home ground advantage
March 7, 2006 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Why is home ground advantage such an issue in top level soccer (football)?

I mean, these guys are multi-million dollar professionals who fly around the country and around the world all the time to play games in front of all sorts of crowds, they surely couldn't have their routine upset by a foreign ground and crowd? And the referees are well paid and trained professionals, surely they're not often influenced by the crowd?

Or is it all rubbish and badly overstated as an influencing factor, simply because there's not enough else to talk about?

It becomes a huge matter when double points are awarded for away goals scored or the like.

Of course the issue isn't restricted to soccer, however it seems to be more of an issue for this game.

(Anyone objecting to my calling it soccer and not football, please don't bother posting about that, I really don't care, it's not relevant and you wont change my mind. Ta in advance.)
posted by wilful to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total)
Soccer pitches vary in size tremendously so the home team which gets to practice on it should know it better for things like depth of crosses than an away team. Also the home team has home support which is often much greater in number than away support. Home support can make an away team (and fans) feel very intimidated and perform poorly.
posted by BritishBestMan at 5:08 PM on March 7, 2006

Do not underestimate the power of a football crowd.

Take for example fortress Anfield.

It can be really quite intimidating to have 45,000 scousers screaming at you.
posted by gergtreble at 5:42 PM on March 7, 2006

Or is it all rubbish and badly overstated as an influencing factor, simply because there's not enough else to talk about?

While I don't know much about the actual effect of playing away vs at home, it's certainly not badly overstated. A quick look at win-lose-draw statistics home and away should tell you that.

It's possible, however, that the stats are something of a self fulfilling prophecy as teams are sometimes accused of "playing for the draw" in away games.
posted by juv3nal at 5:45 PM on March 7, 2006

The point is that the hosts play better than the opponent play worsen.

The hosts can't afford a shame before their public :)
posted by zouhair at 6:41 PM on March 7, 2006

Chelsea are believed to have intentionally left their pitch in a state of disrepair to gain a home advantage over teams used to immaculate surfaces. It's not a new idea by any means, one manager (if I remember correctly) used to flood his pitch for the same reason.
posted by MetaMonkey at 6:48 PM on March 7, 2006

I don't know much about soccer, but I've read about baseball teams with a fantastic infield cutting the grass really short because their batters can get more hits but their fielders are still able to catch the balls hit by the other team.
Just knowing general things about the upkeep of the field would be pretty useful. As would tens of thousands of people cheering for you.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:10 PM on March 7, 2006

>Soccer pitches vary in size tremendously

Is that true at a professional level? I had no idea. In baseball, all the fields are of (wildly) varying dimensions, and so there truly is some benefit to getting used to playing in front of Fenway's Green Monster, for example, but I assumed soccer fields were more like football (US) and basketball -- rigidly constrained.

I also think that there is an undeniable benefit to having cheering fans behind you. Even if I'm at a sporting event where I have no rooting interest, the adrenaline surge from the crowd always gets me interested in the game soon enough, and I'm not even playing.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:35 PM on March 7, 2006

Well the tactic didnt work for chelsea did it?
Out of the Champions League AGAIN. Beaten on ther own pitch then held to a draw infront of the Barca faithful. José will not be happy.

I would not discount the leverage that a good croud gives a home team, many times i have seen a side rally when their fans have sensed a weakness in the opposition.

This is perhaps why "soccer" is the most supported sport in the world. The sence of involvement the fans get. The feeling that by cheering you CAN infact change the outcome of the game. See for example last years stunning Champions league final, where at 3-0 down the Liverpool Fans were chanting "We're gonna win 4-3" they did not of course. They won it on penalties. And it was not at home. But it SOUNDED like it.

British best man does have a point there, no two soccer pitches are the same size. So a home team will be able to place its passes better. I know of a manager who changed the size of the pitch, when he joined the club, to the exact same dimentions as a very famout teams. He was an ex player of theirs and I guess he thought it gave them an edge...
posted by gergtreble at 8:45 PM on March 7, 2006

Famous, not Famout.

Sheesh. Its 4:45am here....

