Revisting “There’s no place like home”

Back in June I wrote a short post about how a lack of crowds in the Premier League might change the likelihood of their being home wins. The idea behind it is simple: does playing at a ground full of partisan football supporters give home teams an advantage?

Because supporters are banned from attending football matches, the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to test this idea. Up to the point of the Covid-19 pandemic causing a temporary halt to the 2019/20 Premier League season in March 2019, these were the stats for the distribution of the results of the matches that had already taken place:

  • Home wins = 45%
  • Draws = 25%
  • Away wins = 30%

My theory back in June 2020 was that we might see the home win percentage drop to around 40%, purely due to the effect of teams not having a biased crowd act as a “twelfth man”. At the time, there were signs in La Liga and the Bundesliga that there might indeed have been an impact on the distribution of results by not having any crowd present.

Well… I’ve looked at the numbers in the Premier League since crowds were banned, and there does appear to be something in it. But not in the way I was expecting!

Looking at all 109 Premier League matches from the end of the 2019/20 season, as well as the matches played in the first two weeks of the 2020/21 Premier League season, all of which were played behind closed doors, there is a definite shift in results distribution.

  • Home wins: 50 out of 109 = 46%
  • Draws: 20 out of 109 = 18%
  • Away wins: 39 out of 109 = 36%

Before saying anything else, it is worth pointing out that we are only talking about 109 matches here, so relatively speaking that is not a big sample. However, there does appear to be something going on here as away teams have been winning at a greater frequency than previously.

Is it the case that away teams are more emboldened than previously, now that there is no large crowd to shout insults at them? Looks like it.

I am personally affected by this as my betting strategy on Premier League matches focuses on betting on the draw, where there has historically been a significant price edge to be had. Looks like I need to be wary of taking this approach, at least for the time being.

I shall update these numbers in another few months and see if home win strike rate falls a bit… I still expect it to if the crowds stay away. But time will tell, of course.

There’s no place like home… Or is there?

The Premier League is back this weekend after its enforced hiatus. Even though it will feel odd to see Premier League football in the middle of June – so that clubs don’t need to hand a shedload of money back to the Sky and BT Sport – from my point of view there is potentially an opportunity here to measure just how important home advantage is to a team. More pertinently, how important football supporters are to the result of a match.

There are betting implications here, potentially, if bookmakers don’t factor this into their prices correctly. Also, at a grander level there perhaps might be implications for how football clubs treat their supporters: if football supporters really are worth extra points over the course of a season, this should favour clubs that restrict the number of away supporters allowed in the stadium on match day.

It is an established fact that of the three potential outcomes available for a football match – home, away, draw – the home win is the most likely to come up. In other words, picking a result at random isn’t a 33.3% (or, in betting parlance, 2/1) chance when home advantage is factored in.

Before the Premier League was put on hold back in March, the distribution of results for the 2019/20 season are as follows:

  • Home wins = 45%
  • Draws = 25%
  • Away wins = 30%

So, with football stadiums being empty for the remainder of this season’s matches (eight or nine matches left, depending on the team, which works out at 24.2% of this season’s matches left to be played), we have an opportunity to see if the big driver of home advantage is the urgings of the crowd. Or, whether it is other factors are more important (for example: familiarity of match-day routine for the home side; home players not having to travel far; home players being more familiar with the dimensions of the pitch; etc).

This won’t be the most scientific test in the world, and partly because some teams are going to have tougher fixtures than others which will in turn skew the results, but a sample size of 184 matches will at least give us a decent indicator.

There are some signs from the results seen in German and Spanish football since it returned after its Covid-19 break that the crowd really does make a difference. From 55 matches in Germany since football’s resumption, 11 have been won by the home team. That’s a miserly 20% strike-rate when something in the mid-40% range would be the norm. In Spain, from a smaller sample of only 12 matches, 4 have been home wins for a 25% hit-rate. This is normally closer to 50% in La Liga.

If I were a betting man, I’d be putting home wins in the Premier League for the remainder of this season around the 40% mark. Let’s see how this pans out.

Heavier Drinking in the UK

It would appear that Covid-19 has driven British people to excess drink and drugs. This is according to respondents of the Global Drug Survey Covid-19 special edition. For example, it seems like 46.8% of respondents have reported drinking earlier in the day during the pandemic, the most of the twelve countries include in the survey results.

This caught my eye when I read this story reported in the Guardian today, and I did wonder if it was the worst possible UK-focused headline that the newspaper could have generated, based on the contents of the Global Drug Survey findings. Bad news sells, of course.

Anyway, the answer to this question is… Probably.

Here is the survey result, which show the United Kingdom sitting at the head of the boozing table:

So, on the face of it, this does not look good for the United Kingdom, does it?

However, it is interesting to note that a country widely regarded as having had a very robust – and some might say, most inspiring – response to the Covid-19 pandemic, New Zealand, feature in the top half of this list as well, ranking in fifth on 36.8%.

Scroll through the report and you find an even more eye-catching piece of information. Look at where New Zealand feature in the binge drinking chart:

New Zealand rank second for binge drinking! God knows how they would have responded if Jacinda Ahern had come up with a bad Covid-19 plan of action for her country!

