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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.


Want to know the importance of playing at home? Just do the sums. On average, home teams win twice as often as visitors.
Or listen as the results are read on radio or TV. Notice how the announcer's voice rises when the away team wins, as if the result, by its very nature, is a surprise. Which often it is, of course. Playing at home means defending your territory. Playing away means venturing onto someone else's patch. Football at its most tribal.
When the world's first football league was formed in London in 1888, one of its guiding principles was that members should face each other twice in a season, home and away. But for British clubs, finding a pitch was never enough. Whereas most European, Asian and African clubs rent publicly-owned stadiums for their home matches and have their club headquarters elsewhere, in Britain (but also in Spain, Portugal and other Latin countries), clubs have always owned and been based in their own ground. It is one of the enduring, yet unwritten principles of British football.
A club without the deeds to its own ground ­ a Wimbledon, say, or, a few years ago, Brighton (it really is very rare) ­ is pitied, as if it were not complete. Renting a ground is so rare that when Manchester City move to a new publicly funded stadium next August they will be the first ever in senior British football.
Ground sharing is equally anathema. Take the city of Liverpool, for example. Liverpool and Everton each have their own ground, barely 500 metres apart.
Both wish to rebuild. Thus, two new stadiums are to be constructed, each costing around £100 million. But try suggesting that the two should share ­ after all, the fans get on well, there are no geographical or religious differences to overcome, and it would save a fortune ­ and you will lambasted as a heretic.
Similarly if you were to suggest that Arsenal or Tottenham should play at Wembley. Impossible, say the fans. Wembley has to be absolutely neutral, untainted by any association with one club or another. If Wembley had a tenant club, how could it be a true national stadium?
Illogical perhaps. A waste of resources, certainly. But in Britain, home ownership, and therefore separate identity, is paramount.
There is, nevertheless, evidence that home advantage may be diminishing, in the Premiership at least. Last season the Premiership ratio of home wins to away wins was 14 to 11, not the usual 2:1.
One reason is that so many new stadiums have been built - including at Derby, Middlesborough, Sunderland, Bolton, Southampton ­ that even the home teams may feel less at home. Also, pitches today do not vary as they once did. Most are in tip-top condition, whereas in the old days everyone knew Derby was a quagmire, West Ham was cramped, Manchester City was enormous and Wolverhampton's was often heavy. Mind you, that was because the Wolves manager ordered the pitch to be soaked in water beforehand, to drain the opposition's strength!
Those days are gone, but clubs still play tricks, particularly when it comes to the visitors' dressing rooms. Even in the new stadiums these are never as comfortable as the home team's.
Some clubs even paint the walls in jarring colours, to unsettle the visitor's psyche. But the most common ploy is simply to turn up the dressing room heat in the hour or so before kick off, so visiting players get frazzled before they have even been booed onto the pitch!
Welcome home? You must be joking.



Simon Inglis, December 2002

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