Further reading of Desmond Morris’s “The Soccer Tribe” reveals that there is a known phenomenon of ‘away-itis’. This is suffered by all teams in all leagues, and is usually accepted as an inevitable tribal disease. If you add up the number of home wins and the number of away wins and divide the home wins by the away wins you end up with a ratio. There are trends for first division clubs for decades which provide an insight into the problem. I looked at the fixture results for Dartford so far this season, and unsurprisingly we arrive at a ratio of 2.0. So that indicates Dartford are twice as likely to win at home as away. In the national leagues the figures have been shown to go as low as 1.7 and as high as 2.8. Also (unsurprisingly) the teams at the top of their divisions were less likely to be afflicted than those at the bottom. Lower league teams are more prone to a high ratio. Given that Dartford have managed to stay in the upper half of the Blue Square Premier League, and only recently dropped out of the play-off zone, perhaps things aren’t too dire.
However, I have noticed that when the players run out onto the away pitch – the enemy territory – the tension on their faces shows clearly the apprehension they feel. I’ve not kept a lot of these ‘entrance to the pitch’ images as I’ve found mostly the team look down, already submissive. I wish they’d look up and out, if only for my camera! In the shot below, against the Kidderminster Harriers, Dartford lost 5:1. How might fortunes have changed with a more confident start?
But, if all teams in all leagues are prone to this effect, what can be done to improve? Well, the disruption caused by getting up earlier, a change in routine, a long journey and associated fatigue can’t really be changed. The unfamiliarity of surroundings at the new venue can’t really be dealt with – the changing rooms, the pitch etc. I have to say that having gone on these away games this season, I haven’t noticed any hostility on the part of the host club, in fact they seem to go out of their way to be friendly. It is, however, suggested that there are possible ways to mitigate the effect.
- Arrange with the supporters to arrive at the ground before the players (they usually come after the team have arrived). They can them cheer them into their dressing room.
- Decorate the dressing room with team colours and enable them to see it as ‘theirs’.
- Encourage as many fans as possible to travel – which seems to be happening given that the supporters coach is usually full and other supporters make their way by independent means as well. There is usually a good, loud-voiced crowd. The only thing is the segregation that occurs at a lot of venues, herding the away supporters into what is usually the most unattractive part of the stadium.
Desmond Morris recounts how one lowly team, about to play a cup final against a much more illustrious team, hired a comedian to tell jokes in the dressing room immediately prior to the match. The jokes were so good that the players were still laughing as they walked out onto the pitch. This so un-nerved the other team that the under-dogs won handsomely. So, Coaches, Kit-men and Supporters, you know what to do. And brush up your joke repertoire!