The absence of fans did not cause players to doubt themselves, but did make referees think twice, a study of behind-closed-doors soccer has found.
Playing matches without supporters had a minimal effect on the phenomenon of home advantage, but it did correspond with officials showing fewer yellow cards to away teams, researchers from Reading University found.
In a paper on the effects of behind-closed-doors matches, researchers studied 6,481 games from before and after COVID-19 lockdowns.
In the Premier League and EFL Championship, games played in empty stadiums saw the proportion of home victories drop from 43.4 percent before the pandemic to 42 percent.
This small fall was similar to results in many other leagues that restarted behind closed doors.
After seeing a substantial drop in home advantage during early matches, the Bundesliga ended the season with the prospect of a home win having fallen from 40.8 percent to 39.2 percent.
A similar pattern was observed in Spain, while home advantage increased in Italy from 42.9 percent to 43.1 percent.
“While we saw some loss of home advantage in the early matches, things reverted in last few weeks,” said James Reade, an associate professor at the university who conducted the research. “Maybe it’s all about familiarity.”
The effect of a crowd on sporting performance is a longstanding area of research. The obvious explanation for home advantage has always been that a crowd gees on its team and intimidates opponents.
Other arguments include familiarity with surroundings and the possibility of fatigue in a traveling team.
“It’s hard to imagine that fatigue is too much of a factor any more, especially not in elite sport,” Reade said. “With the absence of fans not affecting results much either, that leaves familiarity.”
“Results changed to begin with when players stepped out into their empty stadium, but that stopped as people got used to it,” he said.
However, Reade and his colleague Carl Singleton did find that the absence of the crowd tallied with a drop in yellow cards given to away teams.
In England the study found that the number awarded to all players fell during the restart, but that on average away teams received half a yellow card less than before lockdown.
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