Astrophysicists at the University of Warwick studying the extreme variability in X-rays emitted from matter falling into black holes, have discovered that their research methods also show that the world’s top division football matches have an unusually large proportion of high scoring games – so much so that international football actually shows a pattern of “extreme events” similar to that seen in the large bursts of X-rays from the accretion discs of black holes. However, analysis of just English premier football league and cup games showed that English top division football is in fact 30 times less likely to have high scoring games than the rest of the world taken as a whole, and could thus be seen by some people as 30 times more boring.

“Extremal events”, that is, large events that are more likely than would be expected from a random process, can be a signature of complexity in nature. In the case of matter moving in accretion disks around black holes it tells us about the turbulent flow in the accreting matter.

Whist seeking to compare this distribution of events with other patterns in the world around us, two University of Warwick postgraduate physics students (John Greenhough and Paul Birch), with their supervisor Sandra Chapman and colleague George Rowlands, looked at the number of goals scored by the home and away teams in over 135 000 games in 169 countries since 1999 and found that the results followed the pattern of “extremal statistics” .

However they also compared their data with an analysis they made of the scores of 13 000 English top division games and 5000 FA Cup matches between the 1970/71 and 2000/01 seasons. They found that these scores contained far less high scoring games than the world as a whole and rather than fitting an extremal statistics pattern the English games more closely fitted either Poisson or negative binomial distributions.

In summary their analysis revealed that a total score over 10 goals in any one game occurs approximately only once in every 10,000 English top division matches (once every 30 years) but in top division matches world-wide, such a score is seen once in 300 games (about once every day).


Peter Dunn

University of Warwick

024 7652 3708

Notes for editor

The researchers acknowledge funding from PPARC.

For further information direct from the researchers please contact:

Professor Sandra Chapman, Space and Astrophysics,
University of Warwick email:
Tel: 02476 523390 mobile 07740291984