For years I’ve had this feeling that AFL umpires are biased to home teams when games are played between clubs of different states. More specifically, I’ve had a hunch that Victorian teams don’t suffer as much when they play interstate, as interstate teams do when they play against Victorian teams. Now, usually I’m following Sydney or the Dockers and like all fans I believe my team has had the rough end of the pineapple but I thought it was time to look at some statistics for the first 10 games of the season and see if I had any reason for my grumbles or if I’m just a paranoid, one-eyed footy fan.

First off I divided the games into these categories:

1 SAME STATE V SAME STATE . This is when Victorian teams play one another, the Eagles play the Dockers and the Crows play Port.




The first category is the biggest. Thirty-two games have been played this season between same state teams, and the free kicks are what you expect, 590, 51% for the “home” team and 568, 49% to the “away” team. So when both clubs have solid representation in the crowd there isn’t much difference in free kicks paid. But I also looked at how many of these games had a significant difference in frees paid between the two clubs. I’ve defined significant as any time one club received less than 41% of the free kicks paid that day. I reckon 60-40 or any greater split in frees is pretty significant. Ten of the thirty-two games played had a significant difference in free kicks.

The category 2 where home Victorian teams play visiting interstaters, the difference was much more pronounced. In the twenty such games played, Victorian home teams got 403 free kicks to their opponents 341. This is approximately 54% v 46%. Not humungous but certainly a greater differential than our baseline category 1. The Victorian teams received more free kicks in twelve of the twenty games. In one game the free kick count was the same and seven times the Interstate team got the frees. Now that is pretty pronounced. But here is what is more revealing, there were 6 significant games where one side received 60% or more of the free kicks and on every occasion that team was Victorian. So the lesson is that if you are an interstate team playing in Victoria there’s a good chance the umpires will crucify you.

What about when you are a non-Vic interstate team playing another non-Vic interstate team? Well this is even more frightening. In the eight games in this category played so far, the frees to the home teams are 170, versus 133 for the away teams. That’s 56% to 44%. In four of the eight games played, there was a significant difference in free kicks but on one occasion it was the away team who got the frees. Any guess who missed out? Yep, poor old Freo were on the wrong end against Sydney. But apart from that one result it is very clear that interstate teams who travel to play non-Victorian teams are in peril from the men in white. Any reason for this? Well, it’s pretty obvious to anybody who goes to footy around Australia that while the visiting Victorian teams have strong followings in the various states, the visiting interstate teams usually have few fans. Not too many Dockers fans at the Gabba or Port fans in Sydney. Maybe I’m unfair, but I also suspect that umpires who have punished interstate teams when they were previously playing away like to try and balance the ledger in front of the home crowd. I’m not saying this is conscious on their part, just that it’s human nature and it is happening.

So how about when Victorian teams have to travel interstate? Do they get punished similarly? In category 4, just like in category 2, twenty games have been played. The frees to the home teams are 379 (51.7%) versus 353 (48%) to the visiting Vics. So it’s more than our baseline category 1 and would suggest some bias for the home side, though not so great as visiting non-Vic teams face. Of the games played, both teams got the same number of free kicks 3 times, the visiting Vics got more free kicks 5 times, and the home team got the majority 12 times. Now as in category 2 there were 6 significant games where one side received 60% or more of the frees, however, on two occasions it was the visiting Vics who got significantly more free kicks. I think I’d sum this finding up as showing that the visiting Vic teams do face a home crowd bias too but it simply isn’t as endemic as what interstate teams face when they are the visitors.

Overall, I don’t think there can really be any doubt that umpires, consciously or unconsciously discriminate against visiting non-Victorian teams, particularly when they are playing other non-Victorian teams, but also in Victoria. I can’t imagine that the travel involved somehow makes teams give away free kicks. No, the answer is with the men in white who control the game and it is time that the AFL addressed what is clearly an issue of fairness. The old chestnut that maybe the Interstate teams aren’t getting free kicks because they aren’t playing in front etcetera won’t wash. In the control group, where same state sides play, it is often the losing side that gets more free kicks. I suspect because umpires are too scared to pay frees to forwards that will result in goals.