Rock steady: Yes all grounds are diffrerent sizes even at the top level. The rules state that pitches are allowed to be:

Length: minimum 90 m (100 yards)
maximum 120m (130 yards)
Width: minimum 45m (50 yards)
maximum 90m (100 yards)

So as you can see the width of pitches can vary wildly in size!
posted by gergtreble at 8:50 PM on March 7, 2006

I suppose thats not really different than the varying distances for baseball outfields.
posted by Atreides at 9:14 PM on March 7, 2006

Actually it was the Chelsea - Barcelona result that got me to thinking about the question.

I am surprised to learn so much pitch variation is allowable. They're huge tolerances.
posted by wilful at 10:37 PM on March 7, 2006

Yeah they are pretty big tolerences. I was shocked at the difference in the maximum and minimum widths myself!

Imagine your home ground is 90m wide and then you go to play at a 45m wide away game!

NONE of the passes would end up on the pitch!!!

Anyway heres hoping for a Liverpool win tonight....

By at LEAST 2 goals...
posted by gergtreble at 10:54 PM on March 7, 2006

The varying sizes mentioned above matter, but a huge part of it is psychological.

Look at NCAA Men's college basketball - it's the same thing. Even the best teams in the game are magnitudes more likely to lose a game on the road than they are at home.

Attitude, confidence, focus and clarity of thought are all very important factors in being successful at any sport -- and they're all easily affected by being in someone else's stadium -- you're away from home, the huge crowd is all against you, etc.

Add to that the aforementioned differences in size and quality of field and you can see what a huge difference it makes.
posted by twiggy at 11:12 PM on March 7, 2006

At some of the older grounds (e.g. Highbury, Fratton Park) the crowd is seated very close to the pitch, so the intimidation factor is even greater.

Many of the old stadia have gone now, especially at the top level. The football grounds I loved to visit as a kid, hidden away down streets of redbrick terraced houses in the poorest parts of town have gone, replaced by new ones, usually situated slightly out of town next to a retail park.

I know the old grounds lacked facilities, seating space and parking, but they had atmosphere. I miss the Baseball Ground, Roker Park, Filbert Street, Maine Road, the Victoria Ground, etc., etc. Next season Highbury will be turned into a block of yuppie flats.
posted by essexjan at 12:10 AM on March 8, 2006

What about the simply maybe the rigor and stress of travel coupled with sleeping in a hotel room? I'm not advocating it as the reason, but why shouldn't comfort play a role?
posted by nulledge at 5:58 AM on March 8, 2006

Especially if you have to take a boat to the match because you're scared of flying...

Old Trafford also has a huge reputation for home advantage. I'm sure I read somewhere about independent research which found that, of the 50:50 decisions at OT, over 90% of them went United's way. Though I can't find a cite, so take this with a pinch of salt.
posted by blag at 6:11 AM on March 8, 2006

It can be really quite intimidating to have 45,000 scousers screaming at you.

As Boris Johnson knows only too well...
posted by blag at 6:11 AM on March 8, 2006

I know it's a different kind of Football altogether, but let me give you another example. The American football team, the Tennessee Titans, started as the Houston Oilers. They moved to Tennessee, but while their new stadium was being built in Nashville, they played in Memphis. Memphis and Nashville have a historical rivalry and the fans in Memphis were less than cordial.

The Tennessee Oilers season in Memphis was terrible. Crowds booed or simply didn't come at all. The team's record was 8 and 8. The next year the team owners decided not to play in Memphis again and pushed up the move to Nashville. The reception in Nashville was quite the opposite as Memphis. Sell out crowds, rousing ovations even for disappointing field performances, the new Tennessee Titans were heroes in their new home. That season they went on to lose the championship Super Bowl by the slimmest of margins and yet received a tickertape parade upon their return to Nashville.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:04 AM on March 8, 2006

Take for example fortress Anfield.
posted by the cuban at 2:03 PM on March 8, 2006

Yes well not so much a fortress tonight.

Just goes to show. Home advantage doent always pay out.....
posted by gergtreble at 4:07 PM on March 8, 2006

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