It’s been a long-standing school of thought in Scotland that if your team was playing an away game against Rangers or Celtic, the intention should be to try and frustrate them so the crowd would “get on their back”.
In hindsight, a look at their respective home records over the years would suggest the Old Firm players had more than enough mental strength to overcome any such restlessness from the stands. These days, however, there’s an argument that teams are not as comfortable playing in their home ground as they used to be, so much so that the term “home advantage” is in danger of being rendered redundant in the SPL.
This season, only half the teams in the league – Celtic, Hearts, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, St Mirren and Inverness – have won more home games than away, with a total of 59 home wins throughout the entire league against 51 away victories so far. Last season, there were 94 home wins in total and 85 away wins. Hardly the type of stats which suggest playing at home is significantly easier than playing away. It used to be that certain grounds in Scotland could be considered fortress-like – both Tynecastle and Easter Road were feared venues in the not-so-distant past – but, Parkhead and Ibrox aside, that is certainly no longer the case.
Hearts, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen are very much the trend-buckers this season in claiming significantly more points at home compared to those they have accumulated away, yet these are all sides who have had their troubles at home in recent seasons. This term, the likes of Motherwell and St Johnstone are finding it easier to claim points on the road than they are at home. The bottom two, Hibs and Dunfermline, have only one home win between them, while both have found the going easier on the road. Indeed, in recent seasons, Falkirk and Hamilton, while struggling in the SPL, have been known to go more than half a season without a home win.
So why is it easier for many SPL teams to play away? There are obviously several reasons for this. But I’d be inclined to suggest the biggest factor is that many SPL players are simply inhibited by playing in front of their own fans. Some even scared. The recent “Get It Up Ye” gestures from Leigh Griffiths and Michael Higdon proves players are effected by abuse from their own fans. A few years ago, we had then-Hibs player Chris Hogg clambering into the stands to remonstrate with disgruntled fans, while there have been some cases of players being abused by their own supporters over the years – Calum Elliot and Colin Nish, pictured, to name a couple.
As the standard of player has declined over the years, it seems the levels of vitriol from the sidelines have increased when things don’t go to plan, with some fans feeling they have a right to abuse their own players simply because they’ve paid a hefty ticket price. Obviously some players get far less abuse than others, but it is only natural that even a fans’ favourite will be slightly affected if they sense the acrimony or frustration from their own supporters when one of their team-mates, whom they work with on a daily basis, is slated for a bad miss or a stray pass. Tension is sure to reign.
By contrast, for many players, playing away will have an invigorating effect as, with less people waiting to get on their back when they make a mistake, they will feel they can play with more freedom.
Where once the home support used to intimidate the visitors, it seems that, in the SPL, hostility from the stands is now doing more damage to the home team.