Insight

Energy hush

Home advantage has been lost as coaches struggle to find an alternative to the adrenaline rush of 50,000 screaming fans

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Rodrigo Fortes

“We started winning the game when our bus turned at the roundabout and we saw the reaction of the people.” Those were the words of Diego Simeone in February last year, referring to the spectacle outside the Metropolitano Stadium prior to his Atlético de Madrid side’s 1-0 Champions League victory over Liverpool: the stirring songs of their supporters and a sky filled with red smoke.

Liverpool do not need telling the power of the 12th man: in this season without spectators, Anfield has become a diminished fortress. There was no comeback for the Reds against Real Madrid in April’s quarter-final second leg; without a fervent crowd to unsettle them, Madrid’s players had time for an extra touch on the ball according to one experienced coach. And on the same night in Germany, Dortmund fell short in their own fightback against Manchester City.

Results highlight that, in empty grounds, home advantage is not what it was. The Champions League group stage witnessed more away wins than in any previous campaign this century: 36, compared with 40 at home. Of the eight first-leg matches in the round of 16 there were seven victories for the away side and just one for the hosts – noteworthy even if three of those fixtures took place on neutral ground. Domestic competitions are no different: at the time of writing there has been a higher percentage of victories away (39%) than at home (37.5%) in the Premier League; across La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, the percentage of away successes is higher than in 2018/19, the last full season with spectators.

The view of Gary Bloom, former football commentator turned elite sports psychotherapist, is that a home crowd is particularly valuable in helping teams respond to setbacks. “You remember that sound inside Anfield when Liverpool concede at home and there’s that ‘Bloody hell, get into them!’” he says. “You imagine 40 or 50 thousand people saying that. The home team inevitably respond and as the away side, you fall back for 10 minutes and expect an onslaught.

“I’ve seen Liverpool do it: they go a goal down and batter the opposition for 10 minutes. But when there’s no crowd there, that just doesn’t happen. There are no fans to roar you back into the game – and suddenly you’re two down. And the away side are involved as well, thinking, ‘We’ve scored one, why do we need to sit back when there’s not a crowd shouting and screaming at us?’”

“We started winning the game when our bus turned at the roundabout and we saw the reaction of the people.” Those were the words of Diego Simeone in February last year, referring to the spectacle outside the Metropolitano Stadium prior to his Atlético de Madrid side’s 1-0 Champions League victory over Liverpool: the stirring songs of their supporters and a sky filled with red smoke.

Liverpool do not need telling the power of the 12th man: in this season without spectators, Anfield has become a diminished fortress. There was no comeback for the Reds against Real Madrid in April’s quarter-final second leg; without a fervent crowd to unsettle them, Madrid’s players had time for an extra touch on the ball according to one experienced coach. And on the same night in Germany, Dortmund fell short in their own fightback against Manchester City.

Results highlight that, in empty grounds, home advantage is not what it was. The Champions League group stage witnessed more away wins than in any previous campaign this century: 36, compared with 40 at home. Of the eight first-leg matches in the round of 16 there were seven victories for the away side and just one for the hosts – noteworthy even if three of those fixtures took place on neutral ground. Domestic competitions are no different: at the time of writing there has been a higher percentage of victories away (39%) than at home (37.5%) in the Premier League; across La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, the percentage of away successes is higher than in 2018/19, the last full season with spectators.

The view of Gary Bloom, former football commentator turned elite sports psychotherapist, is that a home crowd is particularly valuable in helping teams respond to setbacks. “You remember that sound inside Anfield when Liverpool concede at home and there’s that ‘Bloody hell, get into them!’” he says. “You imagine 40 or 50 thousand people saying that. The home team inevitably respond and as the away side, you fall back for 10 minutes and expect an onslaught.

“I’ve seen Liverpool do it: they go a goal down and batter the opposition for 10 minutes. But when there’s no crowd there, that just doesn’t happen. There are no fans to roar you back into the game – and suddenly you’re two down. And the away side are involved as well, thinking, ‘We’ve scored one, why do we need to sit back when there’s not a crowd shouting and screaming at us?’”

