Grand Final History 1898-2013 : Winning Team Scoring Patterns

Only three teams in VFL/AFL history have trailed by more than three goals at Quarter Time in the Grand Final and gone on to win. The most recent was Sydney in 2012 who trailled the Hawks by 19 at the first break before rallying in the second term to kick 6.0 to 0.1, eventually going on to win by 10 points, and before that Essendon who in 1984 trailed the Hawks by 21 points at Quarter Time - and still trailed them by 23 points at Three Quarter Time - before recording a 24 point victory on the strength of a 9.6 to 2.1 points avalanche in the final term.

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To Win A Grand Final You Must First Lead

History suggests that, as the higher-Rated "Home" team, Hawthorn must lead early and lead well if it is to be confident of success in Saturday's Grand Final, and not assume that its superior Rating will allow it to come back from any substantial deficit.
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Lead Changes as a Measure of Game Competitiveness

The final victory margin is one measure of how close a contest was, but it can sometimes mislead when the team that's in front midway through the final term piles on a slew of late goals against a progressively more demoralised opponent, improving its percentage in so doing, but also erasing any trace of the fact that the game might have been a close-run thing throughout the first three-and-a-half or more quarters.
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1897 to 2011 : Winners v Losers - Leads, Scoring Shots and Conversion

In the previous blog, among other things we analysed which quarter winning teams win. We might also ask about winnng teams, in what proportion of games do they trail at the end of a particular quarter, and how has this proportion tracked over the seasons.
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Projecting the Favourite's Final Margin

In a couple of earlier blogs I created binary logit models to predict the probability that the favourite would win given a specified lead at a quarter break and the bookmaker's assessed pre-game probability for the favourite. These models allow you to determine what a fair in-running price would be for the favourite. You might instead want to know what the favourite's projected victory margin is given the same input data, so in this blog I'll be providing some simple linear regressions that provide this information.
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An Empirical Review of the Favourite In-Running Model

In the previous blog we reviewed a series of binary logits that modelled a favourite's probability of victory given its pre-game bookmaker-assessed head-to-head probability and its lead at the end of a particular quarter. There I provided just a single indication of the quality of those models: the accuracy with which they correctly predicted the final result of the game. That's a crude and very broad measure. In this blog we'll take a closer look at the empirical model fits to investigate their performance in games with different leads and probabilities.
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Hanging Onto a Favourite: Assessing a Favourite's In-Running Chances of Victory

Over the weekend I was paying particular attention to the in-running odds being offered on various games and remain convinced that punters overestimate the probability of the favourite ultimately winning, especially when the favourite trails.
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Season 2010: An Assessment of Competitiveness

For many, the allure of sport lies in its uncertainty. It's this instinct, surely, that motivated the creation of the annual player drafts and salary caps - the desire to ensure that teams don't become unbeatable, that "either team can win on the day".

Objective measures of the competitiveness of AFL can be made at any of three levels: teams' competition wins and losses, the outcome of a game, or the in-game trading of the lead.

With just a little pondering, I came up with the following measures of competitiveness at the three levels; I'm sure there are more.

2010 - Measures of Competitiveness.png

We've looked at most - maybe all - of the Competition and Game level measures I've listed here in blogs or newsletters of previous seasons. I'll leave any revisiting of these measures for season 2010 as a topic for a future blog.

The in-game measures, though, are ones we've not explicitly explored, though I think I have commented on at least one occasion this year about the surprisingly high proportion of winning teams that have won 1st quarters and the low proportion of teams that have rallied to win after trailing at the final change.

As ever, history provides some context for my comments.

2010 - Number of Lead Changes.png

The red line in this chart records the season-by-season proportion of games in which the same team has led at every change. You can see that there's been a general rise in the proportion of such games from about 50% in the late seventies to the 61% we saw this year.

In recent history there have only been two seasons where the proportion of games led by the same team at every change has been higher: in 1995, when it was almost 64%, and in 1985 when it was a little over 62%. Before that you need to go back to 1925 to find a proportion that's higher than what we've seen in 2010.

The green, purple and blue lines track the proportion of games for which there were one, two, and the maximum possible three lead changes respectively. It's also interesting to note how the lead-change-at-every-change contest type has progressively disappeared into virtual non-existence over the last 50 seasons. This year we saw only three such contests, one of them (Fremantle v Geelong) in Round 3, and then no more until a pair of them (Fremantle v Geelong and Brisbane v Adelaide) in Round 20.

