Almanac Umpiring: 2016 Pro-Vic Bias in Free Kicks is Getting Worse!

I know I’m preaching to the converted when I tell Swans, Giants, Eagles, Dockers, Crows, Port, Lions and Suns fans that the playing field isn’t level when it comes to your club’s treatment from umpires. But even the most one-eyed of you might be staggered to know just how heavily the cards were stacked against your club in 2016 when it comes to the men in white.


Okay let’s state the blindingly obvious: UMPIRES FAVOUR HOME TEAMS. I’ve been looking at free kick stats on and off for more than a decade and this is a consistent trend. It doesn’t matter if it’s two Victorian teams playing each other or two Non-Victorian teams playing each other, the home side will be favoured but the critical element is the degree of advantage given to the home team and this is where the AFL splits into the great divide between Victorian and Non-Victorian teams.


I use two basic stats in examining free-kick trends. The first is a very simple split of cumulative free kicks throughout the season to Home Teams versus those to Away teams. If there is no bias, then over the course of the season these should fall around 50/50.


The second stat I use involves looking at games where one team gets a major free kick advantage over their opponent. I define “major” or “significant” as a club receiving 56% or more of frees in that game. This means their opponent must have received 44% or less. And it is this stat that really shines the spotlight on the bias against Non-Victorian teams when playing away.


In 2016 there were 21 games where a Non-Victorian Away team played a Victorian Home Team (in Melb and Tas) and where there was a major free kick advantage. In 19 of those 21 games the advantage went to the Victorians.


In comparison when Vic teams played away against Non-Vic Home Teams there were 18 games where one side got a major advantage. This went 11-7 in favour of the Non-Vic teams.


So overall for 2016 there were 39 games between Vic and Non Vic teams where there was a major advantage to one side with the split going 26-13 in favour of the Victorians.


While there can be some fluctuation from year to year, generally the stats show a consistent trend I’ve noticed over the years: Victorian sides playing interstate don’t get treated much worse than when they play away to other Victorian sides but the Non-Vic sides get creamed. Often, it is even worse for Non-Vic teams when they play away to other Non-Vic teams than when they play in Victoria. This year for example there were 14 games of major free-kick difference when Non-Vic teams played one another, with the advantage going 11-3 to the Home side. Oh, and it’s worst of all in Non-Vic derbies.


A glance at the season free kick percentages (see table 1 below) show the same facts. Home Vic sides get 51.5% of frees over Vic opponents. Home Non Vic Sides get 51.6% of frees over Vic sides. Home Non-Vic sides get 53.6% of frees v other Non-Vic sides, and Home Vic sides get a whopping 55.5% of frees over Non-Vic sides.


Whichever way you cut it, umpires have an inordinate bias against non-Vic sides playing away and this is a reasonably consistent trend. So you Non-Vic supporters screaming at your TV screen when your team is getting butchered at Etihad or Bluestone … you most likely have every right.



Table 1

2016 percentage of frees Vic Home v Vic Away Non-Vic Home v Vic Away Non-Vic Home v Non-Vic Away Vic Home v Non Vic Away Non-Vic Home derbies(Crows-Port, Dockers-Eagles, Giants-Swans)
HOME TEAM 51.5 51.6 53.7 55.5 60.7
AWAY TEAM 48.5 48.4 46.3 45.5 39.3


Table 2 Games where one side gets 56% or more frees


2016 GAMES OF MAJOR DISPARITY IN FREES COUNT Vic Home v Vic Away Non-Vic Home v Vic Away Non-Vic Home v Non-Vic Away Vic Home v Non Vic Away Non-Vic Home derbies(Crows-Port, Dockers-Eagles, Giants-Swans)
HOME TEAM 15  (57.7%) 11 (61.1%) 11  (78.6%) 19  (90.4%) 4  (100%)
AWAY TEAM 11  (42.3%) 7   (38.9%) 3     (21.4%) 2    (09.6%) 0  (0%)

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. ’twas ever thus but no correspondence shall be entered into as the umpire is always right and interstate supporters are a pack of whingers that can leave the league if they don’t like it. Hopefully I just saved some people some time. As always disappointed by the AFL’s no discussions, no apologies position on so many things.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    It’s a mug’s game, then again it always has been.

  3. Neutral umpires. Like Test cricket.

  4. Do you have a stat that confirms the favoured Hawk species of Mitchell and Hodge?

  5. Complete overhaul there is absolute bewilderment re the instructions and positioning how and why,
    Rowan Sawyers is still in a position. Of authority and supposed coach of umpiring words fail me

  6. Rowan Sawers isn’t involved in AFL umpiring anymore. He has been coaching in the Essendon District Football League for a couple of years. Rowan is a great bloke.

    As a Queenslander who umpired AFL footy I can tell you that umpires want to stay in the senior grade and they want to umpire finals. They don’t want to make mistakes. If there is bias, and it looks like there is, maybe it is a reflection of the fact that a disproportionate number of the umps still come from Vic … And because they may have a closer relationship with Vic players some of the 50/50s go Victoria’s way. I don’t think they are deliberately biased. They are desperate to get every free kick right.

    There are so many other areas of footy that demonstrate the Victorian-centricness of the whole thing.

    Commentary, financing of development (including ump development), representation on the AFL commission etc etc

    Suburban boy was one of my favourite songs …


  7. So the Monsters back.

    I hope Dave has retained the statistics for finals played in the West. The hooting of Weagles supporters after Darling played on,got tackled and had a free paid against him, was breathtaking in its bias. Seriously if there is such a concern re alleged bias,maybe its time for reformation of The Dominion League , resurrect the spirit of Keith Watson, then secde!


  8. Apologies I wrote, Sawyers when I meant,Haydn Kennedy whi as a fellow umpire has been a huge disappointment jwatching last night some of the positioning is just deplorable

  9. They have and always will play favourites, hence Hodge and Mitchell are untouchable.

    Agree with you Muzz, game is still too Vic-centric..

    As a country umpire who wanted to get out of town safely I always paid early kicks to the respective coaches to get them onside, or at least not off-side.

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