Despite media denials, away advantage now outweighs home advantage

By Tony Attwood

Back in August as this season was about to get under way, the Guardian published the article “Home advantage prevails despite absence of fans.”

You might think that pretty well does it for the approach that Untold has been taking which is that

a) The home benefit has vanished

b) The reason is because referees are influenced by the home crowd.

The report then goes on to say that “The effect of a crowd on sporting performance is a longstanding area of research. The obvious explanation for home advantage has always been that a crowd gees on its team and intimidates opponents. Other arguments include familiarity with surroundings and the possibility of fatigue in a travelling team.”

Well, no, because the research undertaken as London School of Economics showed absolutely clearly (and this has never been contradicted) that the home crowd influenced not the players but the referee – something that for some reason the Guardian totally failed to note in its report. It doesn’t even mention the LSE research.

The blog “85 points” ran an article which looked at home advantage historically and found that “the percentage of home wins in English football has certainly decreased over the last 120 years, particularly in the post-war era where there has been a steady decline.  But it found home advantage was still there – as any quick look at league tables before the pandemic will show.

But that report, like so many before and since, did not even consider if referees could be influenced by the crowd and they contemplate “The increasing professionalization of the sport, including improved training methods, increased financial rewards and better, more consistent officiating has almost certainly played its part gradually eroded the natural advantage provided by playing on home turf.
“Another interesting proposition is that home advantage derives from a territorial urge to repel interlopers; as a motivational factor, it is reasonable to think that this would be felt most keenly by players who are from the same area as team they are playing for….”

It’s all getting a bit wacky and hypothetical, although there is no denying – home advantage was real.  But the report ails to give what is perhaps the most important data – how many points are won by home and away teams this season, compared with 2019/20 (which was partially played under lockdown) and the season before for which lockdown had not been invented.

In 2019/20 most of the season was played in the normal way, with crowds present.   In that season the home teams won 608 points and the away teams won 440 points between them.   Showing a clear benefit to the home teams.

In 2020/21 in which the whole season so far has been played in lockdown conditions with no crowds, the numbers are 85 points won by home teams and 106 points by away teams.  The away teams now have the advantage.

Let’s do that with percentages:

In 2019/20 1048 points were won under the 3 points for a win and 1 each for a draw accounting system.   That means 58% of the points were won by home teams and 42% by away teams.

In 2020/21 there have been 191 points won using the same accounting system.  44% have been won by home teams and 56% by away teams.

Put another way away teams are up from 42% of the points to 56% of the points – a huge leap.

To verify the sorts of numbers we are seeing, let’s go back to the last year in which all games had crowds: 2018/19.  614 points were won by home teams and 455 by away teams.  So out of a total of 1069 points that season, 57% were won by home teams and 43% by away teams.   Here are these figures as a table

Season Home percentage of points Away percentage of points
2018/19 57% 43%
2019/20 58% 42%
2020/21 44% 56%

Which raises the question – why is the media starting to tell us that this is all a fantasy and that home advantage is still real?

The most obvious example is that this is simpler.  By restricting the reason for home advantage to the fact that players feel more at home, and they get support from their crowd, and that they are now adjusting, that helps them avoid the awkward question raised by the LSE research that referees are influenced by the crowd.  Take away the crowd and the refs become fairer.

Now we know from our coverage of the legal cases in Switzerland going on between the state and Fifa, the British media will not cover certain topics in football, because it makes international football look bad – and they want to cover international football.  So I guess here we have the same.  These figures make referees look bad.

And we can’t have that can we?

We might of course ask why the media doesn’t want to criticise referees, when fans do it all the time.  But perhaps I’ll leave that for another day.


5 Replies to “Despite media denials, away advantage now outweighs home advantage”

  1. The PGMOL and/or footballing authorities in general clearly have some sort of hold over the mainstream media. If they didn’t the media would be all over this like a rash. Proven bias among top flight referees is a massive story, just a sniff of it should make newspapers drop everything to go investigating. As you’ve pointed out quite rightly before Tony, the question isn’t ‘are referees biased?’, it’s ‘why are the media so vehemently against reporting it’ and trying to find out the reasons behind it.

  2. What this phenomenon suggests to me is not that referees are or were biased, but that they are human. (And because they are human, some may be randomly biased, if mostly unconsciously, as for example Mike Dean might have been unconsciously biased because of animosity between him and AW).
    Why the media is not picking up on this is curious though. Maybe incompetence rather than conspiracy.

  3. So are all the refs biased in Italy, Spain, Germany etc?
    Similar stats all over the top flight leagues in Europe I am sure.
    Not saying the referees are not influenced by home crowds, that’s pretty obvious but its hardly evidence that our own English referees are corrupt. For if so you have to apply it to most leagues surely?

  4. Several factors raise suspicion Rob. One is the English league seems to have the most variation. Another is that the media has started publishing articles saying the away bias is now over and was just a blip, which is not true for this season’s figures. Another is that PGMO, unlike many of its counterparts is a highly secretive organisation which reveals no details of its workings. Another is that the PL has fewer referees than other leagues. Another is that some clubs get the same referees over and over again (which of course is more likely to happen with fewer referees available but even allowing for that, the selection of refs is strange.
    Put that lot together and it is not a bad idea to have a look at data, and if it looks curious, then to wonder why.

  5. @ Tony

    Not forgetting Riley’s claims that refs got 98% decisions correct; gave no evidence to support that; claimed VAR would improve their decision making a further 3%; and the media simply regurgitated these statements without one question as to how this could be true or where the evidence was to support these claims.

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