So we're getting fewer lead changes in games. When, exactly, are these lead changes not happening?

2010 - Lead Changes from One Quarter to the Next.png

Pretty much everywhere, it seems, but especially between the ends of quarters 1 and 2.

The top line shows the proportion of games in which the team leading at half time differs from the team leading at quarter time (a statistic that, as for all the others in this chart, I've averaged over the preceding 10 years to iron out the fluctuations and better show the trend). It's been generally falling since the 1960s excepting a brief period of stability through the 1990s that recent seasons have ignored, the current season in particular during which it's been just 23%.

Next, the red line, which shows the proportion of games in which the team leading at three-quarter time differs from the team leading at half time. This statistic has declined across the period roughly covering the 1980s through to 2000, since which it has stabilised at about 20%.

The navy blue line shows the proportion of games in which the winning team differs from the team leading at three-quarter time. Its trajectory is similar to that of the red line, though it doesn't show the jaunty uptick in recent seasons that the red line does.

Finally, the dotted, light-blue line, which shows the overall proportion of quarters for which the team leading at one break was different from the team leading at the previous break. Its trend has been downwards since the 1960s though the rate of decline has slowed markedly since about 1990.

All told then, if your measure of AFL competitiveness is how often the lead changes from the end of one quarter to the next, you'd have to conclude that AFL games are gradually becoming less competitive.

It'll be interesting to see how the introduction of new teams over the next few seasons affects this measure of competitiveness.

Looking At Team Performance Quarter-By-Quarter

AFL Football - as the cliche goes - is a game of four quarters. The benefit of this arrangement is that AFL scores provide twice as much information about the ebb and flow of each contest as the scores of any other form of football in this country. With the quarter-by-quarter information alone we can perform some interesting analyses for every team.
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Scoring Shots: Not Just Another Statistic

For a while now I've harboured a suspicion that teams that trail at a quarter's end but that have had more scoring shots than their opponent have a better chance of winning than teams that trail by a similar amount but that have had fewer scoring shots than their opponent. Suspicions that are amenable to trial by data have a Constitutional right to their day in court, so let me take you through the evidence.
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Grand Final Typology

Today's blog looks at the typology of AFL Grand Finals. There are, it turns out, five basic types: (1) The Coast-to-Coast Coasting victory (2) The Come-From-Behind victory (3) The Game-of-Two-Halves Victory (4) The Coast-to-Coast Blowout Victory (5) The Nervous Start Victory
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Losing Does Lead to Winning But Only for Home Teams (and only sometimes)

For reasons that aren't even evident to me, I decided to revisit the issue of "when losing leads to winning", which I looked at a few blogs back.

In that earlier piece no distinction was made between which team - home or away - was doing the losing or the winning. Such a distinction, it turns out, is important in uncovering evidence for the phenomenon in question.

Put simply, there is some statistical evidence across the home-and-away matches from 1980 to 2008 that home teams that trail by between 1 and 4 points at quarter time, or by 1 point at three-quarter time, tend to win more often than they lose. There is no such statistical evidence for away teams.

The table below shows the proportion of times that the home team has won when leading or trailing by the amount shown at quarter time, half time or three-quarter time.


It shows, for example, that home teams that trailed by exactly 5 points at quarter time went on to win 52.5% of such games.

Using standard statistical techniques I've been able to determine, based on the percentages in the table and the number of games underpinning each percentage, how likely it is that the "true" proportion of wins by the home team is greater than 50% for any of the entries in the table for which the home team trails. That analysis, for example, tells us that we can be 99% confident (since the significance level is 1%) that the figure of 57.2% for teams trailing by 4 points at quarter time is statistically above 50%.

(To look for a losing leads to winning phenomenon amongst away teams I've performed a similar analysis on the rows where the home team is ahead and tested whether the proportion of wins by the home team is statistically significantly less than 50%. None of the entries was found to be significant.)

My conclusion then is that, in AFL, it's less likely that being slightly behind is motivational. Instead, it's that the home ground advantage is sufficient for the home team to overcome small quarter time or three-quarter time deficits. It's important to make one other point: though home teams trailing do, in some cases, win more often that they lose, they do so at a rate less than their overall winning rate, which is about 58.5%.

So far we've looked only at narrow leads and small deficits. While we're here and looking at the data in this way, let's broaden the view to consider all leads and deficits.


In this table I've grouped leads and deficits into 5-point bands. This serves to iron out some of the bumps we saw in the earlier, more granular table.

