One of the most sustained patterns in sport likely throughout its organized structure is the home advantage. Whether just to evenly match the odds or stick to the norm- results over time indicate, a team playing in their own surrounding will win more than 0.5 of the time.
To this effect there is a wide consensus among football observers, pundits and sports economists that the higher advantage (referee bias, crowd intimidation and hostility etc) always rests with the home team.
How important is home advantage in football though? Whether you watch football at your local, at home or even follow the action on social media- the discussion mostly before the game will revolve around the home team having the higher hand (always even under pressure at times to maintain a record).
It’s not just in a league format that this system is taken seriously, when drawing for competitions like the CAF Champions League, The Top 8 and The FKF Cup –the deciding second leg at home is favourable to playing away with a result still in the balance.
But just how important is it? To what extent are the odds of victory improved by playing at home? To examine such a subject, the best way is to look at the past results. To get us going, let’s take a look at the KPL 2013 table and examine some of the most visible trends.
Of the 16 sides, only two teams (Gor Mahia and Tusker FC) won more away games than games at home. An overall picture, though, clearly spells out that 11 out of the 16 teams had outright better records at home than away. In some cases such as Kakamega Homeboyz (6 home wins, 0 away wins) and Western Stima (6 home wins, 0 away wins) – it is difference in form or just a result that separates the two sides at the end of the day. NOTE- while Homeboyz got relegated, Western Stima just finished 3 points ahead of them.
The results are no anomaly- the past four seasons for example have reported a home win ration of approximately 42.5% compared to just 24.7% away side victories. Could it be that increased crowd attendances and crowd ardor of KPL match days make home sides chances of victory increase?
Using Jim Albert and Ruud H Koning’s book, Statistical Thinking in Sports, we can see that the figures almost equate well to those of international football. (Assuming that the difference comes in that in the KPL in the past, two or three teams at times shared the same home ground while the Nairobi Derby was always played at a Neutral Ground) Analyzing nearly 9000 matches between 1993- 2004, they note that international sides won 50.3% of home matches, while just losing just 25%.
The anomalies just don’t stop there- especially in leagues like the Kenya Premier League where 2 or 3 matches haven’t been played in the last 4 years because of one reason or the other.
Conclusively though, the general trend visible in this league is that the home team can expect to win somewhere in the region of half their home fixtures, while the away side just victorious in just a quarter or less of the time.
Other factors though that should be remembered when looking at the statistics above is the fact that even though the KPL is fast coming of age- a few inconsistencies like home teams scheduling their matches at opponents home grounds (read gate collections, security apparatus and even convenience) don’t help give a perfect analysis and interpretation of the situation.
In most cases though, the other decisive factors are mostly driven by mind-sets and beliefs. How would you explain referees suddenly bowing to pressure from the home crowd or a player easily going down in the opponent’s area without even a touch? The atmosphere can be hostile, difficulties in being able to run on a side of the pitch because of the taunts and abuse from fans and in some cases- even harassment by the hosts- all in an aim of getting an advantage.
There must be much more to this beautiful game than just psychology that goes without saying- but to dismiss its impact on results would be rather naive. Players are not machines, immune to changes in their surroundings. If that wasn’t the case then all sport would be much duller and non-exciting.
Winning your home games and picking up points away from home has forever been ‘in our eyes’ the route to success in football. As an argument, then would you agree, it’s much backed up by statistics?