Read the full story
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A football crowd also helps players stay focused according to Bloom who has a full-time role working with the players at English club Oxford United. “When the referee gives a free-kick against you and the crowd get up and boo and scream, you’re switched on. Very often, though, players forget to switch back on again.”

Bloom has written a book: Keeping Your Head in the Game. It analyses the different character types that he has encountered in professional sport and he identifies one particular category that is struggling most in the absence of crowds. “You have the entertainers and they gain their energy from the crowd in the way that an actor would gain his energy from the audience. And then there are what I call ‘footballer-footballers’, who’d be playing on a park on a Sunday morning if they weren’t professionals. Every team needs a mixture of the two, but some of these entertainers have said to me, ‘I’ve got no interest in playing football.’”

It may be that for big occasions such as Champions League games – with the anthem playing and a global TV audience watching – this is less of a problem. But the sense among some good judges is that more routine fixtures can resemble training matches.

Academics from the German Sport University Cologne have even analysed the matter with a newly published paper asking ‘How does spectator presence affect football?’ With the evidence of over 40,000 matches – including more than 1,000 in professional leagues in Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic – the study suggests that the biggest impact on home advantage actually involves the officials. It notes that “referee bias completely disappears, or is even slightly reversed, in empty stadiums,” with “home teams receiving more yellow cards”.

That said, the study – which also considers matches in German amateur football – finds that spectators are not the only element involved in home advantage. It cites factors such as familiar surroundings, the absence of travel, a sense of territoriality that raises testosterone levels and the expectations of players and coaches, who adjust their mindset and tactics according to whether they are at home or away.

Whatever the nuances of the debate, there is nothing quite like the energy of a football crowd according to Cosmin Contra, the former Getafe and Romania coach, who is attending matches in this season’s European competitions as one of UEFA’s team of technical observers. As a player with AC Milan and Atlético, he knew the power surge of the San Siro and Vicente Calderón, and he offers a simple conclusion. “I keep thinking they [players] don’t have the same adrenaline in their body without spectators as with. Although you can work on this as a coach, it’s impossible to give the same adrenaline that 65,000 supporters give.”

“We started winning the game when our bus turned at the roundabout and we saw the reaction of the people.” Those were the words of Diego Simeone in February last year, referring to the spectacle outside the Metropolitano Stadium prior to his Atlético de Madrid side’s 1-0 Champions League victory over Liverpool: the stirring songs of their supporters and a sky filled with red smoke.

Liverpool do not need telling the power of the 12th man: in this season without spectators, Anfield has become a diminished fortress. There was no comeback for the Reds against Real Madrid in April’s quarter-final second leg; without a fervent crowd to unsettle them, Madrid’s players had time for an extra touch on the ball according to one experienced coach. And on the same night in Germany, Dortmund fell short in their own fightback against Manchester City.

Results highlight that, in empty grounds, home advantage is not what it was. The Champions League group stage witnessed more away wins than in any previous campaign this century: 36, compared with 40 at home. Of the eight first-leg matches in the round of 16 there were seven victories for the away side and just one for the hosts – noteworthy even if three of those fixtures took place on neutral ground. Domestic competitions are no different: at the time of writing there has been a higher percentage of victories away (39%) than at home (37.5%) in the Premier League; across La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, the percentage of away successes is higher than in 2018/19, the last full season with spectators.

The view of Gary Bloom, former football commentator turned elite sports psychotherapist, is that a home crowd is particularly valuable in helping teams respond to setbacks. “You remember that sound inside Anfield when Liverpool concede at home and there’s that ‘Bloody hell, get into them!’” he says. “You imagine 40 or 50 thousand people saying that. The home team inevitably respond and as the away side, you fall back for 10 minutes and expect an onslaught.

“I’ve seen Liverpool do it: they go a goal down and batter the opposition for 10 minutes. But when there’s no crowd there, that just doesn’t happen. There are no fans to roar you back into the game – and suddenly you’re two down. And the away side are involved as well, thinking, ‘We’ve scored one, why do we need to sit back when there’s not a crowd shouting and screaming at us?’”

