Football fans have not been allowed into stadiums in the United Kingdom since 8th March, a couple of weeks before the country went into full lockdown due to Covid-19.
The Premier League are reportedly keen to have crowds back in stadiums in October, albeit at 20-30% capacity however, this is subject to change depending on the number of Covid-19 cases in Britain.
One thing is for sure, football is not the same without the fans. Supporters create an atmosphere that adds to the drama immeasurably, and it is often thought that they provide the extra 5% needed for the home team that can win them a game.
In this article I will explore whether that is true and analyse the impact not having fans will have on the first few weeks of the FPL season.
The common theory before Project Restart began was that having no fans in attendance would take away home advantage. However, the statistics show that this hasn’t been the case.
Before the lockdown there were 288 matches in the Premier League, with the home team winning 44%, the away team winning 31% of games and 23% of matches being drawn.
After lockdown (when there were no fans in attendance), 92 matches were played. The home team won 46% of the games, whilst the away team won 31% of games and 23% of matches ended as a draw.
Whilst this is a small sample size, it tells us that having no fans in stadiums has had little impact on the results of games, and has even slightly benefited the home team.
A possible explanation for this is that although when a home crowd is “up for it” they can create a raucous atmosphere that motivates players, they can also put pressure on their team by getting frustrated when they’re not playing well. Because of this, players could feel less pressure without fans which allows them to perform better.
If this was the case, you would expect there to be more goals scored by the home team after lockdown than before. Indeed, an average of 1.54 goals per game were scored by the home team after lockdown, compared to 1.51 home goals per game before the break.
For comparison, an average of 1.22 away goals per game were scored before lockdown, compared to 1.17 away goals per game after lockdown. This tells us that home teams are actually winning more games, scoring more goals and conceding less goals after lockdown than before it.
There are a number of possible reasons for this. As mentioned before, there could be less pressure on the home team with no fans at the ground. Additionally, travel restrictions mean away teams could be lacking preparation before games.
An example of this, was when Arsenal visited Manchester City in the first gameweek after the restart…
Instead of travelling to Manchester the night before as they would in normal circumstances, Arsenal flew up north just a couple of hours before kick-off. They went on to lose the game 3-0.
Man City thrived on lack of fans
A team that seemed to thrive without fans after lockdown in the 2019/20 season was Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men scored an astonishing 31 goals when the league resumed at an average of 3.44 goals per game.
To put this into context, before the lockdown with fans in the stadium, Manchester City scored 71 goals at an average of 2.44 goals per game. It is clear that they were much better from an attacking perspective after the break.
This could be due to the fact that City weren’t really playing for anything in the league after the restart, so they were able to play free-flowing, attacking football with less pressure than earlier in the season.
Another possibility is that without fans, the games feel more like high intensity training sessions and this suited City’s style of play and allowed their world-class players to excel.
Whatever the reason for the improvement, the data points to City thriving without fans, and I would expect this to continue in the 2020/21 season. Having a couple of their assets for their GW3 home clash with Leicester should be firmly in mind.
City’s rivals Liverpool didn’t adapt to life without fans quite as well. The Reds scored 18 goals after the restart at an average of 2 goals a game, compared to 67 goals before lockdown at an average of 2.31 goals a game.
To be fair to the champions, they had the title virtually sewn up when the league resumed and it was obvious that they weren’t at their best after they lifted the trophy, so I would expect their numbers to pick up in the first few months of the new season.
The bottom end of the spectrum
Before I wrote this article I assumed that not having fans would put teams towards the bottom of the table at a disadvantage, because passionate home support can be the equaliser when they host the bigger clubs.
However, when I looked at both Aston Villa and West Ham’s data both before and after lockdown, the numbers told a different story.
Both clubs are very well supported and receive loud and passionate backing both home and away. However, Villa collected 10 points after lockdown at an average of 1.11 ppg (points per game), compared to just 25 points before the restart at an average of 0.86 ppg.
West Ham’s data told a similar tale. The Hammers picked up 12 points post restart at an average of 1.33 ppg, compared to a mere 26 points before lockdown at an average of 0.9 ppg.
It is important to note that this could be because both teams were more motivated to avoid relegation after the break and raised their performance levels.
However, it is still interesting that two teams that you would expect to be disadvantaged by having no fans attending games, seemingly benefitted from it. I will be interested to see if this trend continues in the early stages of the new season for clubs that you would expect to be in the lower realms of the table.
In conclusion, the data shows that having no crowds doesn’t take away home advantage, in fact, it appears to amplify it.
Home teams win more games, score marginally more goals and concede less goals without the backing of their supporters.
This means that we should expect to see more FPL points for home players than ever before, and certainly shouldn’t discount home advantage in the early weeks of the new campaign.
This however, does need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as it is only a small sample size, and other variables such as the various motivations for the respective clubs could well account for the data.
Although the Premier League are aiming to get fans back into stadiums just a few weeks into the new season, it is COVID-dependant and we could see random games go ahead without fans if there are local spikes in cases at any point next season.
However, I think we can all agree that football will only be normal again the day there are passionate fans cheering their team on from the stands. I really hope that day is not too far away.