Thursday, October 28, 2010

RIP Paul the psychic cephalopod

So, farewell then, Paul the Psychic Octopus. The eight-tentacled, three-hearted cephalopod – whose FIFA World Cup 2010 predictions entertained us last summer as Capello’s Heroes limped out of the competition at a much later stage than they deserved – has died and gone to invertebrate heaven.

Paul was born – or rather, hatched – in an aquarium in Weymouth, but his natural wanderlust soon took him further afield.

At an early age he moved to Oberhausen in Germany and found a berth in the Sea Life Centre.

There, Paul accurately predicted the outcome of several Euro 2008 football matches  by choosing which of two boxes, labelled with the flags of the competitors, to open first. Inside each box was a tasty mussel or oyster as a reward.

Paul really hit his stride with this year’s World Cup, though, when he correctly foretold the result of every single match of Germany’s World Cup campaign.

 The football establishment closed ranks against him and lesser pundits such as Lineker, Hansen, Shearer, Tyldesdley and co shook in their collective boots.

Paul’s predictive skills were questioned in academia as well as the world of sport. Chris Budd, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Bath, was quoted by the BBC as saying that Paul’s success rate was no better than you’d get from tossing a coin.  “Mathematics can be spooky,” he said. You’re not wrong there, professor.

Be that as it may, all gritty rationalism got swept under the carpet when Paul hit the jackpot by predicting Spain’s triumph over the Netherlands in the final.

Paul was subsequently invited to make a victory tour of Spain, but his owners declined the offer, presumably fearing that the octopodophagous Spaniards might get carried away with the excitement of their win, and devour him in a stew of his own ink.

Not everyone was delighted with Paul’s predictions. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, claimed he was a tool of “western propaganda and superstition”.

And a hit squad from the Oxford English Dictionary was dispatched to Bath to deal with a certain blogger who was going round indiscriminately inventing words like “octopodophagous”.

Paul’s management team put him out to grass after the World Cup. But even now, before the mourning is over, conspiracy theorists are claiming that he actually died before the final in Soccer City, and that his last, most glorious, prediction was made by a double.

Why can’t they let the dead rest in peace? Paul was a true aristocrat among football pundits. (He had the blue blood to prove it – caused by haemocyanin, a copper-based respiratory protein, fact fans.) His memory should be left unsullied. De mortuis nil nisi bonum and that sort of thing.

Who now remembers Leon the porcupine, Mani the parakeet or Apfelsin the African red river hog, all of whom tried to emulate Paul’s predictive feats and failed?

No-one, that's who. Paul was the greatest. We shall never see his like again.

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