I know I’m preaching to the converted when I tell Swans, Giants, Eagles, Dockers, Crows, Port, Lions and Suns fans that the playing field isn’t level when it comes to your club’s treatment from umpires. But even the most one-eyed of you might be staggered to know just how heavily the cards were stacked against your club in 2016 when it comes to the men in white.

Okay let’s state the blindingly obvious: UMPIRES FAVOUR HOME TEAMS. I’ve been looking at free kick stats on and off for more than a decade and this is a consistent trend. It doesn’t matter if it’s two Victorian teams playing each other or two Non-Victorian teams playing each other, the home side will be favoured but the critical element is the degree of advantage given to the home team and this is where the AFL splits into the great divide between Victorian and Non-Victorian teams.

I use two basic stats in examining free-kick trends. The first is a very simple split of cumulative free kicks throughout the season to Home Teams versus those to Away Teams.  If there is no bias, then over the course of the season these should fall around 50/50.

The second stat I use involves looking at games where one team gets a major free kick advantage over their opponent. I define “major” or “significant” as a club receiving 56% or more of frees in that game. This means their opponent must have received 44% or less. And it is this stat that really shines the spotlight on the bias against Non-Victorian teams when playing away.

In 2016 there were 21 games where a Non-Victorian Away team played a Victorian Home Team (in Melb and Tas) and where there was a major free kick advantage. In 19 of those 21 games the advantage went to the Victorians.

In comparison when Vic teams played away against Non-Vic Home Teams there were 18 games where one side got a major advantage. This went 11-7 in favour of the Non-Vic teams.

So overall for 2016 there were 39 games between Vic and Non Vic teams where there was a major advantage to one side with the split going 26-13 in favour of the Victorians.

While there can be some fluctuation from year to year, generally the stats show a consistent trend I’ve noticed over the years: Victorian sides playing interstate don’t get treated much worse than when they play away to other Victorian sides but the Non-Vic sides get creamed.  Often, it is even worse for Non-Vic teams when they play away to other Non-Vic teams than when they play in Victoria.  This year for example there were 14 games of major free-kick difference when Non-Vic teams played one another, with the advantage going 11-3 to the Home side. Oh, and it’s worst of all in Non-Vic derbies.

A glance at the season free kick percentages (see table 1 below) show the same facts. Home Vic sides get 51.5% of frees over Vic opponents. Home Non Vic Sides get 51.6% of frees over Vic sides.  Home Non-Vic sides get 53.6% of frees v other Non-Vic sides, and Home Vic sides get a whopping 55.5% of frees over Non-Vic sides.

Whichever way you cut it, umpires have an inordinate bias against non-Vic sides playing away and this is a reasonably consistent trend.  So you Non-Vic supporters screaming at your TV screen when your team is getting butchered at Etihad or Bluestone or the local derby … you most likely have every right.

What will the AFL and the highly paid umpiring officials do about it? What they’ve always done …

Of course he Non-Vic player was penalised
Of course the Non-Vic player was penalised


2016 percentage of freesVic Home v Vic AwayNon-Vic Home v Vic AwayNon-Vic Home v Non-Vic AwayVic Home v Non Vic AwayNon-Vic Home derbies(Crows-Port, Dockers-Eagles, Giants-Swans)
HOME TEAM51.551.653.755.560.7
AWAY TEAM48.548.446.345.539.3



2016 GAMES OF MAJOR DISPARITY IN FREES COUNTVic Home v Vic AwayNon-Vic Home v Vic AwayNon-Vic Home v Non-Vic AwayVic Home v Non Vic AwayNon-Vic Home derbies(Crows-Port, Dockers-Eagles, Giants-Swans)
HOME TEAM15  (57.7%)11 (61.1%)11  (78.6%)19  (90.4%)4  (100%)
AWAY TEAM11  (42.3%)7   (38.9%)3     (21.4%)2    (09.6%)0  (0%)


  1. Clearly different this year now that we’re all aware of the “Noise of Affirmation”! Very much looking forward to seeing you on 22 April. Cheers, Simon

    • Thanks Simon – amazingly the free-kick pattern seems to have slipped straight back into the usual pattern – have they no shame! See you Saturday

  2. Nice article, I recall a South Australian professor produced a research paper on this back in 1998 purely as an exercise in statistics.

    Like you have shown, there was a clear bias against non Victorian teams… and he concluded it was caused because the majority of the umpires are Victorian, and they have a natural bias against non Victorian teams.

    Time for neutral refs IMO… Id be happy for a couple of South Australians to umpire Eagles games.

    • I’m not sure what the reason is because I actually think the non Vic umps are probably as biased or more-so. Maybe it’s the whole Melbourne centric nature of the AFL. It is important to note though that all away teams get a bad deal, just that it’s a bit worse for Non-Vic teams not including the Eagles.

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