Home advantage has always played a big part in football betting. There has always been the assumption that a team at home is more likely to win than if they are playing away. However, a new study from the University of Portsmouth in the UK has brought into question just how important home advantage is – at least in the English leagues.
What has changed about home advantage?
Research published in the Soccer and Society journal and led by Dr Tom Webb, a sports scientist at the University of Portsmouth have shown that football in the UK has changed beyond recognition over the last few decades and that home advantage has steadily eroded.
Dr Webb pointed to the improved professionalism and fitness of referees in the English game as one of the main things that has changed. Refs are nowadays less likely to be swayed by the crowd and are more likely to be close to action.
“Referees have never before been subject to such close scrutiny. As well as fans, there are cameras watching their every move and pundits and experts analysing their every decision. It was inevitable the standard in refereeing would rise.”
What is home advantage?
Home advantage in sport is down to four factors. Firstly, the impact of travel on a visiting team along with playing in unfamiliar conditions. Then there is the bias of decisions towards the home side from the referee, and the effects of the crowd on players, the referees or both.
The behaviour of referees make up quite a large part of these factors. Historically, home fans would expect that they could sway a referee’s decision making process by creating noise and hostility at the right times. In English football this would see some of the lesser assertive referees actively seen as “homers” as they were so easily swayed by the home crowd into decisions such as showing cards or denying fouls.
What does the research into home advantage show?
Dr Webb had earlier conducted research into home advantage and found a dramatic fall since the 1940s. This study was to examine in depth the reasons for such a fall-off by interviewing 18 people, including referees, former referees, referee assessors, referee coaches, managers and administrators associated with refereeing.
One of those who took part told researchers: “From when I started back in 1988 to now, I think referees probably get 100 times more support and have a lot more information and guidance than they’ve ever had.”
Another said the use of video playback meant it was now routine to review decisions and that he and colleagues also discuss every game, highlighting every decision that was handled well or could have been handled better.
How much does home advantage effect the Premier League?
Statistical tables show that home advantage is still pretty important. Of the 20 teams in the Premier League, only Manchester United and Crystal Palace have picked up more points away from home after 20 games, and only three teams (Arsenal, Palace and Manchester City) have scored more goals away from home than at home.
Home advantage is also shown in the goals conceded column with only Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion conceding more goals at home than away.
What this would suggest is that while home advantage isn’t as important as it once was (unless you’re Burnley who have taken 96% of their points total at home), it’s still vital for Premier League teams at least to make the most of it.