Every year I dutifully do my analysis of the relative bias of home-town umpiring and it seems every year it throws up pretty much the same result – certainly for the last six years.

I don’t specifically look at how individual clubs do with umpires, I don’t have the resources but for many years the trend has been that the most favoured club, no surprise, is the West Coast Eagles. However, football pundits, especially those in Victoria, have failed to look at the deeper, more worrying trend (for those of us who follow Non-Victorian clubs anyway) and that is that non- Victorian Clubs, even with the Eagles, get the worst deal overall.

Most will recall early in the season when Victorians were up in arms over the free kick count against St Kilda versus The Eagles (25-12). But the Saints suffered exactly the same free-kick count against Essendon and nobody raised a peep. Nor did those same critics seem to care that the Swans were 9-20 against North, or 16-29 against the Western Bulldogs. For Swans supporters who lost the chance of a flag in 2016 via a horribly biased umpiring effort, it is par for the course. Check out the sample above – not one was paid a free-kick and I could have added another dozen.

Anyway, simply expressed here are the major findings for home town bias in umpiring 2018.

  2. THE BIAS AS USUAL FROM LEAST TO MOST GOES LIKE THIS; least biased to Home Teams is when Home Victorian Team plays Away Victorian Team, next least biased when Home Non- Victorian Team plays Away Victorian Teams (Even with the Eagles!) second most biased is when Home Non-Vic Teams play Away Non-Vic Teams and yes, most biased when Home Victorian Teams play Away Non-Victorian Teams.
  3. With the West Coast Eagles games removed, Victorian Away teams suffer no disadvantage at all.
  4. The bias is common on both measures that I use – Overall percentage of free kicks paid, and Games Of Large Differential (GOLD) in free kicks.


I split games into the four categories mentioned above plus two others – Home Derbies in SA and WA, and games played in a neutral town where there can be no reasonable basis for calling one team a “home team.”

The two stats used are then simply

ONE –  a division on Home or Away basis of aggregate free kicks in each category to determine the percentage paid over the season to the various home and away categories

AND TWO – a division on Home or Away basis of GOLD games: a game qualifies as a GOLD game if one team receives 56% or more of frees and the other 44% or less.



HOME VIC V AWAY VIC total frees          HOME 51.5 % AWAY 48.5%

HOME NON-VIC V AWAY VIC                    HOME 51.7     AWAY 48.3

HOME NON-VIC V AWAY NON-VIC          HOME  52.3    AWAY 47.7

HOME VIC V AWAY NON-VIC                    HOME  52.6     AWAY 47.4



HOME VIC V AWAY VIC  % of GOLD Games Favouring     HOME 56.2 % AWAY 43.8%

HOME NON-VIC V AWAY VIC                                                 HOME 61.5     AWAY 38.5

HOME NON-VIC V AWAY NON-VIC                                       HOME  75        AWAY 25

HOME VIC V AWAY NON-VIC                                                 HOME  84.2     AWAY 15.8

Look at the huge discrepancy in the last figure. There were 19 games played between Home Victorian and Away Non-Victorian teams in which one team got 56% or more of the Frees – 16 times of those 19 it was the Victorian team that was favoured.

Please, tell me with a straight face that is not terrible bias.

Now to be fair, the Vic Teams playing Away didn’t get a fair crack either: that was 16-10 in favour of the Home Non-Vic Teams. Nowhere near as bad for the visitors but still not pretty. HOWEVER, if you remove West Coast Games this drops to 11-10.

This echoes recent years. When Vic clubs travel away with the exception of West Coast (and to a lesser extent Crows) games, they do no worse than if playing away in Melbourne.

The shocking pro-Victorian bias is very similar to 2016 when the grand final was marred by blatantly one-sided umpiring and does not augur well for those Non-Vic Clubs who might play a final in Victoria.


You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that umpires, like all of us, want to be liked and therefore tend to not penalise home teams, especially in blow-out free kick games.  It would seem that umpires give the more intimidating home crowds Eagles/Crows a better go than the more placid Sydney and Queensland supported teams but why they should favour Vic home teams more who knows? Maybe because media and their own HQ is housed there they are more susceptible.


