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What happened to home advantage?

What happened to home advantage?


It used to be the case that playing football at home gave teams a big advantage. But so far this year in the Premier League, more away teams have won. What’s going on?


Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, has the return of fans to Premier League stadiums post-pandemic actually hindered their team’s success?


“Gallagher… who finishes in style! And that surely has finished off Manchester City.”

Sky Sports Football

Last weekend in the Premier League, something peculiar happened.

“Lallana, Lallana, Trossard, Trossard, good feet, good goal! Goodness gracious me!”

Sky Sports Football

In the ten games across the weekend, just two were won by the home team. One was drawn – Liverpool were held by Brighton – and the remaining seven were away wins. 

You might think, well, that’s a freak event. Other than Manchester City losing to Crystal Palace, all the other results weren’t too out of the ordinary – Chelsea beat Newcastle, Leeds beat Norwich… so far, so normal.

What isn’t entirely normal is the overall picture across the Premier League this season.

There have been 100 matches played so far. 36 have been won by the home team. 38 have been won by the away side. 22 have been drawn.

36% of home wins is low. In fact, much lower than average. Five years ago, 49% of games were won by the home team. Four years ago, that figure was 46%. It went back up to 48% three years ago, then to 45%, then, the pandemic hit.

Fans were unable to go to matches. 

Stadiums became ghost towns, shouts from players and managers echoed around empty terraces.  Games came and went with zero fanfare. For a football fan, it was a dismal time.

And interestingly, something happened to the nature of the games. 

Home advantage dissipated and, over the course of the season, just 38% of games were won by the home team – and 40% by the away side. 

So what does this mean?  Simon Gleave, Head of Sports Analysis at the sports data company Nielsen’s Gracenote, has been looking into the phenomenon.

“I think for a long time, it’s been assumed that a lot of home advantages due to subconscious decision making by referees. And so without the crowds in the stadiums, that pressure from the crowds leading to those subconscious decisions just simply wasn’t there. And we saw the same pattern all over Europe, as I say, the UK or England was was extreme, the Premier League was extreme. But all over Europe, you saw fewer home wins than the normal when there were no crowds in the stadium. And there’s every chance that this was the reason, you know, what was always assumed was therefore sort of shown in reality with that period, and we had no crowds.”

Simon Gleave

It was as though football – without fans – became a completely level playing field, and last season we saw home advantage just disappear. 

That is, until now. We’re over a quarter a way through the Premier League season and the trend is being repeated.  In fact, the home win figure is lower than last season – despite the fans being back in the stands.

You’d think a miserable season like last year’s would mean fans would be more of a factor now they’ve returned.  After all, aren’t players supposed to be inspired by the atmosphere of a crowded stadium?

So what’s actually going on? 

“We have our Euro club index, which is a ranking of all football teams, actually, in every league that we that we have. If we can use the percentages that are calculated from that for matches to estimate how many home wins away wins and drawers we would have expected at this point in the season. And actually we would expect 46% home wins 30% away wins, whereas it’s 36%. Home wins and 38% away wins at this point.”

Simon Gleave

According to Nielsen’s Gracenote Euro club index, we should have seen 46% home wins by this stage of the season instead of 36%. 

It’s important to note that this is a picture that is seemingly affecting the Premier League only.  Every other professional league in the country is more or less in line with ‘pre-pandemic’ results. 

So might it be too early to draw conclusions? 

“I don’t think we can tell as yet because there’s only been 100 games. So it’s not very many. And what you find, if you looked a few weeks ago, if you looked at the situation up to seven games, was looking completely normal. So we need more matches really to really tell what’s going on. There’s no real reason to expect that this should be the case. Now that the crowds back, whereas Of course, last season, when there were no crowds who advantage did Yeah, more than disappear as as a way, teams won more than home chains in the UK. But at the moment, I’d say we need to wait a bit.”

Simon Gleave

But if the trend continues, what might explain it apart from the “the referee factor” we heard about earlier?  

There could be a few factors.  Football, especially at Premier League level, has increasingly become much more uniform. Pitches, for example, are much better than they used to be.  And changing rooms are too: the stories of away teams travelling to games to find their changing rooms insufferably warm and the showers icily cold, belong in the past.     

But, as Simon says, we’re only a quarter way through the campaign.  Let’s see where we are at season’s end. I, for one, will certainly be keeping a close eye on the home column as the results come in. 

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Ella Hill.