The Business Times

Hawking formula for a World Cup win

A 3pm kick-off, red jerseys and a European referee will favour England, says physicist

Published Fri, May 30, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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WITH the World Cup around the corner, the perennial soothsayers have started their crystal-ball gazing. This time around though, an unusual name has also jumped in on the prediction game.

It seems that even renowned scientist Stephen Hawking has caught football fever. The theoretical physicist, who wrote the bestseller A Brief History of Time, has analysed data from every tournament since 1966 to come up with a formula for his native England to win the Cup. He also predicts how far they'll go in the tournament that kicks off on June 12.

Asked by online bookmaker Paddy Power, Prof Hawking employed logistic regression modelling to do a job that in the past had been done by a range of talent - including financial institutions, politicians and occasionally, animals that eventually gain oracle status.

"(They) recognised that as a theoretical physicist, I am marginally more qualified to make predictions than Paul the Octopus," he told reporters in London this week.

For England to win the competition, he believes that the best conditions would be for them to kick off at 3 pm, for them to wear red jerseys and to have a European referee officiate their games.

Statistically, he said, England's red kit has proven to be more successful, giving them a 20 per cent higher rate of success. He added that psychologists in Germany have found that red makes teams feel more confident and can lead them to being perceived as more aggressive and dominant.

He said data also proves that England's chances of success improve by a third when they kick off at 3 pm local time.

The European referee, he said, will be especially beneficial for the English when they take on Uruguay in their group stages match, as he believes that officials from the continent will be more sympathetic to the English game and less so to "ballerinas like Luis Suarez". He pointed out that England have won 63 per cent of their games with a European referee.

According to the University of Cambridge don, altitude, travel distance from England, temperature and bilateral relations also play a part. His findings, reported The Telegraph, showed that England have a 22 per cent better chance of winning short-haul games, while an increase of just five degrees Celcius in temperature could reduce their chances of success by a massive 59 per cent. England are also twice as likely to be successful when playing in altitudes of less than 500 metres.

"Like all animals, the England team are creatures of habit. Being closer to home reduces the negative impact of cultural differences and jetlag," Prof Hawking said. "We (England) do better in temperate climates, at low altitudes (and) with kick-off as close to the normal three o'clock as possible."

Geopolitical factors also play a part, reported The Huffington Post. England would do well as long as it did not meet Germany, for it tends to fare significantly worse against countries that it had officially declared war on. "We have won only 33 per cent of games against countries we have officially declared war on, compared to 58 per cent for those that we haven't."

And, oh yes, there is also that small matter of tactics, reported The Guardian. Prof Hawking believes that for England to have the best chance of lifting the World Cup, manager Roy Hodgson must employ a 4-3-3 formation as this also gives it a more attack-minded psychological boost than the traditional 4-4-2.

The former Lucasian professor of mathematics - a position once held by Isaac Newton - also dwelled on England's poor record in World Cup penalty shoot-outs. "As we say in science . . . England couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo."

His advice: Take a run-up of more than three steps to "give it some welly" as speed plays its part, with the spot-kick taken from the side of the foot.

Prof Hawking refused to be drawn in on who the eventual winner of this year's tournament would be, but said that if there was a bet on it, one would be a "fool to overlook Brazil . . . the hosts have won over 30 per cent of the World Cups and . . . there are significant environmental and psychological benefits of being close to home".

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