Comment »Posted on Tuesday 31 March 2009 at 9:58 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Mathematics

I’d make a pretty rubbish goalie, as I almost let this “formula for” story slip right past me. Last week, the Sun reported that “boffins” have found the formula for a penalty kick that will score every time.

According to “university eggheads” the ball must be kicked at over 65 mph, with a run-up of five or six steps at an angle of 20 to 30 degrees on the ball. When it reaches the goal line, it must be exactly half a metre from both the crossbar and the nearest post. The Sun even provide this handy diagram:

The "perfect" penalty.
The "perfect" penalty.

Now, I’m no football expert, but if the goalie dives to the same side that the ball is aimed at, there is definitely going to be a greater than 0% chance that they occupy that same space half a metre from the goalposts. That puts a hole in the researcher’s “100% success” claim straight away.

Oh, I can’t even pretend any more. This isn’t remotely research – it’s advertising. Despite The Sun’s “exclusive” label, the story appeared much earlier this month on the Sky Sports website. Professor Tim Cable of Liverpool John Moores University found the “formula” – which isn’t actually a formula mind, just a description – using Sky+HD, that well known piece of research equipment.

It gets worse. The perfect penalty formula was actually “discovered” almost three years ago, according to this BBC article. Back then it was mathematician Dr David Lewis, again of Liverpool John Moores University, who made the shocking breakthrough. He actually provided a formula as well: (((X+Y+S)/2)x((T+I+2B)/4))+(V/2)-1.

I’m not even going to bother breaking that mess down. It’s clear that this “formula for” story is making money for someone though, and based on my extensive research of two samples I predict it will next show up around December 2011. Of course if the researchers at Liverpool John Moores need to make a quick buck a little sooner than that, we could see it as early as the Euro 2010 cup. Not that I’m being cynical or anything.

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