by Michael Phillips - 05/16/2006
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"When you came out of the tunnel, the first thing that hit you was the change from darkness to light, and then, a second later, it was the noise. It was like a solid wall, and it either terrified you, or it made you feel eight feet tall. God knows what it did to the other team" This is former England player Jack Charlton, talking about playing for his country at Wembley, the ground where his team won their one and only World Cup.
Home advantage obviously plays a massive role in determining the outcome of a major championship, and this is the case in the World Cup perhaps more than any other tournament. Six of the 16 tournaments have been won by the home nation, and footballing heavyweights such as England and France have only ever lifted the trophy on home soil. Even if it does not always spur them on to victory, smaller footballing nations such as Chile or South Korea have massively overachieved when hosting the finals, reaching the semis in 1962 and 2002, respectively. Why is this, and will Germany, always amongst the pre-tournament favourites anyway, be the beneficiaries this year?
Some of the reasons for home advantage are obvious. Familiarity with the surroundings helps, and as Charlton's reminiscence shows, a partisan crowd can lift players to achievements that they did not know were within them. The crowd can also influence more than the players; in the 2002 tournament, South Korea were the beneficiaries of some more than generous refereeing, and officials, as human beings, will obviously be swayed be crowd reaction when it comes to tight decisions.
The reasons why home advantage is important may even be more primal than this. A study by psychologists at an English university discovered that playing at home is closely linked to testosterone levels in footballers. Dr Sandy Wolfson and Dr Nick Neave tested the testosterone levels of footballers in an amateur team before they played in training, at home and at away matches. The players' level of the hormone was much higher prior to home matches.
The same tests were carried out on the under-19 squad of a Premiership team this time with matches against bitter rivals compared with clashes against moderate rivals. Not surprisingly, testosterone levels were "hugely inflated" when the players were battling their bitter rivals. Interestingly, levels of testosterone between the different matches changed most dramatically with the goalkeeper - whose role is most closely linked with the concept of defending territory. Dr Neave said: "Animals tend to fight harder when they are defending territory and it our study suggests this could well be the same with humans."
So home advantage is obviously an important factor, but does it mean that Germany will emerge triumphant in 2006? The form of Jurgen Klinsmann's team suggests not; home advantage could not prevent them crashing to a 1-4 defeat to Italy in a friendly. Optimism in Germany itself seems to be sinking. Legendary player and head of the 2006 tournament Franz Beckenbauer said in mid 2004: "Klinsmann has set his team the target of winning the World Cup, and that is a positive aspiration." By the time spring of 2005 had come around however: "At the beginning it worked out very well and Klinsmann was able to change a few things but now there's not much left of all that."
The factor that Germany could have in their favor is where the different aspects of home advantage cross over. With Germany the passion of the fan in the stadium roaring his side on is inextricably linked with territoriality and national pride. It is not just the German football team that will be on show come June, but the German nation itself. They have rebuilt almost all of the national stadiums for the tournament, and have created a set of arenas truly fit for a global occasion, buildings which stand alone as triumphs of architecture, not just sports grounds.
Due to the ravages of World War II, and its split identity during the Cold War, Germany is a country that puts a massive emphasis on rebuilding, and thus the recreation of the stadiums takes on an importance beyond the tournament. It becomes a symbol for the ability of Germany to constantly reinvent itself, and maintain its position as a dynamic country at the center of world affairs. Hence the reason why Beckenbauer would state: "The World Cup tournament overall and, naturally, the new stadiums at its heart, are the ideal platform to portray Germany as a positive and exceptional location, and above all of course, as a highly capable economic location."
This sense of putting forward the best side of the nation inevitably transfers itself to the players. Despite the fact that footballers are not noted as being the brightest of sparks, they are constantly reminded by the media that they are conduits for national emotions and standard bearers of national pride. As star midfielder and German captain Michael Ballack was told in an interview: "In the public's mind you are, as captain of the national team, second only to the national coach and he's as important as the Chancellor!"
When the fervor and zeitgeist builds up like this, it is inevitably passed on from the larger public sphere to the microcosm of the fans in the stadium, and from the fans in the stadium to the players on the pitch, and it is here that the sense of the tournament embodying something larger might spur the national team itself on to greater things. Ballack has said of the 'You Are Germany' campaign designed to get the nation supporting the tournament: "The fans in the ground are as proud as I am to be taking part in an international. It is like having a twelfth man on the pitch and that can't be underestimated."
That idea of a twelfth man in football is something of a cliché, trotted out by commentators to quickly sum up a noisy home crowd. But in the case of Germany, that extra player has the pride and ambitions of 80 million people within his heart, and may come in quite handy.