To alleviate the boredom of a summer distinctly lacking in entertaining football, I planted some carrot seeds in our garden in Cardozo Road. You can imagine the horror when I peered down from my bedroom window, into the garden, to see my seeds being dislodged by a ginger cat digging a hole to urinate in. That’s right, i said a ginger cat. The good news is that no other cat is likely to come and do the same. Why? Because the the ginger cat has marked its territory. Any other cat that enters the garden will smell urine and be instantly deterred.
Similar behaviour can be seen in humans. We tend to feel both protective and mentally attuned when occupying our own perceived territory. One need only look at my own family to see this: Nan doesn’t like venturing out of the house; and she is certainty very cautious about letting people in.
So what does this have to do with football? These observations help explain the uncanny fact that teams are significantly more likely to win when playing at home. This is a statisitcal fact: Spurs won 14 matches at home last season, compared to just 7 away. But here is a scientific fact: in the academic field of sports psychology, Neave & Wolfson (2003) find strong evidence for what they term “territoriality” in explaining the home advantage phenomenon – or in their words “a protective response to an invasion of one’s perceived territory”. These guys reached their conclusion after measuring football players’ salivary testosterone (a hormone associated with aggression and territoriality) and found increased concentrations before home games than away or training games.
Of course there are other explanations for home advantage – including easier travel arrangements and a higher level of crowd support. But the influence of territoriality cannot be denied. Indeed, at White Hart Lane on match days, nobody is more territorial than Wilson Palacios. When a player steps into his domain, the Spurs midfielder excels at taking back what he sees as rightfully his – the ball. Last season, Sergeant Wilson dispossessed more people than Father Gabriele Amorth – Rome’s world famous exorcist.
But with good home form comes poor away form. The “great defeat” to the Young Boys of Berne last week was a prime example. But lets not forget our annual drumming at Old Trafford – a regular event in the Spurs calendar for too long now. In fact, Spurs have not won an away match against one of the ‘big four’ (old classification, of course) since 25th August 1993. Teddy Sheringham scored twice that day against Liverpool. And Culture Beat’s Mr Vain was top of the UK singles chart.
Away form is imperative for a good season. This is even truer now as Spurs enter the Champions League (I assume good home form will be enough to get us through tomorrow). Nothing will be more challenging than a possible away fixture at Barcelona’s Nou Camp. But improving our away form is easier said than done. Neave & Wolfson have no answer to this. One idea would be for the Spurs players to spend more time warming up on the away pitch before the match – to soften the mentally jarring effect of playing on foreign turf. But who knows if this will be enough. I invite the readers of this blog to leave their own suggestions below.
If all else fails, the team could of course draw lessons from the ginger cat of Cardozo Road. Twenty minutes before a big away match, the Spurs team captain should nip out onto the pitch and empty himself. This would effectively mark the away pitch as Spurs territory. It would confuse the opposition, and give Spurs the much needed psychological edge. Let’s look forward to the new season. The pitch is our garden, and Ledley King, our ginger cat.