Stephen Hawking: How to take the perfect penalty

The theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge talks penalty kicks in this Paddy Power Blog exclusive


I have studied all shootouts since they were introduced at the 1978 World Cup to have a formula (inset) for the perfect penalty. As we say in science, England ‘couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo’.

Let’s start with the technique. Velocity is key. For this reason, get a run up of more than three steps. Give it some welly. There is only a 58% probability of scoring if your run up is three steps or less. Considerably less than the normal 87% probability of scoring otherwise.

However, 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. 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.

There is no evidence that it’s advantageous to be left or right footed but fair haired and bald players are more likely to score. 84% of penalties by fair-haired players went in, compared to 71% for bald players and only 69% for dark haired players. The reason for this is unclear. This will remain one of science’s great mysteries.

One last tip from me… Distract the penalty taker. Jump from side to side and you are 18% more likely to make a save. Who would want to be a keeper?

As Ruud Guillt once said: “A goalkeeper is a goalkeeper because he can’t play football.”

What do you think?