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Psychology Of The Emirates Crowd - Blog One

So, er... welcome to my first Arsenal blog for Goonersphere. It's not my first foray into blogging as such, I actually did write a blog of my own several years ago, I think I managed two issues before I jacked it in. The highlight of which was a rallying cry for us to get behind Denilson.

It's fair to say my past record is weaker than Joe Harts wrists. You're probably thinking that the last thing the world needs is another Arsenal blog. After all, there are loads of great blogs out there already, discussing everything from youth team development through to the finer tactical details of the double pivot, usually written by people far more knowledgeable than I on any of those subjects.

As such, I've decided to limit my blog focus largely to an area I do have a working knowledge of - Psychology. That's not to say I won't occasionally share my view on ticket prices or the clubs finances but mostly I'll be writing about why people think the way they do on certain Arsenal related subjects.

Jumping right in, I've picked as my first topic, the issue of 'Support at The Emirates". It's a divisive subject and I've seen more twitter dust-ups on the issue than most others. We've all heard Ramsey and Eboue get stick from the Emirates crowd. The Villa game brought some pretty loud  'Spend some fucking money" chants. Hell, there is a guy who sits near me who insists on shouting 'Ben Johnson' at the top of his voice, every. single. bloody. time Theo gets the ball.

A commonly held view is that  "If you pay your money, you're entitled to moan as much as you want." After all, pro-footballers on £50k+ a week should be able to take a little criticism. Others argue that fans should always be positive, and that the 12th man has a role to play in helping the team. We've all got a view but fortunately it's a topic that's also interested a few psychologists, economists and social scientists. Presumably the kind of sensible scientist that thinks its a really good idea to write a paper that involves watching loads of football rather than like me who decided that micro-expressions are fascinating and ended up watching 400 hours of people raising their eyebrows a fraction of a mm.

Subsequently, there is actually some research on the subject that might aid our insight. Generally, its focused on establishing whether teams at home (where they have more fans) have some sort of advantage. One of the most interesting pieces looked at the effect of a home crowd on referees and was conducted by Nevil, Neville and Gale in 1996. You can read the whole study here, but the key finding was that:  

  • Home win % is 68.3% - teams win more games at home than away. In other words, home advantage is real and scientifically valid.
  • Referees award 15.5% fewer fouls against home teams in front of a partisan crowd than they do in front of a silent crowd.

In 2008, Dohman analyzed the neutrality of referees during 12 Bundesliga seasons. His conclusion? Referees, who are appointed to be impartial, tend to favour the home team by systematically awarding more stoppage time in close matches in which the home team is behind. They also favour the home team in decisions to award goals and penalty kicks.

Crowd composition affects the size and the direction of the bias, and the crowd's proximity impacts the quality of refereeing. Kocher and Sutter's research in 2004 stated that:

"Favoritism or biased behavior of referees can be investigated by examining their decisions on awarding penalties or extra time at the end of a football match. We can confirm a systematic home bias of referees."

Generally, home teams got more pens, and longer time added on if they were chasing the game. So it's pretty clear - a noisy Emirates crowd should make referees favour us....but what about the effect on the players? Arguably this is area that provokes the most debate.

The players themselves seem unsure, both Arteta and Gerrard this season are on record as saying having a noisy positive crowd helps them play better, but it isn't hard to find players saying the opposite - that having a crowd on your back can help focus the mind and foster something of an 'I'll show you' mentality. Often you'll hear players say things like "I just shut out the crowd and concentrate on the game".

The reality is, people generally and players in this instance aren't always best placed to render a verdict. We all systematically undervalue the amount of influence external stimulus has upon us. Cox and Ganzer in 1968 in separate studies demonstrated that highly nervous individuals are inhibited by audiences but it's actually beneficial to confident people. It's probably not too much of a stretch to assume that most top level footballers fall into the later category otherwise they'd have most likely fallen by the wayside before reaching the top level.

Having good self-confidence makes you more likely to downplay the impact of your external environment. Fortunately there is a great study from the world of basketball that may shed some light. In 1979, Thirer and Rampey established that the home crowd being negative towards the visiting team had little effect on the performance of the visiting team but if the home crowd is negative towards the home team then it had a decided detrimental effect.

The results were largely replicated by Greer in 1983 although they disagree on the level of impact on the home team. So what to make of it all? It seems our role as fans is quite simple. Noisy support makes us more likely to win, it frightens the ref into giving us more decisions, makes us more likely to get penalties and longer time to equalize at the end of 90minutes if we're chasing the game.

The impact of being negative towards our own players is perhaps less clear cut, although it suggests that Ramsey's transformation into the Welsh Messi wasn't caused by those groaning every time he got the ball and sending him death threats on twitter.

You know what, at the end of the day it is your money and in an era where football fans are regarded as consumers, you are entitled to cheer and boo whoever you want to. But the evidence on balance suggests if you've not rocked up at The Emirates with the intention of creating a wall of noise the ref can't climb over, you'd probably be better off staying at home...

Tell us what you think! If you agree, or have a different view, please leave a comment in the comments section or why not write a response or your own article on YouWrite?

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