The Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) at the University of Bath is a hub of world-leading mathematicians who work with industry and external organisations to apply mathematics for solving challenging problems.

The Third Round of the Emirates FA Cup has become synonymous with results that defy logic throughout the competitions 150-year history. To explore this further, IMI worked with The FA to verify a historical top 10 of the least likely scorelines from the last 50 years of the competition.

Using probability theory, Professor Andreas Kyprianou, Director of the IMI, and Dr Adwaye Rambojun, Research Associate at the IMI, developed a mathematical model that takes into account the overall probability of the lower league teams reaching the Third Round, the difference in league status and the timing and sequence of the goals scored in each tie. More on their research.

Dr Rambojun said:

Using data from over 8,000 Emirates FA Cup matches, we produced a mathematical model that takes into account not only the relative league status of the teams involved and how many matches they won to get there but also in-game scoring sequences to compute the total probability of the biggest third round giant-killings in the last 50 years. Our findings show that there is only one winner when it comes to the most improbable third round shock.”

Speaking of Woking’s most improbable 4-2 win against West Bromwich Albion in 1991 he continued:

The conditions surrounding Woking’s win had probability stacked against them but, somehow, they managed to produce a result that would likely happen only once every 15,959,312 attempts…It’s an outcome that defies logic but, as our ranking proves, on any given day the unthinkable can happen. That’s the magic of the Emirates FA Cup and we have seen it time and again throughout the competition’s illustrious history.”

Andy Ambler, Director of Professional Game Relations at The FA, added:

The commissioned research outlines the competition’s ability to regularly defy logic and will hopefully spark many fond memories. In its 150th anniversary season, the Emirates FA Cup retains the values of hope, opportunity and equality. Improbable results are part of the competition’s fabric, providing life changing moments for players, managers, fans and communities alike and I am sure there will be plenty more to come as the competition looks ahead to an exciting future.

Impact of IMI’s consultancy

The FA distributed their announcement highlighting the collaboration with the IMI on the most improbable FA Cup Third Round scorelines to national, local and regional media ahead of this year’s competition. The story generated coverage in titles such as the Daily Mail, The Sun, Daily Mirror and Daily Star, and was supported by interviews with Dr Rambojun for talkSPORT, BBC Radio Wiltshire and BBC Radio Bristol.

Consultancy support

Consultancy Services in Research and Innovation Services (RIS) at the University of Bath works with academics to provide guidance on consultancy, such as expert advice to businesses and external organisations.

Speaking of the support from Consultancy Services in RIS, Professor Kyprianou says:

I was extremely impressed with Consultancy Services who helped facilitate our research with the FA. They liaised with all the relevant stakeholders from the onset and provided an instantaneous process, enabling us to start working with the FA as soon as possible.

Julie Chambers, Consultancy Services Manager, who provides consultancy support to academics throughout the project life-cycle, says:

We are delighted to see this high-profile research from the IMI generate increasing interest and evidence early-stage impact, highlighting the benefits of consultancy to other researchers and organisations. This is a brilliant example of how academic research can be applied to the real-world and provide insight into challenges for a range of valued partners such as The FA.