Summing up, I believe my suspicions are well founded. All visiting teams are at a disadvantage from biased home-town umpiring, however Victorian teams fare better than their interstate counterparts.


  1. Lies, damned lies and statistics! With the greatest respect Dave, what absolute piffle! Has your analysis taken into account that you have two undefeated Victorian teams at the top of the table who are clearly first to the ball? Or that the West Coke Illegals and the Fremantle Shockers are not good enough to be in the top half of the ladder? Stop whinging about the men in “white”!

    • Yes Simon I did take into account whether the frees were caused by simply bad teams giving away frees but as I pointed out, the stats show that teams like Geelong when playing other Victorian teams actually get less free kicks. How good a team is has nothing to do with it. Your contemptuous view of the Dockers (completely justified I might add) clearly reflects the same view the umpires have when thye are playing AWAY! And if the Dockers and Eagles styles were the cause then they should continue to get less frees when playing at home, but apart from one occasion, that doesn’t happen. When The Crows played Freo at Subiaco, they got crucified by the umpires because they were the away team. I reckon this trend has been happening for years. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read and reply best DW

  2. Dave,

    Let me know how you say that the recent Sandgropers’ rather embarrassing losses have been the result of poor umpiring decisions.


  3. It’s an interesting argument and I agree there are a few variables. I don’t doubt that the hometown decisions are significant, but some Victorian games have 80000 people at them and about 55-45% of supporters for the two teams. In 2009 when a team like Freo play say Melbourne at the MCG there will be 15000 supporters and about 1000 for the Dockers. The impetus on the umpires to make a decision is much less. At Collingwood Essendon “ball” is called out every minute at a level to cause industrial deafness, at Melbourne Freo you can hear the birds foraging.

    I don’t doubt the ferocity of the crowd is an issue but consider also the state of the teams. In 2005 there was a discussion in Melbourne about whether a Victorian team would ever win the flag again. All the big teams we racking up draft picks. Was the free kick count the same then? Is this more about how the umps seem to pay the frees to the winning teams?

    The other thing I am interested in is when the frees are paid. How many games do you go to a game when your team is getting a double belting (scoreboard and frees) and then you get three or four even uppers in the last quarter and you are 10 goals down. The frees make it look even, but Buddy got two charities to start his rampage.

    I still think you make a good a point because over in Melbourne we reckon we get buried by the umps interstate. It seems like this is not true.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Hi Michael, I ran the stats for 2010 and they were similar though not identical to 2009 with some improvement for the interstate teams. In the category where Interstate Teams play away to Victorian Teams, there was once again a big disparity in significant free kick games (virtually all going to Vic Home Teams again). However, other stats eased back towards parity. From what I have seen this year (2011) though, it looks like it as all over the place. Too early yet for a true analysis but so far it seems there a lot of big disparity games and it doesn’t seem to matter who is playing them.

  4. I’m searching for books in good condition secondhand by Lavyrle Spencer, Lesley Pearse, Maeve Binchi, Josephine Cox (. Recommendations are welcome . The one you read when you want a laugh fun and delight and not have to think too hard. So I ended up on the footy field from your website. Go Bombers . Well Guys gotta tell ya ‘it is’ the bloody umpires. So now I have that sorted out best you go and have a well deserved drink.

  5. Dave,
    Trust you’re well! Interesting article in today’s “The Age” about alleged “systematic umpiring bias”towards the West Coast and Fremantle in matches at Patersons Stadium. Eagles are 195 frees for and 175 against and Dockers are 207 for and 155 against Take out the derbies, the locals have been given 402 frees to the visitors 330. Food for thought! Simon

    • I did see this amazing stat which again re-inforces the hometown umpiring theory although I noted in 2011 that early in the season things were different before following the usual pattern. I haven’t done the stats for a year or so but would be interested to see if the old patterns were still holding where the non-vic clubs did worse with umpires when playing away against other non-vic clubs etc. Psychology of umpiring is very interesting. the fact that teams flogged by ten goals regualrly get more frees than the winners suggests that many umpires are subconsciously trying to keep the games even. Hope you are one of those who buys the Footy Almanac – i did a foreword in the most recent one

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