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.
2 VICTORIAN HOME TEAM V VISITING INTERSTATE TEAM
3 INTERSTATE HOME TEAM V VISITING INTERSTATE TEAM
4 INTERSTATE HOME TEAM V VISITING VICTORIAN TEAM.
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.