Home bias in AFL umpiring: the 10 year tables

Friends, for your viewing pleasure – my opus is finally complete. The last 10 years of Home town umpiring looked at and analysed. Please note my caution that I do not guarantee my stats 100% – even going through the final compile I found 3 errors – but 96% yes. Sorry it is the best I can do with my workforce (One 63-year-old amateur statistician) – and my budget. ($0). I think there are some interesting take-aways – 1) umpires are biased 2) only years 2010-2011 get close to being a level playing field …. and … no, I’ll let you read it is more fun that way Cheers DW (perhaps Adam Spencer could turn his hand to this)



I have now had the opportunity to construct free kick tables going back 10 years looking at two particular statistics over the qualifying rounds (ie: not including finals). The stats are:

1) total free kicks paid to Home and Away Teams
2) games where one team receives 56% or more of frees paid. These are what I term Games of Large Differential.  (G.O.L.D.)
These two stats are examined under the sub-categories
The first thing to note is the obvious – what every football fan knows and what the AFL and its umpiring department refuse to acknowledge: there is a bias to Home Teams.




This was shown across every category. Of the 80 possible annual entries over the last 10 years the Away Team fared better only three times.    In 2007 in Home Vic v Away Vic games, the Away Teams actually got more frees over the year by a very slim margin, 50.18 to 49.82 percent.   In 2013 in Large Differential Games between Vic Home v Vic Away, the Away teams got the nod 16-14.  In 2012 in Large Differential Games between  Vic Home Teams and  Non Vic Away Teams, the Non-Vic Away Teams came out the better 12-8.


Two of the 80 entries showed a 50-50 split.  In 2010 Non Vic Away Teams did get 50% of GOLD games in their favour v Vic Home Teams (8-8), and in 2007 in Home Vic v Away Vic games, the Away Teams  came out 16-16.


So the 80 entries are split 75 to the Home Team 3 to the Away Team, 2 even.


How can anybody possibly argue that umpiring is neutral?


Sometimes the difference is huge.


It is not too bad for Away Victorian Teams playing Home Victorian Teams. The worst they have fared in total percentage frees over the course of a season is 47.7%.  But those same teams playing away to Non-Vic Home sides have slipped as low as 46.2% (2008).


Mind you that is still a fair bit better than Away Non Victorian teams. Playing Victorian Home Teams they slipped to a low of 44.4 in the 2016 season just completed.  This is the worst stat recorded in any individual entry. Nor is there any relief for Non-Vic Away Teams when they are playing Non-Vic Home Teams, in fact overall it is probably worse. Five years out of possible 10, they don’t crack 47% of the annual free kicks paid in those games. When you are talking 53-47, that’s a 6 percent differential and enough to swing any election anywhere.






This critical question pre-occupies the mind of the footy fan and given the 2016 Grand Final umpiring display becomes paramount when talking of a level playing field in a National Competition.


The stats over the 10 years indicate that Victorian Away Teams do not fare as badly as Non-Victorian Away Teams.


Firstly, in All-Victorian games, the Away sides, while clearly disadvantaged, over the decade average 48.7 percent of frees.  The G.O.L.D. stat also goes against them in this category.  Away Victorian teams against Home Victorian teams get only about 40% of G.O.L.D. in their favour.


That’s not good, but compared to Non-Vic sides playing Away to other Non-Vic sides it’s brilliant.  Non-Vic teams average only 47.2 percent of frees over the decade  when playing other Non-Vic sides. Worse, only 26.7 percent of G.O.L.D. against other Non-Vic Teams go in their favour.  That’s about 1 in every 4.


That said, it should be that as long as Non-Vic Teams have an equal amount of Home and Away games against Other Non-Vic Teams, things even out.  That is, they are heavily favoured at Home and heavily penalised when Away.


In terms of fairness on a National level then, the absolutely critical testing ground is that comparing Victorian and Non-Victorian Teams when they play one another.




