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How can we explain home advantage in football?

How can we explain home advantage in football?

Home advantage is a much explored phenomenon in the sporting world, and although there are conflicting views regarding the principal reason for its existence, few deny that it is real. It is particularly prominent in football, where playing on your own patch almost always increases your chances of victory in any given encounter.

In the 2018/19 English Premier League, the home side won 181 games and the away team triumphed in just 128 matches. Only one of the division’s 20 clubs collected more points in away matches than home ones.

However, a research paper written by Marek and Vavra leaves the results to one side. Instead, they consider goal difference when attempting to get to the bottom of home advantage. This provides a deeper, more thorough level of analysis. After all, if a team loses 2-1 at home but 7-0 away, they have clearly performed worse on the road. Treating these results as a defeat and nothing more is an error – they still got a better result at home.

The duo did not each any definitive conclusion, but they did introduce the above concept. They also pointed out that, in the 2016/17 campaign, Swansea City and Newcastle United showed evidence of a home advantage. Swansea is in Wales and Newcastle is in the northeast of England, meaning most opponents had to travel long distances to play them at the Liberty Stadium and St James’ Park respectively. Perhaps, then, location in relation to the competition can influence the extent to which a team benefits from home advantage.

This issue is particularly pronounced in the United States, where the distances are even larger. In the NFL teams can travel more than 2000 miles for a match, which puts the distance between Bournemouth on the south coast and Newcastle in the northeast (350 miles) into perspective.

A study by Oberhofer, Philippovich and Winner shows that distance and travel does have an effect on the scoring and concession of goals. When the distances are larger, a team could have even stronger home advantage. Competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League pit teams from across Europe against one another, and many will have to travel for hours upon hours before reaching their destination. In such circumstances the home side’s chances of victory are surely boosted.

Another potential reason for the existence of home advantage is the partisanship of the crowd. Being roared on by thousands of your own supporters can be beneficial to the home team; on the flip side, visiting sides can sometimes be intimidated by the atmosphere that awaits them on alien soil.

Alex Krumer and Michael Lechner added an interesting extra dimension to this debate when they discovered that home advantage disappears in Germany’s top flight, the Bundesliga, when games are not held on a weekend – an intriguing finding.

On top of this, a study by Nevill, Newell and Gale in the Journal of Sports Sciences uncovered evidence that away sides are more likely to give away a penalty or have a player sent off. This could be because the referee is subconsciously more likely to favour the home team, or it could be the case that the home team is likely to have more possession of the ball and therefore will probably be on the receiving end of more fouls. A presentation at the Math Sport International Conference (June 2017) suggested that the former explanation is more probable because more red-card decisions are subsequently overturned on appeal.

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