Most of us will be aware of football’s recent return. Bayern Munich have already wrapped up the title in Germany (again!); it really couldn’t be closer in Spain’s La Liga; and Liverpool remain two wins away from their first league title in 30 years. But, with no crowds in the grounds, how is this affecting teams, and might its impact be stronger for those teams closest to relegation?
If we take a look at the German Bundesliga, the first major league to return, there is some compelling evidence for the impact of the crowds. Much was made in the initial coverage of its return of the apparent difficulty home teams were having to win without their fans. But has this continued? Well, of the 73 Bundesliga matches so far without fans, there have been only 20 home wins. That works out as a home win percentage of around 27%. If you take all of the matches in January, February and March (71), the number of home wins in this time was 28. That works out as a home win percentage of over 39% – considerably greater than for the post-lockdown period.
Other major leagues have only resumed far more recently, so it is difficult to draw particularly meaningful conclusions from such a small sample size. But, let’s consider another country anyway for comparison. Spain’s La Liga, for example, has seen 35 fan-free games since its return, of which there were 13 home wins – a home win percentage of 37%. Again, the home win percentage over the first three months of the year, with fans, was far higher – at 50%.
Now, whilst I should stress that there is obviously some volatility in football (you are going to have some weeks where most of the good teams are playing away from home who may be more likely to win), this is still a fairly compelling statistic. Considering 70 matches is a fairly large sample size, and the vast percentage difference between matches with fans and those without cannot simply be put down to volatility. So now I guess we should consider exactly why!
For those who have never been to a football match, it may be slightly difficult to explain!… For those who have, you’ll know what I’m about to say. Fans going to watch their team play is what makes football so great. Speaking from experience, nothing can beat the atmosphere at your home ground when you’re the underdogs playing against the biggest team in the league. This is why I might suggest that, even if immeasurable, it is perhaps more difficult for those teams at the bottom, for whom every game is difficult, to play without their fans. Not to mention that even when the ‘big teams’ play against the so-called weaker teams in the league, sometimes the players need a roar from the crowd to fire them up.
So it seems like yes, home advantage does hold more weight than we might think. But, regardless of opinion, I think we can all agree that the sooner that fans can safely return to stadia around the country, the better.