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International Olympic Committee

How England might have won the 2014 World Cup if they had listened to Stephen Hawking

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 2:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 9:19pm

Stephen Hawking, Britain’s most famous modern-day scientist who died on Wednesday at the age of 76, is famous for his theories on black holes, with his book A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, selling 10 million copies and staying at the top of The Sunday Times’ bestselling list for a record 237 weeks.

However, Hawking, when not destroying myths about black holes, occasionally delved into sport and, famously in 2014, devised a mathematical method for England to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966. The English team clearly refused to listen to his advice as they crashed out in the group stage of the World Cup in Brazil. Here are Hawking’s three most well-known sporting links during his lifetime.

He was on the Oxford rowing team

According to biographer Kristine Larsen, Hawking was the coxswain for the Oxford men’s rowing team – one of the most famous traditional teams in world sport – before he was stricken by the neurological disease that left him in a wheelchair for most of his life and unable to speak except through a machine.

Coxes don’t actually row but use voice to regulate the steering and stroke rate of their teammates and, therefore, are usually of light weight and small frame.

Within the Oxford sporting culture, there are few pursuits more important than the rowing team and as a result Hawking became bit of a star at the university. One of the benefits, he reported said, was he could miss class.

Larsen wrote that rowing practice took up six afternoons a week so Hawking needed “to cut serious corners” in his studies and used “creative analysis to create lab reports”.

How England could have won the 2014 World Cup

Hawking was hired by a betting company to analyse data from every single World Cup England had taken part in since winning the crown in 1966 and try to discover if past coaches had missed something in their efforts for a second title.

His main conclusion was that England needed to avoid high temperatures and play a 4-3-3 format for their group matches. As it turned out, Roy Hodgson employed a 4-2-3-1 formation and England were knocked out in the group stage for the first time since 1958 and were basically out after just two matches.

They lost 2-1 to Italy and Uruguay in group D and by the time they drew 0-0 with Costa Rica, they were already out. Hawking used two formulas to derive his conclusions. He first took into account a host of variables to discover the probability of England winning a match. Then he addressed England’s penalty chances.

“Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable,” Hawking said at the time. “They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. The World Cup is no different.

“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. And our chances of winning improve by a third when kicking off at 3 o’clock local time.”

Hawking joked that his task to break down England’s victory chances was more difficult that some of his mysteries of the universe. “It is hugely complicated,” he said. “In fact, compared to football I think quantum physics is relatively straightforward.”

Opening ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympic Games

Hawking gave a moving speech at the opening of the Paralympic Games in 2012 in London in a ceremony entitled “Enlightenment”, which depicted the character of Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Hawking appeared on the Protocol stage at the start of the ceremony as projected images of the cosmos swirled around him.

He said: “Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world. Why is it as it is, and why it exists at all. But, even if we do find a complete theory of everything, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations, and makes a universe for them to describe?

“The Paralympic Games is also about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics.

“However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do, and succeed at. The Games provide an opportunity for athletes to excel, to stretch themselves and become outstanding in their field. So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship and respect. Good luck to you all.”