Home advantage is often talked about in football; the twelfth man, the extra motivation provided by the crowd that can, and should, provide teams with the catalyst they need to go out there and take their game to the next level. That is of course presuming that the home crowd are on your side. I’m not suggesting that the home crowd would want their team to lose, but there are instances of crowds who have a negative agenda, whose reason for turning up is as much to demonstrate their frustration as much as it is to watch football. Take the atmosphere at Ewood Park this season, or at The Emirates towards the end of last season, both unhappy places to be, both crowds detrimental to the football being played by the home side. You can’t necessarily blame angry crowds of fans; to pay good money to see your side consistently under perform is exceptionally testing, even for the most patient and optimistic of fans.
However it is important that fans recognise that by booing their players, or by calling for their manager’s head at games, they are only hurting themselves.
It is a problem that affects all clubs. For the bigger sides the weight of expectation can prove a hindering factor and for the smaller clubs the lack of support and niggling abuse they receive from their fans can affect the players. Take Bolton for example; out of the sixteen points they have gained in the league this year only four have come at home. You would imagine that a team struggling in the league would be grateful for a little home support. However when things aren’t going your way as a team sometimes it is easier to play away from the eyes of the expecting crowds. Some players perform better in high-pressure environments, but not all. It’s pretty clear that Bolton’s best performances for the season have come away from home where there is less pressure to get the result, just in the same way that towards the end of the season when your place may be cemented in mid table then your team may in fact churn out some of their best performances of the season. Similarly Blackburn have got some of their best results of the season away from home such as their 2-3 victory at Old Trafford. The same can also be said of Wigan who have only picked up about 35% of their points for the season at home. If you collate that information you realise that on average around 60% of the points belonging to those in the relegation zone come from away games. But it’s not just the struggling teams that are affected.
At The Emirates at the end of last season you could tell that the Arsenal players wanted to be anywhere but their home ground. There’s nothing like 60,000 disappointed fans to remind you of your failings. One of the problems for Arsenal ever since they moved to The Emirates is what it, as a ground, embodies. When they first opened the stadium there were, commemorated around the stands, pictures of all the trophies that had been won over the years and spaces had been left to insert new pictures. However this season they closed those spaces. Optimism seems to have dipped on the red half of north London and it is reflected in the fans. It’s not just that the lack of noise in the ground, I know this because I am there every week, is almost deafening but playing in front of a quiet or disgruntled home crowd can inspire the opposition. The point of playing at home is that your supporters drown out the opposition fans. As soon as that ceases to the case, as it often does at The Emirates, then it is hardly like you are playing at home at all.
Clearly I’m not saying that the home crowd is always a disadvantage, nor am I saying that these grounds are always like this. However there does seem to be evidence amongst certain teams, especially in the lower half of the table, that playing in front of the home crowd can actually be more of a hindrance than a help.
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