This year’s Women’s Euros promises to be particularly special for the Lionesses as England host the tournament which includes teams from 15 other nations from 6-31 July. There are big hopes for the visibility of women’s football and the positive impact this could have going forward with a prediction of hundreds of thousands of fans attending the tournament and millions of fans tuning in to watch on TV. There are talks that Sarina Wiegman’s team will be aiming to capitalise on the home advantage opportunity presented in this summer’s UEFA tournament to improve on their semi-final finish in the 2017 tournament and a finals appearance at the 2019 World Cup.
The research on the home advantage has been a topic of great interest in men’s sport for some decades. The effects of playing on home soil in women’s sport performance has been less widely explored and is therefore less well understood. There have been a growing number of calls for a greater understanding in female sport and exercise science research and increased visibility and accessibility of women’s team sports including football. This has led to more research in recent years in women’s sports including football, basketball, handball and water polo. It appears that the factors most central to explaining the effect of the home advantage may be different or at least operate differently in female athletes (Leite, Pollard & Gomez-Ruano, 2021).
Pollard and Ruano (2014) were among the first research groups to consider the home advantage phenomenon in European women’s football. The researchers included 47042 games that took place between 2004-2010, with an average of 54.2 per cent of games won at home, in comparison to a 60 per cent average in men’s football. It was suggested that there might be different perceptions on territorialism between women and men – i.e., men tend to perceive territory as a primary driver of their performance and this could be due to evolutionary impacts.
However, the authors also found that as the Gender Gap Index, (a measure of the status difference between men and women in a given geographical area) decreased, the difference between men’s and women’s performance in football also reduced. This suggests that home advantage has a stronger impact on performance outcomes in countries where women have relatively equal status to men. The effects of the home crowd on players and referees is a primary factor that can lift and motivate and benefit a home team; which bodes well for the Lionesses this summer.
Leite, Giardina, Almeida & Pollard (2022) suggest that familiarity with your environment and conditions can be important for athletes’, but their findings suggest that a home advantage remains irrespective of their familiarity with the stadium (i.e., a stadium they had played in previously or one recently built). This could be an important and positive sign for England Ladies as they may compete in different venues across the country.
The crowds of fans supporting our Lionesses in stadiums and cheering them on in front of their TVs from home are likely to include young aspiring female footballers and athletes. This presents a significant opportunity for female footballers to shape and model the pathway to international footballing success. The uptake and interest in girls’ football have rocketed in recent years and this has been attributed to high-status role models such as Lucy Bronze, more opportunities to play football competitively and for enjoyment in local communities and the rise of social acceptance of women’s football. The powerful influence of successful role models in high-level sport due to their high status has been consistently seen across sports, with one obvious recent example being men’s football with the likes of Marcus Rashford encouraging young people to engage with social causes such as free school meals throughout the pandemic. The Lionesses could be said to have a huge opportunity and responsibility to the future generations of girls who are likely to be hanging on their every move throughout the Euros.
There are theories in sports psychology that seek to explain the importance of role models; such as pioneering theories from social psychology, including early thinkers in behavioural psychology such as Bandura (1974), that have highlighted how self-efficacy, (the belief in one’s ability to achieve a specific task), and learning of behaviours from observing others (modelling) can be influenced by the perceived importance/status of and the relatability of role models. The Lionesses have earned the respect of young aspiring footballers with some superb international performances in recent years and given their relatively humble lifestyles, (in comparison with male footballers), they are likely to seem relatable to young girls across the country. This could see the increase in grassroots football participation increase the Euros and the ever-growing popularity and status of the Lionesses means they have a fantastic opportunity to build on the buzz and excitement of the tournament (Dunn, 2015).
With many factors impacting team sporting success, and one of the first tournaments since the Sky sports partnership/contract which has further promoted the visibility of women’s football, will our Lionesses thrive under the spotlight and expectation, or will the pressures and expectation prove to be too much? It is sure to be a tournament not to be missed at one of the most exciting times in ladies’ football in history and the effects of the tournament are likely to permeate all levels of women’s sport from elite to grassroots level.