Why Playing Away From Home Is Hard

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.

Travel

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.

Fans

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:

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4 responses to “Why Playing Away From Home Is Hard

  1. I thought it was on this site, but perhaps not, that there was some research that showed that home advantage, whilst real, had been declining over the years. I think the increasing comfort of travel was the main reason given.

    There was also something about new stadium’s seeing that advantage decline, as you say in Arsenal’s case, with 24% of that advantage being said to be familiarity with the ground (this wasn’t in soccer though).

    ——–
    One factor identified as contributing to the home advantage in sport is familiarity with the local playing facility (Pollard, 2002). This study compared home advantage during a team’s last year in an old stadium to their first year in a new stadium. The records of thirty-seven North American professional baseball, basketball, and hockey teams that moved to new stadiums within the same metropolitan area between 1987 and 2001 were analyzed. The results showed a significant reduction in home advantage for teams performing in their first year in a new facility. Taking into account possible confounding factors such as crowd size and crowd density, Pollard quantified the effect of familiarity with the local playing facility as accounting for an estimated 24% of the home advantage.

  2. I thought it was on this site, but perhaps not, that there was some research that showed that home advantage, whilst real, had been declining over the years. I think the increasing comfort of travel was the main reason given.

    There was also something about new stadium’s seeing that advantage decline, as you say in Arsenal’s case, with 24% of that advantage being said to be familiarity with the ground (this wasn’t in soccer though).

    ——–
    One factor identified as contributing to the home advantage in sport is familiarity with the local playing facility (Pollard, 2002). This study compared home advantage during a team’s last year in an old stadium to their first year in a new stadium. The records of thirty-seven North American professional baseball, basketball, and hockey teams that moved to new stadiums within the same metropolitan area between 1987 and 2001 were analyzed. The results showed a significant reduction in home advantage for teams performing in their first year in a new facility. Taking into account possible confounding factors such as crowd size and crowd density, Pollard quantified the effect of familiarity with the local playing facility as accounting for an estimated 24% of the home advantage.

  3. In an interview I did with Dario Gradi of Crewe a while back on the subject of teams playing away from home – he was of the opinion that 75% of refereeing decisions were in favour of the home team.

  4. “the opinion, expressed by an established football journalist, that ..home/away advantage was a mystery”: so he’s never played football (or rugby) himself, then? What a twit.