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Durham University

Durham University News


Come on you reds!

(11 March 2008)

The success of football clubs could be down to the colour of their shirt, according to new research.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Nottingham Forest - many of the successful football teams of the past 50 years have worn red kits, which is no coincidence according to the findings.

The research, involving academics from Durham University and the University of Plymouth, has been published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. It suggests that simply wearing a red shirt has given football teams an advantage, thanks to our deep-rooted biological response to the colour.

In nature, red is often associated with male aggression and display; it is a testosterone-driven signal of male quality (the red breast of a robin, for example) and its striking effect has even been harnessed by soldiers in the past.

More recently, in the sporting arena, research by Durham scientists demonstrated that competitors wearing red had increased success in Olympic combat sports. Armed with this knowledge, the experts set out to discover whether such an effect could be detected in English football: have red-shirted teams been more successful over time than teams wearing other colours?

Professor Robert Barton and Dr Russell Hill of Durham University (authors of the Olympic combat study) and Professor Martin Attrill and Dr Karen Gresty, of the University of Plymouth who led the research, analysed data on English football league results since the Second World War.

They concentrated on how teams have performed at home when they nearly always wear their main signature kit colour. The results were surprising: they discovered a significant difference in success levels between red, white, blue and yellow/orange teams, with red teams across the whole of the top 68 clubs winning more often at home.

Teams wearing yellow or orange shirts had the worst record. But is this link between team kit colour and success also apparent when teams play away? Apparently not. The researchers found no difference at all in performance away from home, when teams typically wear a range of colours that often change over the years.

So why might wearing red shirts enhance performance? Professor Robert Barton, of Durham University, said: “We see a couple of possible explanations. Firstly, over time supporters may have been subconsciously more attracted to a club wearing red, so the club has developed an increasing resource base within its community. Secondly, there may be a positive psychological boost from wearing red, or being associated with a red team, that is reflected on the field of play. Competing against a team in red could also impair performance.”

But is this still apparent in the modern game? Dr Russell Hill, of Durham University, said: "It is certainly true that the influx of wealthy foreign owners has changed the resources available to some teams and this should result in increased success, regardless of their shirt colour. Nevertheless, in close matches where teams are evenly balanced, we still predict that wearing red could tip the balance between success and failure and the red advantage will still persist.”

Professor Martin Attrill, of the University of Plymouth, said: “These findings follow what we would expect if wearing red has an effect. One possible reason could be that red teams happened to develop in large cities, so over time they have had access to more supporters and resources. But we can dismiss this because we compared the results from all cities in England where there is a team playing in red and a rival team of another colour - for example, Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham. Over time, the red teams have performed significantly better in the league, despite sharing the same potential resource base.”

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