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Thursday, May 13, 2021

The stands are empty

Disappearance of the home advantage in competitive sport could change the game, for better and worse

By: Editorial |
June 17, 2020 4:15:24 am
The stands are empty Though players will take some time to get used to the bewildering silence, they will eventually adjust to it.

A wave of optimism sweeps England, as the Premier League is poised to start again, albeit without spectators screaming and clapping from the stands. Though players will take some time to get used to the bewildering silence, they will eventually adjust to it. More worryingly, the absence of the crowd could even out the home advantage, as it has seemed to do in the Bundesliga.

In these “ghost games”, there has been a massive downswing in results for home sides in the league. Data produced by Gracenote shows that before the Bundesliga closed, home teams won 43 per cent of the 223 games played, with 35 per cent being away wins and 22 per cent draws. However, upon resumption in empty stadiums, wins for home teams have slumped to 21 per cent while away teams have won as many as half of their games. Likewise, home teams have scored fewer goals — 1.23 per match, down from 1.74 before the league’s suspension — in the silence of the stadium. What lifts the game, what makes players feel special, is the history etched into the walls, and the people that fill the stands.

While great teams win irrespective of where the game is played and the sample size of the survey is small — leaders Bayern Munich have won all six of their games including three at home — a boisterous home crowd could make a lot of difference, a hostile crowd could gnaw on the players’ mind. It’s why certain stadiums are feared, and it’s in these stands that some of the great sporting rivalries have originated. On the other hand, the evenness of a contest could make games more intriguing and competitive. Until the spectators start filling in, playing away from home wouldn’t be as taxing a proposition as it used to be. In times when every stream of life is forced to pause and recalibrate, so must football and footballers too.

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