The 12th Man: The influence of the fans in football.

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Imagine your football team has a game tomorrow. Without even considering the team they’re going to be playing, we often feel a lot more at ease when our team plays at home. Furthermore, a loss at home may feel like even more of a blow than an away loss. But what is it exactly that gives us the idea that our team has a so-called ‘home advantage’?

There is often talk that when a team plays at their home ground, they inevitably gain a 12th man: their devoted fans. Naturally, when a team plays a game at their stadium more of their fans are present to support them. But we must not ignore the influence of the dedicated fans who travel around the country, and even the globe, to cheer their team on. Let’s have a look into the impact that football fans can have on their team’s performance…

At the time of writing, every team in the Premier League has played a total of 27 matches. I randomly selected the following five teams: Manchester City (currently 2nd place), Sheffield United (currently 7th place), Burnley FC (currently 10th place), Crystal Palace (currently 13th place) and Norwich City (currently in last place). For each of these teams, I have compared their results for this season’s Premier League matches played at home and away. Manchester City have won an impressive 82% of their home games, dropping to a 69% win rate in their away games. Sheffield United have won 60% of their home games, as opposed to winning 57% of their away games (so there hasn’t been too much of an influence here). Burnley FC have won 58% of their home games, whereas they have won only 36% of their away games. Crystal Palace have a 50% home game win rate, whereas this has dropped to 38% away from home. Finally, Norwich City have won 30% of their home games, as opposed to winning a mere 9% away games.

As you can see, each of these teams (with the notable exception of Sheffield United) have performed better at home than they have when playing away. This, however, is a very small sample of this season’s Premier League games (never mind other matches played this season) so perhaps might not be the most accurate set of results to go by. However, it does suggest there may be some truth to the ‘home advantage’. Such an advantage may be down to fans acting as the 12th man.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to allow me to be biased for a moment or two whilst I discuss Liverpool fans. For me, Liverpool fans are some of the most dedicated, supportive and, consequently, intimidating fans in the game. Footage from last year’s Champions League victory parade, which I, unfortunately couldn’t attend thanks to my A-Levels, show the immense level of support Liverpool fans have to offer. Having been present at a fair few matches at Anfield, I can tell you nothing I have experienced compares to being part of that crowd. The atmosphere at every Liverpool home game I have been to is simply beyond description; there is little on this planet more beautiful than the sound of thousands of Liverpool fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Even when watching any Liverpool match on television, I often still experience the same kind of chills I get when sat in the crowd at Anfield when I can hear noise from the Liverpool fans.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to be a Liverpool player with that much support behind you and, of course, what it must feel like to be an opposition player with such a crowd against you. For those playing for Liverpool, there is no doubt in my mind that the support from their fans positively impacts their performance. Likewise, there is little doubt in my mind that the performance of opposition players isn’t at least somewhat hindered by the numerous chants and songs of the home fans.

A prime example of this is last year’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. At the start of the second leg (played at Anfield), Liverpool were three goals down. But after scoring four goals (making it 4-3 on aggregate), Liverpool had done what seemed to be near to impossible and went on to win the tournament. For me, the fans who were lucky enough to be present at that match were definitely the 12th man on that occasion.

All my biases aside, football fans across the world are excellent examples of dedication, support, passion and togetherness. They feel just as elated as players when their teams win, and they share their feelings of deflation with players when their teams are defeated. When it comes to matches, thousands of fans travel around their home countries, as well as around the globe, just to see their favourite team play. Whilst I have given some evidence to support the idea that fans can have an impact upon their team’s performance (especially when a team is playing at home), there could possibly be other factors that contribute to the so-called ‘home advantage’. Nevertheless, the high levels of commitment demonstrated by football fans across the globe suggests to me that they should proudly bear the title of ‘the 12th man on the pitch’.

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