the expected probability of England winning a match, taking into account a host of variables such as temperature, altitude, team formation and even the colour of the players' shirts.

The other was devoted to the most intractable problem of all - England's nemesis, the penalty shoot-out.

As Prof Hawking colourfully put it at a London press conference to announce the findings, "as we say in science, England couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo".

Commissioned by bookmakers Paddy Power, the director of research in applied mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge University analysed data from every World Cup finals England had qualified for since 1966.

He concluded that the team was likely to suffer from the Brazilian heat, the altitude, and the distance from home - but could improve the odds of winning by adopting an aggressive 4-3-3 formation and wearing red.

Speaking through a voice synthesiser from his wheelchair at the Savoy Hotel, Prof Hawking - who is almost completely paralysed by motor neurone disease - said: "Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world.

"The World Cup is no different."

He added: "Statistically England's red kit is more successful and we should play 4-3-3 rather than 4-4-2. Psychologists in Germany found red makes teams feel more confident and can lead them to being perceived as more aggressive and dominant. Likewise, 4-3-3 is more positive so the team benefits for similar psychological reasons."

The professor went on to take a swipe at Uruguay's mercurial Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, who is famous for his on-pitch dramatics, saying: "The data shows we also need to hope for a European referee. European referees are more sympathetic to the English game and less sympathetic to ballerinas like Suarez."

Environmental and psychological factors played a major role and could make or break England's chances, said Prof Hawking.

"Like all animals, the England team are creatures of habit," he pointed out.

"Being closer to home reduces the negative impact of cultural differences and jet-lag. We do better in temperate climates, at low altitudes, with kick-off as close to the normal three o'clock as possible.

"The impact of environmental factors alone is quite staggering. A 5C rise in temperature reduces our chances of winning by 59%. We are twice as likely to win when playing below 500 metres above sea level. And our chances of winning improve by a third when kicking off at three o'clock local time."

Turning to penalties, he said the key to success was a run-up of more than three steps and giving the ball "some welly", but added "velocity is nothing without placement".

"If only I had whispered this in Chris Waddle's ear before he sent the ball into orbit in 1990," he said. "Use the side foot rather than laces and you are 10% more likely to score.

"The statistics confirm the obvious. Place the ball in the top left or right hand corner for the best chance of success - 84% of penalties in those areas score. The ability of strikers to place the ball results in them being more likely to score than midfielders and defenders."

It did not matter if you were left or right-footed, but bald and fair-haired players were more likely to score from the penalty spot.

"The reason for this is unclear," said the professor. "This will remain one of science's great mysteries."

Prof Hawking is known for his sense of humour and fun and has appeared on several shows including The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory, even starring in an advert for the Go Compare website.

He confessed that making sense of football was even harder than untangling the secrets of the universe.

"It is hugely complicated," he said. "In fact, compared to football I think quantum physics is relatively straightforward."

The presentation featured Professor Hawking's equations scribbled on blackboards and a huge photo of his head in a bubble orbiting planet Earth.

Asked if he was a football fan, he said: "Shouting at the television is not for me, but each to his own.

"What drew me to this project was not a love of football, but my curiosity.

"I find it almost quite sad that I'm not a football fan, because this summer will be a treat for those who are."

He also revealed that he preferred to place bets on scientific discoveries than sporting outcomes.

"My best bet would be against my theoretical physicist friends about theoretical physics," he said.

Prof Hawking was candid when asked the biggest question of all - who was going to win the World Cup?

He replied: "You would be a fool to overlook Brazil. Hosts have won over 30% of the World Cups. As we know from the study, there are significant environmental and psychological benefits from being close to home."

Paddy Power, the eponymous spokesman for the bookmakers who conducted the Q&A, said approaching the professor was a gamble that paid off.

"We thought there was a 1% chance that he'd say yes," he said. "We were surprised and delighted when he agreed."

Prof Hawking is donating his fee to the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Save the Children's campaign for the children of Syria.

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