Without crowds, away teams do much better. So what will the ref do to Arsenal?


By Tony Attwood

As you might have noticed, of late Untold has been focusing quite a lot on how ghost games (or games “behind closed doors” as the English media love to call them) produce different results from those played in front of crowds.  In short away teams do much better without a crowd.

Now a major part of this discussion involves the role of referees, following the research from the London School of Economics that shows that when professional referees watch matches on TV screens and are asked to report on fouls, the results depend completely on whether the referees are given recordings with the crowd noise on, or without crowd noise.

Links to our earlier articles are given at the end of this piece.  If you would like to read the full Reading University research paper that is here.

Until now Untold was one of the few places that was bringing the research from a variety of sources into this debate.  However the Guardian piece by Jonathan Wilson has now cited the University of Reading research we drew on, but has curiously left out the analysis into the influence of crowds on referees.  This came from Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, Professor of Management, Economics and Strategy at the London School of Economics, and was covered in our article on Crowdless Stadia Stats.

The Guardian’s comment is that “The Reading study notes that the most significant difference between games with fans and without is that away teams are shown 2.28 yellow cards per game with fans and only 1.90 without, which could reflect a change in their approach or the influence of a crowd on a referee, or some combination of the two.”

Except that the Reading research actually says, “Among the various effects from no fans being present, visiting players were cautioned significantly less often by referees for foul play. This suggests that
closed doors matches are different because referees favour the home team less in their decision

That comment which is taken directly from the Reading University report is in line with the LSE research showing that a referee hearing the crowd is more likely to call events in favour of  the home team, than a referee not hearing the crowd.

PGMO have, inevitably, been completely quiet on the subject since their last report claimed that their referees got 98% of all calls rights.

How the Guardian came to get this interpretation of the Reading University report wrong is, of course, not known.   But they do agree that “In the Bundesliga, cards for the away side have remained constant since the resumption, but for home teams have gone up from 1.7 per game to 2.2, which would appear a different manifestation of referees tending to be more lenient to home players when there is a crowd to influence them.”   And that is of course what the Reading and the LSE research shows.

As for the current situation, the Reading University report is completely clear “home advantage in professional football has nonetheless currently disappeared.”

Now we wait and see what will happen when Manchester City play Arsenal.   However this week’s Arsenal game will be played after the revelations about referees being biased by the crowd, which means PGMO officials will have a chance to deflect criticism away from themselves by, perversely, deliberately continuing with their previous bias in favour of the home team, in order to show nothing has changed!  If that happens then they will be able to argue that there was no bias in the first place and it was just a “German thing” or just these silly academics coming up with more fancy weird theories.

Meanwhile ESPN, a channel which like Sky and BT Sprout likes to support referees for fear of losing their licence to broadcast matches, came up with a most interesting comment on all this.

“Since the Bundesliga returned in front of empty stands… home teams have won 21.7% of matches (10 from 46 games), down from 43.3% before the shutdown of play in March.

“Home teams have also scored fewer goals — the pre-lockdown rate of 1.75 goals per game is now down to 1.28 — while the away teams’ winning ratio has risen from 34.83% to 47.8%. The same trends have been seen in Estonia (after 29 games there were just 11 home wins) and Czech Republic (after 32 games, just 10 home wins) since their leagues resumed when behind closed doors.”   So it is not just a German thing.

Will the PGMO be telling their officials to adjust to continue the previous bias, in order to explain the home/away difference as something that only affects European football because their referees are not as good as ours?  PGMO refs, as we know, are 98% accurate.

We await their next comment – and of course the outcome of the games.

An audience with Mark Pougatch – live

Arsenal Independent Supporters Association (AISA), which I have mentioned many a time before, as I am a member, is inviting all its members to an audience with Mark Pougatch.

Mark Pougatch, the TV and radio football broadcast journalist is also an Arsenal fan, and has agreed to join us for an evening of chat and reflection.

The event is open to all AISA members and will take place at 7.30pm on Monday next, June 15th  just ahead of the PL season’s restart.

If you are an AISA member you will receive details of how to log into the Zoom event in your email on Monday afternoon so for now all you need do is set yourself a reminder on the calendar.

If you have questions that you would like put to Mark then please send them directly to AISA’s chair drewdgray17@gmail.com


How the ghost games will affect football

One Reply to “Without crowds, away teams do much better. So what will the ref do to Arsenal?”

  1. Hope you are all well and looking forward to football.

    I am not sure I am

    The word bias in may respects conjures up a conscious act whereas the reality is more often than not a variety of factors are bubbling around.

    The irony is that this research paper although a little dated is worth reading in particular the contribution that experience plays ( in the PL no upper age limit) in reducing the impact of the home advantage


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