The 2020/21 Premier League has gotten underway and, despite being only four weeks in, we have already seen more surprising results than we could have imagined. For instance, we do not think that many people would have put their money on Leicester beating Manchester City 5-2, or Spurs beating Manchester United 6-1, or Aston Villa destroying the current Champions, Liverpool, 7-2. Many people in the footballing world have pointed to the lack of fans being the reason for these anomalies, so in this article we are going to look at whether the playing field is leveled when there are no fans.

Less Bias from Referees

Football fans have always believed that refs are biased against their side, and they were right for a while. After World War II, teams were a lot more likely to lose their away matches due to the fact that raucous home support had a huge influence on the officials’ decision making. This home advantage is something that still exists, and it is believed to be about 60% in football.

However, Alan Nevill, a sport professor from Wolverhampton University, says that the effects of home advantage have decreased quite a lot over the years. During the postwar years it was believed that home advantage was the equivalent of a goal, but now it believed to stand at around half a goal. That could still be enough to play an important role throughout the course of the season.

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Furthermore, Harvard researchers have shown that home teams score an additional 0.1 goals for every 10,000 fans in the stadium. This, they believe, is due to the influence that the crowd can have on the referee, who are more likely to send off an away player or give the home team a penalty.

However, with this coming season most likely to be played behind closed doors due to the current pandemic situation, there will be no fans in attendance, which could lead to fairer outcomes for the team in the away dressing room. When a tackle is made in a football match and there are 40,000 people screaming for a free-kick or a penalty to be given, the ref will be less certain and will go with the background noise, even if the tackler has made a perfectly good challenge. Due to the impact that background noise can have on a ref’s decision, Nevill argues that VAR replays should always be played with the sound muted so that it does not have any impact on the final decision that the ref makes. With no fans in the stadium, the ref will make his decision based on what he thinks, which means that we will end up seeing fewer biased decisions in a game of football.

Teams Will Play Better in High Pressure Matches

When it comes to high-pressure games throughout the season, there is some proof that a lack of fans can make teams play better. In the 80s, Roy Baumeister, a psychologist, and his team took a look at the archives for Major League Baseball. They found that the two-thirds of the matches that they played when they just needed one more victory to win the series. Similar effects have been seen with golfers on their home course and ice hockey sides going for the Stanley Cup in front of their passionate fans.

When a player makes a mistake and 40,000 fans groan in unison, that is going to have an impact on their confidence, no matter how good the player in question is. Furthermore, if a team is winning 2-0 in an important match, and the opposition pull a goal back with ten minutes to go, then the nerves from the fans in the crowd will transfer to the players on the pitch, and there is a good chance that they will go on to concede another goal. However, this will obviously not be the case when a match is being played behind closed doors.

On the other hand, an away team that is playing in front of 40,000 partisan fans will have a lot more pressure on them. Every single mistake that they make will be cheered loudly by the home fans, while the noise will make it almost impossible for the players to hear themselves communicating. Once again, this will not be an issue when there is nobody in the stands.

While we understand that there are some teams and players out there that relish playing in front of large crowds and will play even better when they have 40,000 people baying for blood or cheering them on, we believe that, for the most, part having no fans in football is certainly a huge leveler.