The umpiring bias between these sides seems to ebb and flow a little.  There is not a single year where  Away sides, Non-Vic or Vic have received more frees than the Home sides.


When Games of Large Differential (G.O.L.D.) are combined the Home advantage should balance out and leave two fairly even columns. When combined  by individual year and examined we get this:



2007     37 | 17 | 20

2008     41 | 26 | 15

2009     42 | 19 | 23

2010     41 | 24 | 17

2011     45 | 26 | 19

2012     44 | 28 | 16

2013     47 | 18 | 29

2014     47 | 20 | 27

2015     42 | 16 | 26

2016     39 | 13 | 26

TOTALS  | 207  | 218


The table indicates that there are two trends, the first five years favour Non-Vic, the last 5 years favour Vic teams. Overall the Vics are moderately advantaged over Non  Vic Teams. Six out 10 years fall in their favour. Alarmingly for Non-Vic Teams the last four years all fall drastically in favour of the Victorians.



(click to enlarge)


Appearances can be deceptive however. To fully investigate whether Victorian sides or Non Victorian sides have a strong umpiring advantage we need to take into account THE EAGLES FACTOR.


When Victorian fans or coaches moan that their teams fare just as badly away as Non-Vic Teams, they have in their murky mind’s eye, games at Subiaco playing the Eagles. And with good cause.


In the last 10 years the Eagles are 40-2 in G.O.L.D. playing at Home against Victorian sides. Even when playing away they are running 2-1 in their favour (20-10). This extraordinary statistic distorts what happens in general between NON-VIC and VIC teams.  (for example Sydney are 19-12 in GOLD games at Home and 7-19 in GOLD games away)


Looking at the previous table of G.O.L.D.  excluding the Eagles games, we get this –



2007     28 | 11 | 17

2008     33 | 19 | 14

2009     37 | 16 | 21

2010     33 | 16 | 17

2011     36 | 19 | 17

2012     36 | 20 | 16

2013     41 | 12 | 29

2014     41 | 16 | 25

2015     34 | 10 | 24

2016      33 |  7 | 26

TOTALS | 146 | 206



(click to enlarge)


With Eagles games taken out of the equation the split is 7 years -3 years in favour of the Vic teams  but the differential blows out. With Eagles games excluded G.O.L.D. fall nearly 60% in favour of the Victorian teams.  And while the Non-Vic sides fail to exceed 20 in any year, the Vics sides exceed 20, five times and every year for the last four.


So there are at least two different trends working simultaneously: The Eagles are overwhelmingly favoured when they play Victorian sides, while Non-Victorian sides  (EXCLUDING THE EAGLES) are at a consistent and considerable  disadvantage against Victorian sides over the course of the season.


Further we can see this difference is growing and in 2016 it became well-nigh impossible for a Non-Victorian Team to be on the right side of a G.O.L.D. in Victoria (or Tasmania).  Prior to the Grand Final G.O.L.D. between Non-Vic Away Teams and Vic Home Teams went 19-2 in favour of Vic Home Teams.


After the grand final this rose to 20-2.






Umpiring, far from being neutral, shows an endemic bias towards Home teams in every situation.


In general when Victorian sides play away they face less bias than when Non-Victorian sides play away.


Total games between Victorian and Non-Victorian teams show a slight positive bias towards Victorian teams, however when games involving the West Coast Eagles are excluded this bias becomes substantial.


The Eagles games reveal substantial positive bias whether they play home or away.




NB: I am not a professional statistician and working alone and in haste am more than capable of the odd error but even with my failings I’d guess my figures are 96% plus correct.



wb cover jpeg

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. Hmmm, swung back in Vic teams’ favour about the same time the AFL centralised all umpires in Melbourne… context is everything.

  2. Bulldogs won the free kick count 17-13 in the Elimination Final at Subiaco.
    Bloody cheating Victorian umpires cost us the flag.

