I was reading some newspaper or other on a late train home last week when I came across the opinion, expressed by an established football journalist, that all football pitches were the same and that home/away advantage was a mystery.
Of course, it isn’t so, and all the reasons why it isn’t so are fairly obvious. Here they are.
You have to get to the game. This is more tiring than not travelling. And home games usually mean not staying in a strange hotel away from everything familiar. There’s a lot of travelling in football at most professional and semi-professional levels, but top managers still regard it as sapping.
All Football Pitches Are Not The Same
The rules of football specify a range of pitch sizes, not an absolute standard, which is why a club will, for instance, widen or narrow their pitch to suit their style of play. Off the top of my head, I believe Goodison Park is currently the largest pitch.
What’s more, what surrounds the pitch – stands, running tracks, advertising bits and pieces – are all different. Footballers have to know exactly where they are on the pitch in relation to their team mates moment by moment. One way they do this is via the pitch markings, but familiarity with a ground enables them to use pitchside gubbins to place themselves more accurately. When Arsenal first moved to Ashburton Grove, Thierry Henry pointed out that the home team were every bit as unfamiliar with their surroundings as the visitors, and that he was having to work hard on his pitch navigation.
It goes without saying that you play more easily with support in the stands than with opposition. But the unwritten rule in football is that abuse from supporters is “water off a duck’s back”. Don’t you believe it. Even the most experienced and skilled of public speakers prefer an attentive and interested audience over a crowd of yawners and texters. Multiply that to a crowd of 40,000 and allow them to shout and swear at you, even to throw things at you, and see how you feel. Some players undoubtedly tune the crowd out – but it won’t be all.
There are other factors, but those will do for now. Here is a beautiful example of a stadium which, big when built, can only have become ever more intimidating over the years. It scarcely looks like a place for playing games these days. Some people will rise to the occasion of playing here – others will feel crushed and try to hide. Wait till we get them back to our place: