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Paul the 'Psychic' Octopus

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I'm interested in whether the German team may have been aware of Paul's prediction prior to their match with Spain, and whether it may have affected them psychologically.
– h2g2 Researcher

The 2010 Football (or FIFA) World Cup competition in South Africa produced few highlights of note, some shock results and a multitude of complaints about the vuvuzelas1. However, there was one media story which began as a sideline, then suddenly achieved notoriety. It concerned a creature who'd never set foot2 inside a football stadium.

Paul the octopus was hatched in the Weymouth Sea Life Centre in England in 2008, but lived in a tank at the Oberhausen Sea Life Aquarium in Germany. His keepers, being dedicated football fans, trained their prize exhibit to perform a trick which was to become a worldwide phenomenon. The keeper placed Paul's favourite meal of mussels within two containers, each decorated with a country's flag, within his tank. One flag would be Germany's, and the other would belong to the forthcoming opposition during the 2008 European Championship. By selecting the mussels from a specific container, Paul 'chose' a winner between the two teams. During that competition Paul had an over-60% success rate, but he failed to pick Spain as the eventual winner.

Paul's worldwide fame kicked off during the FIFA World Cup in 2010, as he scored a bullseye with all five of Germany's World Cup games – including a shock defeat by Serbia in the group stages. The 'psychic' cephalopod3 kept the world on tenterhooks until he'd made his choices, with many punters getting richer by betting on the outcomes he predicted4. He correctly chose the winner of the first three German matches:

  • Germany would beat Australia in their opening match (result: Germany 4 Australia 0)
  • Serbia to win over Germany (result: Germany 0 Serbia 1)
  • Germany to beat Ghana (result: Germany 1 Ghana 0)

Germany finished top of their group, Group D, with six points, and the next round saw them pitted against 'the old enemy' England. When Paul picked Germany to win the hotly-contested match, his prediction became headline news in Germany. The German team, no doubt spurred on by their oceanic oracle, crushed the England side 4-1, sending them crashing out of the competition. Germany's next match was against mighty Argentina, who had their own legend, Diego Maradona, for a lucky charm. Maradona had lifted the World Cup trophy as captain of Argentina in Mexico in 1986, and he hoped to win the World Cup in 2010 as coach. Unfortunately for Maradona there was no fairy-tale ending: Paul chose the tank with the German flag; the Germans duly thrashed their Argentinian opponents 4-0, sending them home empty-handed.

In honour of the superstar in their midst, his keepers presented Paul with a replica World Cup trophy to decorate his tank. The next German match was the semi-final against favourites Spain. With the prize being a place in the final, the world's media collectively held their breath as Paul's prediction tanks were set up with a Spanish flag in one, and a German flag in the other. Hearts sank in Germany as Paul went for his favourite grub in the Spanish tank, and Spain won the match 1-0. By now, the Spanish media were seemingly as interested in Paul as they were about the upcoming final against the Netherlands. The third-place playoff between Uruguay and Germany finished 3-2 in Germany's favour, completing Paul's 100% success rate for German matches. All that was left to forecast now was who would lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy and hold the title of World Cup winners for the next four years. Probably the whole of Spain rejoiced as Paul predicted Spain would lift the trophy, and Spain eventually won 1-0.

Following his unbeaten World Cup run, Paul was shielded from the constant media attention by his keepers in Germany. Even though the Spanish government offered Paul a safe haven, it was declined and he resumed his previous job of entertaining children. When the question of who would host the 2018 World Cup came up, however, Paul's previous owner Nicola Hamilton, manager of the Weymouth Sea Life Centre, stated that Paul would be backing the England bid. The news excited former England star John Barnes so much that he gushed: Paul becoming an official ambassador is tremendous for the bid campaign.

Unfortunately, Paul never got to realise that particular dream. He died peacefully in his tank on 26 October, 2010, at the ripe old age of two years5. Juicy gossip and conspiracy theories abound though; was he poisoned by a jealous Kazakhstan betting syndicate, or had an octo-fatwa been issued and fulfilled? Those are not the most outlandish thoughts on the 'net either! There are even rumours of a film in the pipeline entitled Who Killed Paul the Octopus? with Hollywood A-listers clamouring for parts, allegedly.

The England 2018 World Cup bid representatives pulled out all the stops: millions were spent on the presentation and three 'lions' – Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron, and arguably the most famous footballer in the world, David Beckham – were dispatched to Zurich to promote the cause to the FIFA executive committee. But it was all to no avail. England exited in the first round on 2 December and the honour of hosting the 2018 World Cup eventually went to host virgins Russia. Perhaps if England had had Paul the psychic octopus on the team the outcome might have been a different kettle of fish.

Shrine for Superstar Paul

Paul's remains were cremated6 and placed in a gold leaf-covered urn, but luckily for his fans that was not the end of the mussel-loving mystic's story. The German Sea Life Centre where he lived and performed his unbeaten run of World Cup predictions then commissioned a suitable tribute for their superstar cephalopod. A two-metre-tall replica of Paul mounted upon a giant World Cup football was unveiled at the Oberhausen aquarium on 20 January, 2011. The urn containing Paul's ashes is inside the football on which his likeness rests, so it's likely to become more of a shrine to the world-famous octopus than just a plastic statue.

1The noise emitted by a vuvuzela reached 127 decibels in tests; that's louder than a car horn at one metre away (120 decibels), but not quite as loud as a pneumatic drill (130 decibels and also the pain threshold).2He didn't even possess a foot, with his appendages being arms. 3Paul was also nicknamed 'the psychic squid' by some newspapers, just because it sounded better.4One newspaper published the stunning fact that a £10 accumulator on all of Paul's World Cup picks would have netted £3,000 at the bookies.5Which is just about how long octopuses normally live.6Did they play vuvuzelas at his funeral, I wonder? – H2G2 Researcher

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