If you really want to be a footballer, according to today's issue of Nature, then make sure you are born between September and November - the first three months of the season. Gazza was born in May.
Research by Ad Dudink at Amsterdam University's Department of Psychology has uncovered a 'high incidence of elite athletes born in the first quarter of the competition year'. The figures for the Premier League are striking: 288 out of 761 players in 1991-92 had birthdates between September and November, whereas only 136 had birthdays between June and August.
Dr Dudink writes: 'My results imply that many athletes in organised sports may never get a fair chance because younger children in any school year-group will be at a disadvantage compared to the older children.' His study echoes a study of academic ability made by 12 local authorities in Britain. On average, pupils born between September and December got better results than those born between January and April, and both groups did better than pupils born between May and August.
According to Dr Dudink's theory, some of the giants of British football should never have made it: George Best was born in May; Denis Law in February. But Bobby Charlton (11 October) does fit the scientific stereotype.