This bias has been around over the 15 years I’ve been doing stats and there has been no fix, not even an acknowledgment of a fundamental problem. Getting rid of Haydn Kennedy might help but I doubt it.

Irish and American players have shown they can adapt to our game so why not umpires.

If we want a truly unbiased adjudication, I think we should train neutral overseas umpires and house them off-shore, flying them in only for the game.

The locals have had their chance and repeatedly failed. Time to fix the mess.


  1. At the start of each game in Sydney I ask the umpires from the stand in more colourful language.’ what rules are we playing today, the Victorian rules or National rules’. The easiest stat to hide is the frees not given. Umpires cannot help being influanced by what is a Melbourne based game. Thus what is good for the game is what happens in Melbourne. e.g. ‘ When Collingwood is going well so is the game.” The Grand final is played on the home ground of half the Melbourne teams. The other half of the Melbourne teams have lots of MCG games and call them “away games”. Whereas most non Vic teams travel interstate for half of there games.
    I would love to get into the heads of Umps and Victorian administrators ITS A NATIONAL GAME.
    When Games are tight I here the term the “ump have put the whistle away’? In other words the rules have changed.Usually to the detriment to non Vic teams.
    How can the Umps not be influenced that for example if Sydney played Richmond this next week end there would be 60,000 as opposed to the 90,000 up coming game. Same goes for the GWS game.
    The pressure to keep the game So Melbourne stops it from being the National game. This goes to Not having National carnivals etc. Sydney having cost of living payment not allowed, Suns given crap facilities so that there is a losing time instead of a Melbourne team that should have moved north. The whole comp is set up for Melbourne this influences umps because it is their bread and butter. To assist Daves’ point the Free kick stat are hidden during the game in after game stats one really has to search for frees stats.
    My solution is to have a National competition, NFL conference style. 4 conferences one from each region two in Melbourne. Hence a finalist from winner of each region to play of with some wild card to make up bottom 4 Insuring a Victorian and National non victorian team playing the grand final. Hopefully taking pressure of Umps to have successful Melbourne teams.

    • One of the worrying things though, even with split conferences, is that when Non-Vic teams play away to other Non-Vic teams they also suffer very badly. This probably doesn’t matter as much if one is guaranteed of having an even split of home and away, what you lose on the swing you get on the roundabout. I can only imagine the reason for this bias against non-vic away sides is that they have such minimal crowd support. If the Suns (away) play Freo for example, they have no support, but if Carlton (away) plays Freo there will still be support (though maybe not for much longer the way the Blues are going). You make a very good point Greg about the Melbourne/Victorian conceptualisation of the game – it is basically still the VFL with add ons. I have a suggestion that I think that could bring back state of origin footy without affecting home and away and am ear-bashing some in power, more on that later. it hasn’t been publicised here but do you know that after the outcry against West Coast Eagles re favouritism by umpires, that WA umpires were not selected to umpire Eagles home games. What a joke! Yes, the Eagles are the outlier in free kick statistics but non-Vic clubs cop the same treatment at least twice per season when they play away. Can you imagine them banning Victorian umps in Melbourne?

  2. This week will be the ultimate test of the power of home club bias in umpiring. If West Coast receives any thing above a 55 – 60% of frees there are reasonable grounds for an AFL enquiry.
    Believe me – as someone who played against Collingwood at Victoria Park in the 1960’s – 70’s, Home crowds definitely hold a sway with umpires.

    • Actually the ultimate test would have been West Coast (the most favoured non-vic club) playing Melbourne in Melbourne. Then it would have been interesting to see if the “let’s get it done for history” bias that worked for the Bulldogs in 2016 would be the same for Melbourne even against West Coast. As it is Melbourne media (eg Gerard Whately) have made such a focus on the West Coast home bias I reckon it’ll wind up being pretty even. But I defer to your personal experience and just wonder why the AFL can’t do better to eliminate this bias. Cheers

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