An amazing thing happened this year as the season passed the half-way point and pressure built with many teams jostling for a place in the top four or top eight, the players on AWAY sides – particularly Non-Victorian AWAY sides, began to panic and give up a lot more free kicks than they had in the first part of the season. Or maybe they just stopped contesting the ball because their own free kick numbers tailed off.
Or I suppose there is one other possibility … the umpires began to revert to their time-honoured tradition of FAVOURING HOME SIDES!
Yes, after a promising start in which 2019 began as a year of change where home-town umpiring began to shrink, it blossomed and bloomed like weeds in an untended lawn as the season drove on.
Here is the final overall statistic:
OVERALL FREE KICK PERCENTAGE TO HOME SIDE 51.65
TO AWAY SIDE 48.35
Many people find these overall percentages hard to digest – on the face of it that doesn’t seem like a HUGE difference but let’s look at an easier to grasp concept: Free Kicks in Games Of Large Differential (G.O.L.D.) I define G.O.L.D. games as ones in which one team receives 56 % OR MORE of the frees, the other 44% or less.
In 2019 apart from games which were played in neutral areas with no obvious home crowd advantage there were 96 G.O.L.D. games. Of these 96 games the HOME side was the beneficiary 61 times, the AWAY side just 35 times.
So around 63.5% of G.O.L.D. games see the HOME side favoured and THAT is a significant percentage.
Those of you who read this annual article of mine will be aware that I also split games into 4 categories to test bias for or against Victorian and Non-Victorian sides. Thus games are split into:
HOME VICTORIAN V AWAY VICTORIAN
HOME NON-VICTORIAN V AWAY VICTORIAN
HOME NON-VICTORIAN V AWAY NON-VICTORIAN
HOME VICTORIAN V AWAY NON-VICTORIAN.
Traditionally over the last fifteen years the sides who suffer the worst free-kick bias against them are the AWAY SIDES in the third or fourth categories mentioned: the Non-Vic sides. While Vic sides also suffer when playing away, with remarkable consistency, they do not fare as badly as their Non-Vic counterparts.
Did 2019 follow this trend? Well Yes and No.
Here is the table for the categories in G.O.L.D. games.
HOME VICTORIAN V AWAY VICTORIAN : 29 G.O.L.D GAMES – Home side favoured 20 times (69%)
HOME NON-VICTORIAN V AWAY VICTORIAN 23 G.O.L.D GAMES – Home side favoured 14 times (61%)
HOME NON-VICTORIAN V AWAY NON-VICTORIAN 15 G.O.L.D GAMES – Home side favoured 9 times (60%)
HOME VICTORIAN V AWAY NON-VICTORIAN. 27 G.O.L.D GAMES – Home side favoured 17 times (63%)
So in G.O.L.D. games for the first time since I have been recording, it was Away Vic teams playing fellow Home Vic teams who came out worst. As usual though, Vic away sides playing Non-Vic home sides weren’t as badly off as their counterparts.
Surprisingly the overall percentage of free-kicks in ALL games in the above categories (not just G.O.L.D.) was more traditional.
HOME VICTORIAN V AWAY VICTORIAN 51.8 % to Home Teams
HOME NON-VICTORIAN V AWAY VICTORIAN 51% to Home Teams
HOME NON-VICTORIAN V AWAY NON-VICTORIAN 52.33% to Home Teams
HOME VICTORIAN V AWAY NON-VICTORIAN. 51.9 % to Home Teams.
So, the overall frees in the categories reverted to default with the Away Non-Vic sides faring worse whether they were playing Vic Home sides or Non-Vic Home sides.
We can all speculate on the reasons for this clear umpiring bias towards Home Teams. I’m pretty confident it is the simple desire for umpires to be liked so they tend to NOT PAY free kicks to Away sides that they ought to get. It is understandable that Vic teams get the bias because the majority of footy media is based there. Remember the outcry over St Kilda, Richmond and North Melbourne not getting the frees they should have against The Eagles while the same media ignored worse and more persistent bias against The Dockers and Swans when playing in Melbourne? In one game against the Bulldogs, Freo received 4 free kicks for an entire game!!! But not a word was spoken of it in Melbourne.
Umpires also train there and have their HQ there. But regardless of the reason it is extremely poor from the AFL that the home bias persists.
Solutions: I believe we should train overseas umpires from Ireland or America or wherever and fly them in and out. The locals clearly can’t cut it, maybe a foreigner will.