Energy hush
Insight

Energy hush

Home advantage has been lost as coaches struggle to find an alternative to the adrenaline rush of 50,000 screaming fans

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Rodrigo Fortes

“We started winning the game when our bus turned at the roundabout and we saw the reaction of the people.” Those were the words of Diego Simeone in February last year, referring to the spectacle outside the Metropolitano Stadium prior to his Atlético de Madrid side’s 1-0 Champions League victory over Liverpool: the stirring songs of their supporters and a sky filled with red smoke.

Liverpool do not need telling the power of the 12th man: in this season without spectators, Anfield has become a diminished fortress. There was no comeback for the Reds against Real Madrid in April’s quarter-final second leg; without a fervent crowd to unsettle them, Madrid’s players had time for an extra touch on the ball according to one experienced coach. And on the same night in Germany, Dortmund fell short in their own fightback against Manchester City.

Results highlight that, in empty grounds, home advantage is not what it was. The Champions League group stage witnessed more away wins than in any previous campaign this century: 36, compared with 40 at home. Of the eight first-leg matches in the round of 16 there were seven victories for the away side and just one for the hosts – noteworthy even if three of those fixtures took place on neutral ground. Domestic competitions are no different: at the time of writing there has been a higher percentage of victories away (39%) than at home (37.5%) in the Premier League; across La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, the percentage of away successes is higher than in 2018/19, the last full season with spectators.

The view of Gary Bloom, former football commentator turned elite sports psychotherapist, is that a home crowd is particularly valuable in helping teams respond to setbacks. “You remember that sound inside Anfield when Liverpool concede at home and there’s that ‘Bloody hell, get into them!’” he says. “You imagine 40 or 50 thousand people saying that. The home team inevitably respond and as the away side, you fall back for 10 minutes and expect an onslaught.

“I’ve seen Liverpool do it: they go a goal down and batter the opposition for 10 minutes. But when there’s no crowd there, that just doesn’t happen. There are no fans to roar you back into the game – and suddenly you’re two down. And the away side are involved as well, thinking, ‘We’ve scored one, why do we need to sit back when there’s not a crowd shouting and screaming at us?’”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

“We started winning the game when our bus turned at the roundabout and we saw the reaction of the people.” Those were the words of Diego Simeone in February last year, referring to the spectacle outside the Metropolitano Stadium prior to his Atlético de Madrid side’s 1-0 Champions League victory over Liverpool: the stirring songs of their supporters and a sky filled with red smoke.

Liverpool do not need telling the power of the 12th man: in this season without spectators, Anfield has become a diminished fortress. There was no comeback for the Reds against Real Madrid in April’s quarter-final second leg; without a fervent crowd to unsettle them, Madrid’s players had time for an extra touch on the ball according to one experienced coach. And on the same night in Germany, Dortmund fell short in their own fightback against Manchester City.

Results highlight that, in empty grounds, home advantage is not what it was. The Champions League group stage witnessed more away wins than in any previous campaign this century: 36, compared with 40 at home. Of the eight first-leg matches in the round of 16 there were seven victories for the away side and just one for the hosts – noteworthy even if three of those fixtures took place on neutral ground. Domestic competitions are no different: at the time of writing there has been a higher percentage of victories away (39%) than at home (37.5%) in the Premier League; across La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, the percentage of away successes is higher than in 2018/19, the last full season with spectators.

The view of Gary Bloom, former football commentator turned elite sports psychotherapist, is that a home crowd is particularly valuable in helping teams respond to setbacks. “You remember that sound inside Anfield when Liverpool concede at home and there’s that ‘Bloody hell, get into them!’” he says. “You imagine 40 or 50 thousand people saying that. The home team inevitably respond and as the away side, you fall back for 10 minutes and expect an onslaught.

“I’ve seen Liverpool do it: they go a goal down and batter the opposition for 10 minutes. But when there’s no crowd there, that just doesn’t happen. There are no fans to roar you back into the game – and suddenly you’re two down. And the away side are involved as well, thinking, ‘We’ve scored one, why do we need to sit back when there’s not a crowd shouting and screaming at us?’”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

A football crowd also helps players stay focused according to Bloom who has a full-time role working with the players at English club Oxford United. “When the referee gives a free-kick against you and the crowd get up and boo and scream, you’re switched on. Very often, though, players forget to switch back on again.”

