Home Advantage in Soccer: Variations in Its Magnitude and a Literature Review of the Inter-Related Factors Associated with Its Existence

Article excerpt

The existence of home advantage in competitive sport is well documented, although the precise causes are less well understood and the topic of much recent research. Courneya and Carron (1992), Nevill and Holder (1999) and Carron, Loughead and Bray (2005) provide comprehensive reviews. The purpose of this paper is to synthesize the current state of knowledge with regards to home advantage in soccer.

The first paper to consider the concept of home advantage applied exclusively to soccer was by Dowie (1982) in which he commented on the success of countries hosting the World Cup and considered three possible causes of the advantage in soccer which he labeled fatigue, familiarity and fans. Data from the Football League in England were used, but no clear-cut conclusions were reached. It should be noted that in England the words football and soccer are synonymous. A more detailed study by Pollard (1986) soon followed and this still serves as the starting point for a general review of the way in which home advantage applies specifically to soccer. Data from various competitions in England and Europe were used to assess the effects on home advantage of crowd support, travel fatigue, familiarity, referee bias, tactics and psychological factors. Wolfson and Neave (2004) also provide a review, focusing on the coaching implications of the advantage of playing at home.

Other studies have investigated particular aspects of soccer's home advantage. These include pitch surface (Barnett & Hilditch, 1993), travel distance (Clarke & Norman, 1995), crowd factors (Nevill, Newell & Gale, 1996), referee bias (Nevill, Balmer & Williams, 2002), territoriality (Neave & Wolfson, 2003), geographical variation (Pollard, 2006) and long-term trends (Pollard & Pollard, 2005b). Many of these studies have made extensive use of data from the Football League in England, a competition that has been in existence since 1888 with very little modification over the years. It is an excellent data source for the study of home advantage in soccer. This is because the divisions that make up the league have always been based on a perfectly balanced schedule of games in which each team plays each other team at home and away once during each season. It is the original model on which most other soccer leagues throughout the world are based, so that meaningful international comparisons can easily be made. In the next section the existence of home advantage will be established and quantified in different competitions, in different time periods and in different countries. Subsequent sections consider the evidence for and against the main postulated causes of this advantage. A model for the interacting way in which these factors influence home advantage is then formulated.

Existence of Home Advantage


The schedule in a league in which each team plays each other team the same number of times at home and away is said to be 'balanced'. The overall home advantage in a balanced league can be quantified as the number of points gained at home as a percentage of the total number of points gained in all matches. A figure of 50% would indicate no home advantage since the same number of points would have been gained at home and away. The higher the figure above 50%, the greater the home advantage. In this paper, all analyses are based on data from balanced schedules unless otherwise stated.

Table 1 shows home advantage for the first and second divisions of the national soccer leagues of France, Spain, Italy, Germany and England over the six seasons 1996/97-2001/02. In all these countries, only very small differences exist between the two divisions, even though crowds in the first divisions are considerably larger than in the second. Data for this table and for other national leagues later in this section where obtained from the Internet at www.soccerway.com and www.rsssf.com.

To further investigate the relationship between competition level and home advantage, Table 2 shows data from nine levels of competition in England aggregated over the most recent six-year period in which these nine levels existed unchanged. …