Time may well tell that the United Kingdom’s response to Covid-19 has been sub-standard, but there is probably a lesson to be learned here about statistics being able to tell any story you want them to.

Amsterdam: “Don’t Visit Our City!”

The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is going to throw up all sorts of books and films in the future. You can be sure of that.

Top of my list for a guaranteed interpretation of recent events is a docu-drama-cum-satire on Channel 4 which will focus on what the UK government has been doing to deal with the crisis. Expect exaggerated performances mimicking Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and chief science boffin Chris Whitty, and quite possibly an over-the-top comic turn from a Nicola Sturgeon soundalike who provides ridicule from a (non-social) distance.

More pressingly, the global economy is in a bit of a mess and doesn’t seem likely to get better any time soon. Unlike the Great Recession of 2008, which few people seemed to see coming at the time (even though some revisionism has it that it really all began in 2006), the general view at the moment is that we’re taking our cue from Back To The Future Part III. We’re hurtling along on Doc Brown’s train and we just know that we’re all heading into that ravine. Hopefully, though, things are not going to turn out as bad as it might seem right now.

On the subject of Covid-19 related finances, something caught my eye in the news today. One of the big Covid-19 impacts has come from travel – or, more pertinently, the lack of travel. For many people in 2020, a fancy holiday is not going to be a ‘thing’ this year. Bunkering down and saving the pennies seems like the only option available as the whole world tries to control the spread of this virus.

Clearly, the knock-on effect for business from reduced travel is large. Not being able to do deals face-to-face across international borders, apart from via Zoom or such like, will benefit only the most creative and resourceful of companies. But even more obvious is the impact we have been seeing on tourism.

You would think that tourist hotspots would be bursting at the seams to get visitors back into their shops, cafes and bars. I include the place I have made home, Gibraltar, in that category. But this is not the case in Amsterdam, it would appear. The mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, has said the city should be “extremely cautious” about welcoming back the 9 million or so people who visit and stay in this wonderfully eclectic city each year (some of the more outlandish – and possibly barely credible – estimates have annual Amsterdam visitor numbers at more like 19 million). The reason given is the fear of a second wave of Covid-19.

However, that might not be the whole story. On the face of it, 9 million is a hell of a lot of people for a city that already squeezes around 900,000 people into the city centre proper. And let’s face it, the vast majority of those 9 million won’t be visiting the suburbs. They want to be taking a stroll along the Leidseplein or Prinsengracht, taking photos of the narrow houses and thinking about where they should try their next pint of white beer.

There has been a lot of noise in recent years from Amsterdam politicians – and members of the public – that they would like their city back. There has been a campaign underway to actively reduce tourist numbers and “return the city to its people”.

For a place I love so much, what does this mean for those of who enjoy visiting this city built on sticks? Well, if Halsema and the other like-minded politicians get their way, there could be all sorts of negative consequences for people like me.

Could some novel form of taxation be introduced to discourage visitors? It isn’t difficult to imagine a world where you have to pay a surcharge to visit Amsterdam, one even greater than the current existing city tax which is set at 5%. Would a 20% tax put people off?

Or, perhaps, a minimum number of nights might need to be booked at a hotel? Pitching the number of nights you can stay in the city at seven nights minimum would certainly deter plenty of people from booking a visit, but might not be enough to put the rich people off. In such a scenario, maybe Amsterdam could become a kind of Northern European St Tropez, an exclusive destination attractive only to the hoi polloi?

Of course, these are simplistic scenarios and unlikely to happen in the way described. Especially when tourism is reported to be worth around €87.5 billion a year to the wider Dutch economy. You might expect that, in this instance, these numbers will do all the talking. But in a world where a virus can bring the world to a standstill, anything is possible.

It is worth pointing out that, in terms of population density, Amsterdam is a village compared to Paris, with inhabitants per square kilometre coming in at around 4,500 and 21,500 respectively. Imagine if tourism was curtailed by the French authorities? There would be a riot.

I won’t be surprised if some other quirky political outcomes are pursued over the next year or so should we enter into a deep global recession, and this includes on the travel and tourism front, but it is difficult to see offbeat schemes working. Not when there is so much money at stake. Look what happened after the 9 / 11 attacks in New York in 2001 as an example.

If anything was going to discourage flying it was that shocking terrorist attack, but the absolute opposite happened, despite airport security being tightened up so much in the time since that, all too often, going through the airport feels as straightforward as making water run uphill.

In the years since 9 / 11, air travel has increased by a much greater rate than it did in the previous comparable time period: there were 4.2 billion air passengers in 2018, 1.66 billion in 2001, and a relatively puny 654 million in 1982. If we characterise the post-9 / 11 aviation industry as a battle for hearts and minds over fear versus money, money definitely won. It might give us some reassurance that the crisis facing the aviation industry at the moment is a relative blip.

Since the 2008 recession, we seem to have entered a period which future historians might characterise as one exhibiting increased nationalist sentiment. There has in recent times been some well-documented comparisons of the last ten years or so with the Great Depression of the 1930’s that preceded World War II, for example. To an outsider like me, it might seem like those Amsterdam politicians are displaying a bit of that same kind of inward thinking. For the sake of me and those like me, I just hope those same politicians don’t make it too difficult, or too expensive, for me to revisit one of my favourite cities.