Bloom has written a book: Keeping Your Head in the Game. It analyses the different character types that he has encountered in professional sport and he identifies one particular category that is struggling most in the absence of crowds. “You have the entertainers and they gain their energy from the crowd in the way that an actor would gain his energy from the audience. And then there are what I call ‘footballer-footballers’, who’d be playing on a park on a Sunday morning if they weren’t professionals. Every team needs a mixture of the two, but some of these entertainers have said to me, ‘I’ve got no interest in playing football.’”

It may be that for big occasions such as Champions League games – with the anthem playing and a global TV audience watching – this is less of a problem. But the sense among some good judges is that more routine fixtures can resemble training matches.

Academics from the German Sport University Cologne have even analysed the matter with a newly published paper asking ‘How does spectator presence affect football?’ With the evidence of over 40,000 matches – including more than 1,000 in professional leagues in Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic – the study suggests that the biggest impact on home advantage actually involves the officials. It notes that “referee bias completely disappears, or is even slightly reversed, in empty stadiums,” with “home teams receiving more yellow cards”.

That said, the study – which also considers matches in German amateur football – finds that spectators are not the only element involved in home advantage. It cites factors such as familiar surroundings, the absence of travel, a sense of territoriality that raises testosterone levels and the expectations of players and coaches, who adjust their mindset and tactics according to whether they are at home or away.

Whatever the nuances of the debate, there is nothing quite like the energy of a football crowd according to Cosmin Contra, the former Getafe and Romania coach, who is attending matches in this season’s European competitions as one of UEFA’s team of technical observers. As a player with AC Milan and Atlético, he knew the power surge of the San Siro and Vicente Calderón, and he offers a simple conclusion. “I keep thinking they [players] don’t have the same adrenaline in their body without spectators as with. Although you can work on this as a coach, it’s impossible to give the same adrenaline that 65,000 supporters give.”

“We started winning the game when our bus turned at the roundabout and we saw the reaction of the people.” Those were the words of Diego Simeone in February last year, referring to the spectacle outside the Metropolitano Stadium prior to his Atlético de Madrid side’s 1-0 Champions League victory over Liverpool: the stirring songs of their supporters and a sky filled with red smoke.

Liverpool do not need telling the power of the 12th man: in this season without spectators, Anfield has become a diminished fortress. There was no comeback for the Reds against Real Madrid in April’s quarter-final second leg; without a fervent crowd to unsettle them, Madrid’s players had time for an extra touch on the ball according to one experienced coach. And on the same night in Germany, Dortmund fell short in their own fightback against Manchester City.

Results highlight that, in empty grounds, home advantage is not what it was. The Champions League group stage witnessed more away wins than in any previous campaign this century: 36, compared with 40 at home. Of the eight first-leg matches in the round of 16 there were seven victories for the away side and just one for the hosts – noteworthy even if three of those fixtures took place on neutral ground. Domestic competitions are no different: at the time of writing there has been a higher percentage of victories away (39%) than at home (37.5%) in the Premier League; across La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, the percentage of away successes is higher than in 2018/19, the last full season with spectators.

The view of Gary Bloom, former football commentator turned elite sports psychotherapist, is that a home crowd is particularly valuable in helping teams respond to setbacks. “You remember that sound inside Anfield when Liverpool concede at home and there’s that ‘Bloody hell, get into them!’” he says. “You imagine 40 or 50 thousand people saying that. The home team inevitably respond and as the away side, you fall back for 10 minutes and expect an onslaught.

“I’ve seen Liverpool do it: they go a goal down and batter the opposition for 10 minutes. But when there’s no crowd there, that just doesn’t happen. There are no fans to roar you back into the game – and suddenly you’re two down. And the away side are involved as well, thinking, ‘We’ve scored one, why do we need to sit back when there’s not a crowd shouting and screaming at us?’”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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