Probability of Harlow’s FA Cup giant-killing that set up Watford tie calculated

Harlow Town’s 1980 FA Cup giant-killing that set up a fourth round clash with Watford was as likely as being born on February 29, mathematical research has shown.

The non-league side stunned Leicester City with a 1-0 victory in the third round before they were knocked out 4-3 by the Hornets in the next round in front of a crowd of 24,586 at Vicarage Road. 

In the 150th anniversary year of the competition, The FA has teamed up with the Institute for Mathematical Innovation at University of Bath and Opta to identify a numerical probability for the most improbable Third Round scorelines from the past 50 years.

Using probability theory and data from more than 8,000 results, Harlow Town’s 1-0 victory was ranked eighth in the 10 least likely upsets with a one in 1,800 probability, even less likely than being born on a leap day (one in 1,461).

 

The equation used to calculate the probability

 

The match was a replay after the Hawks’ first meeting with Leicester at Filbert Street ended in a 1-1 draw.

“It was unbelievable to even get a draw at Leicester,” said Phil Tuson, the club’s former programme editor. “It was the only time I’ve ever cried at a football match.”

Tuson said Harlow were lucky after scoring with only one shot on target late in the game, but in the second the team was much stronger, with John MacKenzie scoring just before half time.

“We really did cause them some problems. Once we got our noses in front, I thought we were fine and we were gonna win it, which is strange to say but that’s how confident I was at the time.”

Tuson said he is still incredibly proud of his team.

At the time, Harlow Town were in the semi-professional Isthmian Premier League, while their opponents were near the top of the Second Division.

Extraordinarily, a young Gary Lineker played for the away team, which Harlow Town’s Twitter kindly reminded the former England international on Friday morning.

Lineker claims he was feeling ill with tonsillitis on the day but was too scared to tell his manager.

The Hawks almost secured a second upset in the fourth round, but lost 4-3 to Watford.

Tuson said: “We took the lead at the half, but then Watford came out and blitzed up four goals. It looked like they were gonna run us ragged, but all of a sudden, we got two more.

“We could have got the 4-4, but we had to end the cup run somewhere, and that was the way to do it – in a blaze of glory with the Match of the Day cameras there.”

MacKenzie’s second goal in the Watford game would feature on the Match of the Day’s Goal of the Month competition.

 

The FA teamed up with the Institute for Mathematical Innovation at University of Bath and Opta to calculate the probability of the most improbable Third Round scorelines from the past 50 years

The FA teamed up with the Institute for Mathematical Innovation at University of Bath and Opta to calculate the probability of the most improbable Third Round scorelines from the past 50 years

 

Other famous cup shocks involving Woking, Sutton United and Stevenage feature in the top 10, which is here:

  1. West Bromwich Albion 2-4 Woking, 1991 Probability: 1 in 15,959,312
  2. Hereford United 2-1 Newcastle United, 1972 Probability: 1 in 32,449
  3. Stevenage 3-1 Newcastle United, 2011 Probability: 1 in 7,712
  4. Birmingham City 1-2 Altrincham, 1986 Probability: 1 in 4,376
  5. Oxford United 3-2 Swansea City, 2016 Probability: 1 in 3,487
  6. Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City, 1989 Probability: 1 in 3,260
  7. Burnley 0-1 Wimbledon, 1975 Probability: 1 in 2,515
  8. Harlow Town 1-0 Leicester City, 1980 Probability: 1 in 1,800
  9. Derby County 1-3 Bristol Rovers, 2002 Probability: 1 in 397
  10. Newport County 2-1 Leicester City, 2019 Probability: 1 in 337

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