As an avid football fan myself, I often wonder if all the effort I put into supporting my team from the stand really does help them to win the game. Therefore, I thought that I’d take a look at the phenomenon of the ‘home advantage’ (HA) and crowd support in professional football.
The most common definition of HA is from Courneya and Carron, (1992) who describe it as the phenomenon of the home team winning over half of the games played in their home stadium, when the same number of home and away fixtures are played during a season. Research on if HA really does exist in football shows consistent findings. Bray (1999) found that teams in the National hockey league won, on average, 17.5% more of their home games than away. Supporting this, Carmichael & Thomas (2005), found football teams who played at their own stadiums exhibited more accurate shooting and more effective attacking play. Nevill, Newell & Gale (1996), discovered that there was a HA effect on factors such as red cards and penalties scored, as well as games won by the home team. The HA in English professional football is said to be worth just over half a goal a game (Clarke & Norman, 1995).
One of the earliest theories that underpins the occurrence of HA is the theory of social facilitation, by Zajonc (1965) (cited in Shaver & Liebling, 1976, p. 260). This theory suggests that the presence of an observer produces an increased performance on tasks that are well rehearsed or dominant. However the presence would produce a decreased performance on unknown or complex tasks (Shaver & Liebling, 1976). Evidence to support the theory of social facilitation in a sporting context, includes Snyder, Anderson-Hanley and Arciero (2012), who found that competitive individuals showed greater intensity in a cycling task when they were watched by an audience. This is also supported by Rhea, Landers, Alvar and Arent (2003) who tested the effects of an audience on weightlifters. Results suggested that the presence of an audience would significantly increase the performance of the weightlifters. Zajonc (1965) (cited in Feinberg & Aiello, 2006, p. 1088) proposed that the presence of others increases the arousal or drive of the individual, leading to either a positive or negative response, depending on if the appropriate actions are dominant or not.
Taking into account Zajonc’s (1965) theory of social facilitation, it would be fair to assume that the presence of a crowd has a huge effect on the HA of a professional football team. Many studies have looked at the crowd effects on HA. Nevill, Newell and Gale (1996) found that the degree of the HA in English and Scottish football varied across different leagues, furthermore, the leagues with lower crowd sizes yielded a significantly reduced HA, than the leagues with larger crowds. This is supported by Goumas (2014), who investigated the effect of crowd size and density on the HA of teams in the UEFA Champions League. It was found that as the size of the crowd increased, so did the HA for a team. This was attributed to the number of goals scored by the home team increasing as crowd size increased, and the number of goals scored by the away team decreasing as the crowd size increased.
As well as improving the performance of the home team via social facilitation, another area in which the crowd can effects which is investigated in the HA literature is refereeing decisions. Downward and Jones (2007) researched the awarding of yellow cards during the FA cup competition. Results suggested that the likelihood of a member of the home team receiving a yellow card would decrease as the crowd size increased. This was supported by Unkelbach and Memmert (2010), who found that crowd density can predict the amount of yellow cards that were rewarded to the away team. They also found that the relationship was stronger when the crowd was closer to the pitch. In a second study, Unkelbach and Memmert (2010), put referees into a laboratory setting and played them clips from a recent football match, at either a high volume of crowd noise or a low volume of crowd noise. The referees were asked to decide if the player in the clip warranted a yellow card or not. The results indicated that the high volume crowd noise led to significantly more yellow cards that the low volume crowd noise. Unkelbach and Memmert (2010) suggest that these results are due to the referee making a connection between the noise of the crowd and the seriousness of the foul that has been committed by the individual.
Therefore, all the effort that the crowd (including myself) put into supporting their team onto victory, may not be in vein after all.