Football matches are being played with no fans in the crowd, but what difference does it make? We have a closer look here.
Are Matches Being Played on a More Level Field without Fans?
The 2020/21 Premier League campaign is well underway and after eight game weeks it is pretty safe to say that we have seen some results that nobody would ever have imagined at the start of the season. For example, we are sure that not many would have predicted that Aston Villa, who survived relegation by a point, would batter Liverpool, the reigning Champions, 7-2 or that Spurs would stick six goals past Manchester United. Many people believe that this is because there are no fans in the stadiums due to the current world situation, so I am going to have a look at just how much the playing field might be levelled when fans are absent.
Referees Will be Less Biased
Football fans always believe that refs are biased towards their team and, to be fair to them, this was the case for a while. When World War II came to an end, football teams were more likely to lose away matches because the rowdy home supporters had a big influence on the decisions that the officials made. This home advantage still exists and is thought to be around 60% in football.
However, Alan Nevill, who is a sports professor at Wolverhampton University, believes that home advantage is something that has become less relevant over the last few years. Before the two major wars it was estimated that home advantage was as good as a goal, but nowadays it is believed to be worth about half a goal, which could still be plenty to play a vital role over the course of a campaign. It could also play a vital part in whether you win or lose a bet that you have made.
I was at Premier League match one day between Manchester United and Aston Villa, and I got chatting to an Irish guy who was standing beside me. As it turns out, he works for a sports betting comparison site in Ireland, and he, just like Nevill, also believes that home advantage is not as relevant as it once was. In fact, he told me that it is a wise move not to always bet on the home side to win nowadays, which is a tip that has helped me quite a bit. He told me that he works for a bookie comparison site called betinireland.ie, and it has really helped me out when it comes to sports betting, especially since I now get better odds than the platform that I used to use.
Additionally, researchers from Harvard have proven that home teams score 0.1 extra goals for every ten thousand fans that are in the stadium. They believe that this is because of the influence that the crowd has on the referee, who will be more likely to send an away player off or award a penalty to the home team.
However, the 2020/21 Premier League season will be played with no fans in attendance, meaning that the away teams could get fairer outcomes than usual. When a strong tackle is made and there are 30-40,000 fans screaming for a penalty or a free-kick, the referee will start to doubt himself and will be influenced by the noise, even if the tackle was perfect. Due to the influence that noise can have on the decision that a referee makes, Nevill believes that VAR replays should be muted so that it does not influence the referee’s final decision. With no fans inside the stadium, the officials will need to make the decision based on what they think, meaning that there will likely be fewer biased decisions made.
Teams Will Play Better in the Big Matches
When it comes to the big matches in the season, there is proof that having no fans in the stadium can help a team play better. Back in the 80s, a psychologist, by the name of Roy Baumeister, and his colleagues analysed the archives for America’s Major League Baseball. Their results found that teams lost about 66% of the games that they played when they needed just one win for the title. Similar effects can be seen with golfers when they are playing on a home course as well as ice hockey teams playing for Stanley Cup glory in front of their own fans.
When a footballer makes a sloppy mistake and 40,000 fans all moan at once, it will have a big impact on their confidence levels. Additionally, if a team is winning by two goals in a vital match, and their opponents score a goal with around ten minutes left, then the nervous energy from the fans will quickly transfer to the team on the pitch, and there is a high chance that they will let in another goal. We are sure that you can remember a number of times where you have seen your team throw away points with not long left in the game. However, this transfer of nervous energy is obviously not going to happen when there is nobody sitting in the stands.
While we are aware that there are teams and footballers that love playing in front of big crowds and will be spurred on to perform even better when there are 40,000 people cheering them on or baying for blood, we feel that, more often than not, having nobody in the stands during a football game is a big leveller.