After the dramatic extra-time win against Denmark, England now sit one game away from claiming a first major mens tournament win since 1966. A fact they'll be reminded of a lot over the next few days.
The England team carry with them the distinguished “home advantage” of Wembley stadium. Home Advantage is something that is highly valued by fans and the media alike but what actually gives people this sought-after advantage?
I mean, it would be naive to claim that it doesn’t exist, but yet surely on a physical level, a grass pitch with two goals is an even playing field no matter what else is built around it, or, who else is screaming at you. Same field. Same ball. Same conditions for both teams. Right?
If we put aside the effects of distance travel, the phenomenon of the home advantage is predominantly psychological (be that with the referee or the players) and if you look at the Sport Psychology research, it paints a picture that one might expect: Higher winning percentages exist when teams play at home.
It doesn’t matter the sport… and there are no real surprises there. Playing at home helps. Except for when we look at a different type of situation. The type of game where outcomes matter. In these games, it’s been shown that playing at home doesn’t offer the same performance enhancement magic.
This is still not conclusive, but home advantage during playoff games, or big games, games like, um, one where you’ll break a long drought or win a major championship, can actually become home disadvantage.
The home disadvantage in play-off games might occur because the supporters are perceived to be expecting of a positive result, and this places an extra pressure on the people out in the middle.
If you think of an overly vocal parent supporter it can kind of make sense. Imagine you are a kid throwing a ball in and your Mum or Dad are standing behind you. You’re consciously aware they are there, watching, cheering, or just lingering. Yeah, they want you to succeed and they might let you know it through their voice. But, is this perceived, by you, as an expectation on yourself to perform? and if so, is this expectation on you adding to the pressure you feel and making it harder to do your job? Do you feel like you HAVE to, rather than really WANT to?
This brings me to the point of England’s situation, the Wembley “advantage.” If they were playing in say, San Siro in Milan, the players might actually experience less pressure and feel less expectation from the Italian crowd. Although, there would always be a fairly large contingent of both sets of fans. I am not saying they won’t be able to overcome any perceived expectations on Sunday, but we can’t always assume the home crowd is like a 12th player on the pitch. The stats show that it just isn’t the case.
Fact is, big games with big outcomes are not easier because they’re played at home. They’re not easy away either. But if there is a lot riding on an outcome we can’t always assume the home advantage plays a part in success.
Research from 60 years of World Series Baseball showed that when a team was close to winning, i.e. they needed to win the last game to win the series, they only won at home 39% of the time. The data collected from NBA basketball also found similar results.
Football however does involve the huge impact of the referee’s subjective decision making. Where his/her decisions can have a massive impact on the outcome. Often much more impact than in the above Sports. In fact, it could only be the referee’s influence, or rather how much he is being influenced, that contributes to a home advantage. A statistical analysis from the English Premier League found that a trend that cards and penalties were more numerous for away teams. This supports what might be a home advantage via the referee. Some would say England may have already reaped the rewards of this phenomenon...So anyway, before we chalk up the English home advantage, spare a thought that maybe this could actually be an advantage for the Italians. Although, it might just depend on how much the referee is influenced!!