Almanac Footy: ‘Gutless umpire!’ Fact or Fiction?


For about 20 years now I have been keeping stats on how umpire bias plays out with home ground advantage. The AFL and other stats sites began to do this too a few years ago but they omit the critical VARIABLE that involves whether the AWAY TEAM is from a different state, or the same state as the HOME team, or whether both teams are in fact `Away’ Teams playing on neutral ground.


The reason I began doing this at all was because whenever I saw the AFL Teams that I favour (Sydney Swans/Dockers)  playing away, it seemed that they were massacred by the umpires. Yet when they played at home, they did not seem to get this same advantage. Was I imagining this?  Was I just so one-eyed my brain was distorting the reality?


The stats answered with a resounding NO.


The stats in fact showed EXACTLY what I thought.


On average:


  1. Teams playing AWAY get less FREE-KICKS than HOME teams. No real surprise there.
  2. Non-Victorian teams playing AWAY get a worse deal than Victorian teams playing AWAY interstate. That is, while all teams playing AWAY interstate are worse off, the Non-Vic teams whether playing away to Victorian teams or other Non-Vic Teams, are worse off than their Victorian counterparts.
  3. When Victorian teams play one another there is a SMALLER DIFFERENCE in free-kicks paid over the course of a season. But there is still a strong advantage in blow-out games to the Home side.


Generally, the difference OVER THE SEASON for teams of different states is:


HOME Victorian Teams playing AWAY non-Victorian teams over the season get around 53.5% of free-kicks versus 46.5%.   7% bias all up


OVER THE SEASON the other way, non-Victorian Teams playing at HOME get around 52% of frees versus Victorian AWAY Teams 48%  –   4% bias..


Victorian Teams playing each other normally come out around 51.5% Home to 48.5% Away. 3% bias


When analysis is applied to BLOW-OUT games: games in which one-side gets A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT MORE FREE KICKS THAN THE OTHER (defined as 56% or greater of the free-kick count) then the advantage to Victorian sides is made clear. 


To explain, if there is a blow-out free kick game played in Victoria between a Vic Home team and a Non-Vic Away Team times it will be the Vic Home team that benefits more than 78% of the time. That’s massive.


But while Non-Victorian teams also usually get a strong advantage in blow-out games it normally isn’t AS GREAT as the Vic teams get.  More like 65% they will be the beneficiaries of blow-out games. Still huge.




In 2016 Home and Away games there were 15 blow-out free-kick games in Victoria/Tas between Home Victorian Teams and Away Non-Victorian teams. 14 of the 15 blow-outs were in favour of the Home Victorian team. In comparison that same year there were 18 blow out games where Victorian teams were the away team playing interstate.  Those blow outs went only 7-11 against the Vic sides.



The bias culminated in the atrocious umpiring of the 2016 Grand Final.


In more recent times things have improved a fair bit for the Non-Victorian teams, so let’s see how 2021 is going.



Vic v Vic in Vic

Vic v Non-Vic in Vic/Tas Non-Vic v Non-Vic on Home ground Non-Vic v Vic on Non-Vic Home Ground Derbies/Showdown etc between Non-Vic Neutral Ground Games
HOME 50.36 52.97 48.81 52.84 51.78 49.01
AWAY 49.64 47.03 51.19 47.16 48.22 50.99

The only real surprise I suppose is that half-way through the season Non-Victorian Away teams playing Non-Vic Home Teams are actually IN FRONT! But isn’t it interesting that the neutral ground games are running near 50/50, like games between Vic teams in Victoria. This clearly demonstrates how biased umpires can be when they feel the pressure of a whole state.


Now let’s look at




Team that is beneficiary of blow-out Vic v Vic in Vic Vic v Non-Vic in Vic/Tas Non-Vic v Non-Vic on Home ground Non-Vic v Vic on Non-Vic Home Ground Derbies/Showdown etc between Non-Vic Neutral Ground Games
HOME 7 9 4 8 1 1
AWAY 6 3 3 3 0 2






As usual the BLOW OUT TABLE above shows that when we’re talking blow-out games between teams from different states you don’t want to be playing away; whether you are Victorian or Non-Victorian.




In BLOW OUT FREE KICK GAMES (or Games with Significant Differential) if we take the last 7 years: 2014-15-16-17-18-19 (to mid-season – sorry I went on holiday and never finished!) 2020 (no stats covid corrupted) and 2021 (current mid-season) the blow out free kick games breakdown is


BLOW OUT GAMES BETWEEN VIC HOME AND VIC AWAY 160 blow out free kick games. 98 blow outs to home side. (61.25%)


BLOW OUT GAMES BETWEEN VIC HOME AND NON-VIC AWAY 139 blow out games 109 blow outs to Vic home side (78.41%)


BLOW OUT GAMES BETWEEN NON-VIC HOME AND NON-VIC AWAY 75 blow out games 53 blow outs to home side (70.66%)


BLOW OUT GAMES BETWEEN NON-VIC HOME AND VIC AWAY 129 blow out games 84 to home non-Vic side (65.12%)


BLOW OUT DERBY/SHOWDOWN GAMES 22 blow out games 17 to home side (77.27%)


BLOW OUT NEUTRAL GAMES  9 blow out games 6 to “home” side (66.33%)


The figures are an indictment on the concept of `neutral’ umpiring but they also show that while any AWAY side is vulnerable, Victorian sides playing AWAY IN A DIFFERENT STATE are not that much worse off than playing away to other Victorian sides in Victoria or in a “neutral” situation.   But Away Non-Victorian sides in Victoria get an even worse deal than when they are the “Away” team in a Home City Derby/Showdown.




Most of the usual trends are evident but at this point of the season not as pronounced as normal. (That may change, usually as the pointy end of the season approaches the bias becomes worse.)


Umpires are clearly biased when they have to umpire games in front of biased home state crowds, although unusually this year, not in games between Non-Vic teams.


So far this year, Victorian Away teams playing interstate are faring just as badly as their rivals, so that’s some kind of level playing field. 




Teach AFL umpiring to non-Australians, keep them in quarantine from the game and bring them in for the games.



The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE


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About dave warner

East Freo supporter, musician, writer who has used football themes in songs (Half Time at the Football, Suburban Boy, Free Kicks) and books (City of Light, Footy's Hall of Shame)


  1. Dr Rocket says

    All too true Dave, and it keeps happening!

    As you point out this manifested itself most objectly in the 2016 grand final where the free kick count effectively provided the Bulldogs with an extra player!

    Shameful umpiring.
    There should be an asterix against this result.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Interesting stuff, Dave!

    I’ll have to mull over it.

  3. Rick Kane says

    Steps to rectify! Love it.

  4. Blimey, this is an extraordinary piece of analysis, Dave.


  5. Your data fits with my preferred explanation – the “noise of affirmation” bias inherent in hearing the roar (or silence) of the crowd. My Docker mate (I have ONE) always complains about the umpiring in derbies (particularly Margetts – the “19th Man” as he calls him). I have trouble separating the free kick count from scoreboard/possession dominance in blow out games (as many of those Derbies have been).
    Do you have any data on the winning team/free kick count correlation – particularly in big wins? Hard to know what is cause and what is effect when this sort of disparity occurs.
    Thanks for confirming what I see/feel.

  6. Neil Belford says

    Ah – the 2016 Grand Final. Footscray should have to give the cup back, the game should go into history the way of Jobe Watsons Brownlow. The only worse performance in living memory was the week before when the Giants were absolutely stone cold held up, stripped naked, and robbed – I think the umps were writing the fairy tale. Both those games left me somewhat in despair and things have not improved.

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