'It's amazing what 2,000 fans can do' – but what impact do home supporters really have?


Chelsea players celebrate in front of their fans against Leeds
Chelsea were able to celebrate scoring in front of their own fans for the first time since March

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard hailed the return of fans to Stamford Bridge after his side beat Leeds on Saturday, but just how much have home teams missed them?

The Blues were able to host 2,000 fans for the first time this season after the second national lockdown was lifted.

Those in attendance watched Chelsea come from behind to win 3-1 against Leeds and go top of the Premier League.

Asked if Chelsea’s fans are right to consider the Blues as title contenders, Lampard said: “There’s nothing wrong with the fans thinking that, their input was huge, the noise they made tonight was huge, and you can see how excited they are.

“But my job and our job is not to get carried away, to know it’s a long season, and to understand just how much and where exactly we can improve.

“This was a big win for us, though, so I will let myself enjoy the evening and have a small glass of wine, maybe even a large one to be fair, but I’ll certainly stay grounded.

“It’s amazing what 2,000 can do. It’s been challenging without the fans and we needed [them back].”

Chelsea had done OK without the backing of their home support this season, winning three and losing just one of their six home games this season, but just how much of an impact has a lack of fans across the Premier League had?

Empty stadiums have helped the away side?

Clubs filled the void left by the lack of real fans at grounds by putting cardboard cutouts of supporters in seats
Clubs filled the void left by the lack of real fans at grounds by putting cardboard cutouts of supporters in seats

Managers and players will often speak about the benefit of the 12th man – a term for a team’s supporters and the extra bounce their presence can provide a home side while they chase a positive result.

Several months of empty grounds have provided the opportunity to see how they compare to the packed-stadium days before the arrival of Covid-19.

Data specialists Gracenote analysed last season’s 288 Premier League matches with crowds and the 190 played since June before this weekend.

They found:

  • There is only a 3.7% difference between the number of home and away wins without a crowd compared to 14.6% for last season’s matches with a crowd.
  • The percentage of home wins has dropped from last season’s 44.8% with a crowd to 41.6% for the matches played this season and last with no spectators.
  • Away wins have increased from 30.2% with spectators to 37.9% without.
  • Goalscoring by home teams has reduced from 1.51 goals per match to 1.48.
  • With crowds last season, home teams were awarded 0.6 free-kicks per match more than away teams. Now, away teams are awarded 0.34 free-kicks per match more than home sides.

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Good to have the fans back then?

There were mixed fortunes in the Premier League, though, with a 3-1 defeat for West Ham against Manchester United in front of 2,000 fans at London Stadium preceding Chelsea’s win at Stamford Bridge.

In the Championship, the return of fans to Carrow Road coincided with leaders Norwich maintaining their good start with a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday, although they required two goals in the last nine minutes to do it. Did the fan factor swing it?

Perhaps. But there was no such luck for promotion hopefuls Watford, as their supporters returned to Vicarage Road only to witness a 1-0 defeat by Cardiff City. Equally, despite spectators still not being permitted at any sporting events in Wales, that did not stop Swansea climbing back into the Championship play-off places.

What about in League One? Well, Portsmouth swept aside Peterborough in front of 2,000 returning fans at Fratton Park to leapfrog their opponents in the promotion places, but both Northampton and Plymouth Argyle were left empty-handed despite being boosted by their fans.

In League Two, Bolton Wanderers probably could have done with some support as they conceded six against Port Vale – although that proved no help to Tranmere – while Cheltenham Town’s fans were treated to five goals by their side against Exeter – and eight in all.

All in all, it was a rather mixed picture….

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