Are the umps swayed by the howling hordes?

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ANY VISITOR who set foot timidly inside Victoria Park in the old days knew what to expect: hostility from the Magpie supporters and what appeared to be a dearth of free kicks. Does the free kick problem linger on? LAWRENCE MONEY has a look:

A Demons-crazy cousin, sporting a new haircut, once attended a match against the enemy at Victoria Park, his Melbourne scarf wrapped tightly around his neck to ward off the winter winds.

Cuz had barely got into the ground when a giant Pies thug, maybe 12 feet tall, loomed up.  “Got a new scarf, big ears?” he grunted, drool dripping from his lower lip, as his mates leered on.

Cuz retreated hastily. Venturing into football’s militarised zones can be intimidating. The same cuz and I were in a group that used to travel annually to Adelaide to see the Dees try (mostly in vain) to beat the Crows. Entering the Adelaide Oval each year you felt like a stray moggy which had accidentally entered a dog pound.

As we motored back to the hotel after a match one year, one Crows thug ripped the victory scarf from our car window, hurling it into the traffic behind us. (What is it about scarves with footy hooligans?)

So, you sometimes wonder how umpires feel as they adjudicate in front of a feral home crowd. Are they immune to the baying hordes, the bared-teeth, the shrill howls of perceived injustice?  And does this fury across the pickets sway their judgment in any way at all?

Footy crowds never change – the Haddon illustration on the cover of Lawrence Money’s first ‘Footy Fan’s Handbook’ back in 1981

Victoria Park has been consigned to history but the home crowds in Adelaide and Perth generate the same sort of group fury. Here’s an interesting take on last weekend’s Dees match in Adelaide, from “Jumping Jack Clennett” on the Melbourne Football Club’s Demonland website:

“Holier-than-thou contributors will preach that the umpires don’t affect the outcome of matches. But I reckon Melbourne would have (beaten Port Adelaide) with umpiring that was not crowd-influenced, despite not taking advantage of our chances in the forward line.

“Six frees to nil in the forward 50 when it was in our forward 50 for 65 per cent of the game, and I doubt that included the questionable 70m penalty v. OMac, which occurred in the back 50.”

Jumping Jack’s rant prompted “Scoop Junior” to sound out: “Agree – I don’t think umpires often influence the overall result but in a very close game where it’s extremely one-sided umpiring, clearly it does.

“Basically, according to the umpires, we infringed once in every seven times the ball went inside Port’s attacking 50m. On the other hand, Port’s defenders did not infringe once during 68 inside-50m entries.

“How is that possible? Either that’s the most extraordinary defending in any form of sport that I have ever seen, or the umpires are too afraid to pay frees to visiting sides close to goal in Adelaide and Perth. I wonder which one is right.”.

It’s an age-old argument. On the ABC website last season digital newshound Dean Bilton put it this way: “If a packed house of fans are screaming for a decision, an umpire is at the very least going to be more aware of the potential for a free kick to be paid. That’s unavoidable, it’s human nature.

“It’s also why teams like playing at their home grounds. And guess what? Every single team in the league plays home games. This argument only ever really seems to crop up for interstate games, though, most commonly when one of the Adelaide or Perth teams is on the receiving end of what their (usually Victorian) opposition sees as home cooking.”

So, were the Dees cooked at Adelaide last week? Was Port that good? Were the umps suffering Big Ears Syndrome, the fear of the towering giant?

This Demon says: yes, no and yes.

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Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.

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