A new study has revealed the impact of the lack of supporters in stadiums on clubs across the world. In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund have suffered most without their supporters – but are there other factors at play?
As the pandemic continues to keep football fans locked out of stadiums in Europe and beyond, it seems some teams are affected more by the absence of their fans than others.
While the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester City remain as imperious as ever at home, others appear to have been disproportionately affected — either positively or negatively.
Borussia Dortmund , for example, have seen their win rate plummet from 82% in 2018/19, the last full season to be played with supporters in stadiums, to just 46.2%, according to statistics released by Switzerland-based International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES).
Spanish side Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, have won 86.7% of their games at an empty Wanda Metropolitano stadium, the highest win percentage in Europe’s top five divisions – but the overall trend is a drop-off in home wins.
In fact, two clubs in Europe’s top leagues have failed to win a single home game without their fans: Bundesliga side Cologne and French Ligue 1 strugglers Dijon. Even Schalke have managed one home win.
Across 66 leagues worldwide, the study concluded that the number of home wins has decreased from 45.1% between January 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020 to 42% between April 1, 2020 and January 18, 2021 – a 3% drop.
Daniel Abrahams is a UK-based sports psychologist who has worked at several English clubs including Fulham, West Ham and Bournemouth, as well as working as the lead pyschologist for the England rugby team.
Contrary to the data and based on the players he has worked with, he says there can in fact be an improvement in performance when home fans aren’t present, as it can take the pressure off.
„I work with a number of players who compete at the very top level in different countries and there are a lot of individual differences between how players are coping playing in empty stadiums,“ Abrahams tells DW.
„Some are really enjoying it and find that it takes the pressure off them, but others less so. On balance, I would say from the players I’ve spoken to in England, that at the beginning players were enjoying it because there was less pressure on them.
Abrahams adds: „Players can struggle with the apathy that comes with fans sometimes turning on their team or individual players very quickly. Home advantage can be negated by a crowd’s reaction to what’s happening on the pitch.“
Fans one of many factors
However, there are many variables that can contribute to a team’s over or underperformance during a certain period.
Eintracht Frankfurt, for example, could point to the loss of key strikers Luka Jovic, Ante Rebic and Sebastien Haller to explain their 9% fall in home victories during the pandemic, as well as the absence of their vocal supporters.
Dortmund, too, have their reasons. Not only have they gone through the turbulence of a change in coach, they’ve also had to deal with the loss of form of Jadon Sancho, who was so vital to their strong performances in the 2018/19 season, when he scored eight goals and assisted 13 at Signal Iduna Park in the Bundesliga alone. That was, on average, an assist per home game and a goal every 2.1 home games.
In the 13 home games Dortmund have played in the league in front of few or no fans, however, the England international has managed just one goal and three assists.
Does Sancho really just miss the comforting roar of the Yellow Wall every time he scores? Or maybe he was affected by the sustained transfer speculation around him last year?
„Borussia Dortmund have this incredible home support of course, so it’s important to look at the cultural landscape of the club and the impact that could be having,“ Abrahams says.
„Dortmund pride themselves on this wall of sound which reverberates arounds the club and is so crucial to their identity. So hypothetically, it can be a leveller, but of course there’s no hard evidence of that and the cultural landscape of a club is built on different factors.
„Some players become ‘activated’ and become energized as a consequence of the atmosphere on match day and, for those players, the lack of an atmosphere can make a big difference to their state of mind. Some players thrive on the pressure being applied to them and only he and maybe his coaches know whether he is affected in this way.“