  3. bring back the torp says

    Non-Victorian teams have a VERY strong home ground advantage still. Victorian teams (with the exception of Geelong) don’t, as every team plays multiple times at the MCG or Docklands. (Each Victorian team plays only once or twice, sometimes no games, per year in Subi, AO, SCG, SS, Gabba, and GC). Also, several Vic. teams sacrifice home games to play in Darwin, Alice Springs, Cairns, Tasmania.

    Many Victorians believe, therefore, the very strong home ground advantage of the other states gives non-Vic. teams an unfair advantage.

    Ten years statistics is quite short. Statistics would be more valid over 25 years. For GC & GWS, they were simply non-competitive for most of their existence, often being thrashed in their early years -and GC still very poor. This skews your 10 year stats.

    Over the last 25 years, non Victorian teams have easily ” outperformed”in winning premierships (11), as there were only six non-Vic teams (GC and GWS should not be included as, apart from GWS in 2016, they had very young lists and were still in development mode).

    Umpires come from all over Australia. Claims of umpire cheating/incompetence are sad. Umpires certainly make mistakes, especially in the modern era when there are often about 20+ players around the contest, obstructing vision. Mistakes inevitably even out over the course of a game.

  4. Sorry Torp, can’t leave your comments go unanswered. The old “Vic Teams don’t have a proper home ground advantage” may be true but on the flip side they are therefore not playing “Away” as often as a Non-Vic Team is. So they have less disadvantage when playing away on a ground they are familiar with. Moreover, it is the interstate teams who get sent down to Tassie to play in the most foreign conditions of all and have to cover the greatest distances. But my stats are simply about umpires and 10 years is very good stretch of time to judge trends. The claim that mistakes even out over the course of a game are palpably false as proven most recently in the 2016 Grand Final. I don’t know that anybody is saying umpires deliberately cheat (I’m not) but there is clear evidence that in all AFL games there is a home-town bias affecting umpires. It is natural then that people will speculate why this might be. You might have a point that the weakness of Gold Coast and Giants is an influence, however, it is very common that weak teams still win the free-kick count and what’s more, are more likely to win it when at home. So that’s a case for further investigation.

  5. bring back the torp says


    Your stats . compilation has been exhaustive and is a valuable insight. I believe, though, that since GC & GWS were initially comprised of uncompetitive young, underdeveloped bodies, which initially led to many thrashings, their inclusion in the stats may not be appropriate. They lost a big majority of their games playing at home

    I will concede your point that Vic. teams have less difficult away games, since most of these are still at the MCG or Docklands.

    There are often a total of about 350+ possessions for each team (ie kicks & handballs). Therefore, it could be argued that if one team received 12 free kicks and the other 20, the difference (ie 8) is not statisticaly significant and/ or not likely to have much impact on who won or lost.
    This view would be obviated if there was a statistically significant difference in how many free kicks are given (or should have been given!) to a team about 45 metres or less, in the corridor in front of goal. I understand you (nor anyone) have not recorded this “free kick in front of goal”statistic. As one who has watched probably 800 games over 4 decades, my “gut instinct”tells me these types of free kicks in front of goal are quite rare, and usually even out over the course of a game.

    Vic. teams sell some home games to Cairns, Darwin, Alice Springs, where it is much hotter than Victoria. Their non-Vic opponents (with Adelaide teams the exception) have more experience in playing in hot conditions.

    The AFL in recent years has publicly reported on umpires’performances -and about 85% of their free kicks (and non-awarding of a free kick) are correct. Most people accept this is a good performance. I still believe that, in most games, umpiring mistakes generally even out. I am not a Footscray supporter, but I saw some examples where they should have been awarded frees, but were not.

    Many Victorians grumble and say non-Vic teams have over” achieved” in the last 25 years, winning 11 out of 25 premierships -even though until 2015, there were only 6 “mature”non-Vic teams.
    I appreciate it can be very difficult and expensive for a non-Vic. team supporter to get to a GF at the MCG at very short notice.

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