Why there is no place like home Liam Rose­nior

The Guardian - Sport - - Football -

When asked by sup­port­ers and jour­nal­ists about our game against Ever­ton this Sun­day, I found my­self an­swer­ing in the same man­ner: “They are a good side with nu­mer­ous top play­ers but at home we have a great chance of a re­sult.” Re­flect­ing on that fairly bland re­ply made me think of two very im­por­tant words in that sen­tence that log­i­cally shouldn’t make an ounce of dif­fer­ence – “at home”.

How­ever, look­ing back over my play­ing ca­reer it made me re­alise the im­por­tance placed on home ad­van­tage by man­agers I’ve played for, team-mates I’ve played with and sup­port­ers I’m wear­ing the jersey on be­half of. For ex­am­ple, as a full-back the amount of times I’ve heard from my coach: “Get for­ward at every op­por­tu­nity, we need to play at a high tempo to­day,” when play­ing at home as op­posed to: “Take the sting out of the game, slow it down,” when pre­par­ing for an away game against teams of the same level made me re­alise that I’ve been men­tally con­di­tioned to buy into the be­lief that a match at home is some­how more ben­e­fi­cial than play­ing away.

If we were to take emo­tions and hu­man na­ture out of the game then log­i­cally it shouldn’t make a blind bit of dif­fer­ence where you are play­ing. Sim­i­lar-sized pitch, 11 v 11, a ref­eree and a round thing that you have to put in a same-sized goal no mat­ter where in the world you are play­ing means that foot­ball should be an identical stan­dard.

Sub­sti­tute emo­tion for logic, how­ever, and it’s lit­er­ally a whole new ball game. Foot­ball is a sport played and watched by emo­tional peo­ple who are, on the whole, crea­tures of habit. Over the years there have been nu­mer­ous anal­y­ses ex­am­in­ing the sta­tis­ti­cal ad­van­tage of play­ing at home and con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that teams play­ing in their own sta­dium have a much higher win ra­tio. Ad­mit­tedly the ra­tio is nar­row­ing but it re­mains the case and, although stats are great when look­ing into an anom­aly, they’re limited when it comes to paint­ing the big­ger pic­ture.

As an ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sional I can hon­estly say I have al­ways been more con­fi­dent and re­laxed when play­ing at home. In fact, it’s only re­cently in my ca­reer that I can say I’m truly com­fort­able when play­ing away; ex­pe­ri­ence has al­lowed me to really not be af­fected by a par­ti­san crowd who are itch­ing to see me fail.

There are so many ex­ter­nal, psy­cho­log­i­cal in­flu­ences that change ac­cord­ing to play­ing at home or away. For ex­am­ple, sleep­ing in my own bed with my wife and chil­dren around me, al­low­ing me to keep a strong pre-game rit­ual, as op­posed to sleep­ing in a strange bed in a ho­tel. Also the com­fort and rou­tine of be­ing in your home dress­ing room as op­posed to the smaller, less invit­ing away ones can have an ef­fect, though this is some­thing that is be­ing ad­dressed by many teams who now go to the length of dec­o­rat­ing away dress­ing rooms with their own colours and im­agery, try­ing to recre­ate the home feel.

The pre-match mes­sages I have heard from coaches and team-mates also, rightly or wrongly, neg­a­tively change when away from home to be­ing more cau­tious or to qui­eten­ing the crowd first and play­ing with a re­stric­tion that isn’t on the agenda oth­er­wise – and that’s be­fore we’ve even got to the game it­self!

I have al­ways tried to em­pha­sise the im­por­tance of the fans’ role at a match and there’s noth­ing harder when play­ing away than when the home sup­port is pos­i­tive and vo­cif­er­ous. I have been on the away team try­ing to de­fend a lead and you know the old cliche about the crowd blow­ing the ball into the back of the net? It’s true. And there have also been games where the home team was in poor form and strug­gling, with the fans let­ting them know it, and on the pitch I could sense the nerves of the play­ers and their con­fi­dence dis­in­te­grat­ing. Be­lieve me, a big home crowd can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween vic­tory and de­feat.

And it’s not only the play­ers who can be af­fected in these cir­cum­stances. Log­i­cally, the ref­eree should ap­ply the laws of the game in ex­actly the same way re­gard­less of where he’s of­fi­ci­at­ing but in my ex­pe­ri­ence it’s eas­ier to give a penalty in front of 40,000 peo­ple who would be happy with the de­ci­sion than a penalty that would make those peo­ple ex­tremely up­set. It’s no fault of theirs, just hu­man na­ture.

When speak­ing of home ad­van­tage and why it makes such a huge dif­fer­ence, it’s part of the very rea­son we all love this sport – it’s a game played by hu­man be­ings with emo­tions who aren’t im­mune to be­ing af­fected by ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences. That’s why home ad­van­tage is ex­actly that and I hope we at Brighton get the ben­e­fit of it come Sun­day af­ter­noon.

World Cup play-offs

‘Foot­ballers are hu­mans with emo­tions. That’s why home ad­van­tage is ex­actly that’

Si­mon West/Ac­tion Plus via Getty Im­ages

Home sup­port­ers, seen here at Bris­tol Rovers, can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence when they are pos­i­tive and vo­cif­er­ous

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