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Home Advantage

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Home sweet home is not merely a sentimental old cliché; it makes practical common sense out on the football pitch.
Outsiders dismiss home advantage as superstitious nonsense but evidence proves the phenomenon is far more than 'mind games' trickery.
One recent weekend's action in Romania saw all eight top division matches finishing in home wins with no visiting opponent managing a goal.
Next, consider South Korea: they had never won a match at the World Cup finals in six appearances until last June. Then, empowered by their status as co-hosts, they not only won four of their seven matches but also ended up in the exalted position of fourth in the world.
World Cup history tells the same tale. The host nation has won the Cup in no fewer than six of the 17 tournaments, just over one in every three.
The level of the game is immaterial. Down in the English third division no fewer than 94 of the first 208 matches of the campaign ended in home wins, 63 as draws and only 52 as away wins.
Sports psychologist Simon Timson believes not only in the scientific attributes of home advantage but a balancing concept of 'away disadvantage.'
Timson, who works with UK Athletics and the English Institute of Sport, says: "Players perceive it to be more difficult to play away so they get more worried and anxious. That can impact on performance in rash or wrong decisions.
"At home you have familiar surroundings, social support from the crowd, support staff, coaching and medical teams - a familiar face at every door. You enjoy a stable routine, week in, week out.
"You control the environment."
Playing away means forfeiting various elements of that control.
"There's disruption to your normal preparation routines," says Timson. "Maybe you have to stay away overnight so your sleep quality suffers. There's disruption to your eating patterns; you don't have access to the same training facilities in the usual way.
"Not being able to control what you do creates the crucial perception of greater difficulty. By contrast, teams at home are more confident - therefore they play a more confident attacking game. More often than not they'll win. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Home advantage can also be assessed in its occasional absence. After one shaky performance against Kiev Dynamo Manchester United's captain, Roy Keane, blamed a lack of intimidatory home advantage on the "prawn sandwich" spectators who attended Old Trafford out of fashion rather than passion.
Sometimes clubs have gone beyond the bounds of propriety in seeking to enhance home advantage. Italian clubs, before UEFA got a grip, were notorious for the generous hospitality they offered visiting referees for European cup-ties.
Less sinister but similarly unwelcoming were the pre-match pleasantries employed by the Lincoln manager John Beck in the late 1990s.
His ploys ranged from tampering with the heating in the visitors' dressing rooms to aiming loud music at their door. The ball boys were accused of rolling the ball in the mud before returning it to the visitors but cleaning it for Lincoln.
As Timson says: "It's important to control the things you can. Do that and you can cope all the better with the rest."
Scientifically acknowledged then, home advantage is here to stay.



Keir Radnedge, December 2002

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