Top five sporting maths blunders

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Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, has been chastised this week for not getting his sums right when calculating how many goals his team needed to top its Champions League group. But he’s not the first person to fall foul of basic maths in sport, as Steven Perryman discovers

Maths and sport are notoriously awkward bedfellows, something proved this week by Manuel Pellegrini’s maths mistake in calculating the goal difference his team required to win its Champions League group. But he’s not alone – here are five more examples of athletes and managers not getting their sums right.

1. Football – Manchester City get their sums wrong again, 1996

On the final day of the 1995-96 season, Manchester City, under Alan Ball, came from two goals down at Maine Road to draw level at 2-2 with Liverpool.

The manager believed it was enough for safety after he had been told, incorrectly, that relegation rivals Southampton had gone behind at home to a goal by Wimbledon. As a result, Ball instructed Steve Lomas to keep the ball in the corner to run down the clock.

The horror became quickly apparent to the substituted Niall Quinn, who was watching the scores come in on a TV in the tunnel. The usually cumbersome Quinn hot-footed it down the touchline to relay the news to his team-mates, but his efforts proved in vain. City went in search of the extra goal to no avail, and were condemned to five seasons of lower league football before returning to the top flight in 2001.

2. Golf – Roberto De Vicenzo, 1968 and Mark Roe, 2003

When Argentine star and reigning Open champion Roberto de Vicenzo birdied the 17th hole at the 1968 Masters he looked odds-on to win the tournament, and was guaranteed to at least make a play-off.

Sadly, playing partner Tommy Aaron had failed to notice his birdie, and marked him down for a four. De Vicenzo didn’t check his card properly, and signed for a 66 instead of the 65 he should have had – and when Bob Goalby made a birdie elsewhere, De Vicenzo missed out on the play-off chance he had earned.

English journeyman, Mark Roe, suffered a similar fate at 2003’s Open Championship, alongside playing partner Jesper Parnevik. The pair were kicked out of the tournament after they inadvertently failed to exchange scorecards and wrote down their own scores.

As a result of this simple error they were deemed to have signed for incorrect scores and disqualified. At the time Roe was four under par with one round to play – a tournament eventually won with a score four shots worse off than Roe’s mark after three rounds.

3. Snooker – Ding Junhui, 2007

Many players faced with Ronnie O’Sullivan in full rocket mode probably feel like throwing in the towel and getting an early night, but Ding Junhui is the only one to actually do so, albeit by mistake.

The Chinese star offered his hand to opponent O’Sullivan with the score at 9-3 in 2007’s Masters final – a gesture that suggested he had had enough as play broke for an interval. O’Sullivan led the tearful teenager back to his dressing room, explaining that he had got his sums wrong and that the final was the best of 19 frames, not 17.

Ding Junhui clearly had the right idea in the first place, though: the pair returned to the table only for O’Sullivan to quickly clinch the next frame for a 10-3 victory.

4. Cricket – John Dyson, 2009

England won the opening one-day international by one run under the Duckworth-Lewis (DL) method in 2009 thanks to a horrible mathematical miscalculation by West Indies coach, John Dyson.

England had set West Indies 271 for victory from their 50 overs at the Guyana National Stadium. With the match winding down to a thrilling finish in fading light, Stuart Broad trapped Denesh Ramdin lbw to leave the West Indies on 244 for seven from 46.2 overs, putting England ahead on the DL chart.

England captain Andrew Strauss knew that he was ahead, but Dyson misread the numbers and called-in his batsmen with West Indies just two runs behind the required victory target. Dyson later consulted the match referee to confirm his darkest fears that he had misread the figures and, in doing so, handed England a 1-0 lead in the five-match series. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dyson was sacked later that year.

5. Darts – Phil Hope, 2008

Not exactly a professional darts player, but former MP Phil Hope makes the list for a darts blunder in 2008.

The then Skills Minister took on darts legend Bobby George to promote the Government’s “Get On” campaign – an initiative designed to lure adults onto basic maths skills courses.

As the contest reached its finale, with George predictably well ahead, Hope started doing his own calculations. After totting up his score he asked George if he could win with his next three darts, despite the fact that the minister still needed 189. The maximum possible finish with three darts is actually 170 (two treble 20s and a bull).

“That was mathematically impossible and slightly embarrassing. My maths isn’t that bad, I think that was just the pressure under the lights,” a crest-fallen Hope lamented when his error was pointed out.

Do you know any other major sporting maths blunders? Let us know in the comments section below.

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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