A few things strike me about this table:

  • Home teams can expect to overcome a small quarter time deficit more often than not and need only be level at the half or at three-quarter time in order to have better than even chances of winning. That said, even the smallest of leads for the away team at three-quarter time is enough to shift the away team's chances of victory to about 55%.
  • Apparently small differences have significant implications for the outcome. A late goal in the third term to extend a lead from say 4 to 10 points lifts a team's chances - all else being equal - by 10% points if it's the home team (ie from 64% to 74%) and by an astonishing 16% points if it's the away team (ie from 64% to 80%).
  • A home team that leads by about 2 goals at the half can expect to win 8 times out of 10. An away team with such a lead with a similar lead can expect to win about 7 times out of 10.

Does Losing Lead to Winning?

I was reading an issue of Chance News last night and came across the article When Losing Leads to Winning. In short, the authors of this journal article found that, in 6,300 or so most recent NCAA basketball games, teams that trailed by 1 point at half-time went on to win more games than they lost. This they attribute to "the motivational effects of being slightly behind".

Naturally, I wondered if the same effect existed for footy.

This first chart looks across the entire history of the VFL/AFL.

Leads and Winning - All Seasons.png

The red line charts the percentage of times that a team leading by a given margin at quarter time went on to win the game. You can see that, even at the leftmost extremity of this line, the proportion of victories is above 50%. So, in short, teams with any lead at quarter time have tended to win more than they've lost, and the larger the lead generally the greater proportion they've won. (Note that I've only shown leads from 1 to 40 points.)

Next, the green line charts the same phenomenon but does so instead for half-time leads. It shows the same overall trend but is consistently above the red line reflecting the fact that a lead at half-time is more likely to result in victory than is a lead of the same magnitude at quarter time. Being ahead is important; being ahead later in the game is more so.

Finally, the purple line charts the data for leads at three-quarter time. Once again we find that a given lead at three-quarter time is generally more likely to lead to victory than a similar lead at half-time, though the percentage point difference between the half-time and three-quarter lines is much less than that between the half-time and first quarter lines.

For me, one of the striking features of this chart is how steeply each line rises. A three-goal lead at quarter time has, historically, been enough to win around 75% of games, as has a two-goal lead at half-time or three-quarter time.

Anyway, there's no evidence of losing leading to winning if we consider the entire history of footy. What then if we look only at the period 1980 to 2008 inclusive?

Leads and Winning - 1980 to 2008.png

Now we have some barely significant evidence for a losing leads to winning hypothesis, but only for those teams losing by a point at quarter time (where the red line dips below 50%). Of the 235 teams that have trailed by one point at quarter time, 128 of them or 54.5% have gone on to win. If the true proportion is 50%, the likelihood of obtaining by chance a result of 128 or more wins is about 8.5%, so a statistician would deem that "significant" only if his or her preference was for critical values of 10% rather than the more standard 5%.

There is certainly no evidence for a losing leads to winning effect with respect to half-time or three-quarter time leads.

Before I created this second chart my inkling was that, with the trend to larger scores, larger leads would have been less readily defended, but the chart suggests otherwise. Again we find that a three-goal quarter time lead or a two-goal half-time or three-quarter time lead is good enough to win about 75% of matches.

Not content to abandon my preconception without a fight, I wondered if the period 1980 to 2008 was a little long and that my inkling was specific to more recent seasons. So, I divided up the 112-season history in 8 equal 14-year epochs and created the following table.

Leads and Winning - Table.png

The top block summarises the fates of teams with varying lead sizes, grouped into 5-point bands, across the 8 epochs. For example, teams that led by 1 to 5 points in any game played in the 1897 to 1910 period went on to win 55% of these games. Looking across the row you can see that this proportion has varied little across epochs never straying by more than about 3 percentage points from the all-season average of 54%.

There is some evidence in this first block that teams in the most-recent epoch have been better - not, as I thought, worse - at defending quarter time leads of three goals or more, but the evidence is slight.

Looking next at the second block there's some evidence of the converse - that is, that teams in the most-recent epoch have been poorer at defending leads, especially leads of a goal or more if you adjust for the distorting effect on the all-season average of the first two epochs (during which, for example, a four-goal lead at half-time should have been enough to send the fans to the exits).

In the third and final block there's a little more evidence of recent difficulty in defending leads, but this time it only relates to leads less than two goals at the final change.

All in all I'd have to admit that the evidence for a significant decline in the ability of teams to defend leads is not particularly compelling. Which, of course, is why I build models to predict football results rather than rely on my own inklings ...