David Lee
Mon, Nov 09, 2009
The New Paper

WILL the Red Devils prevail tonight simply because of their jersey colour?

Is red a more auspicious colour choice for footballers, or for that matter, sportsmen in general, as they seek the upper hand?

Surely that's just superstition, you scoff. It's just like saying blondes have more fun, isn't it?

Well, now there's scientific proof!

According to a report in NewScientist, clothing colour almost certainly makes a difference to a referee's so-called impartial and expert judgement.

And experts claim it does for the common man too.

Last year, a study of 56 seasons of English football, led by Martin Attrill at the University of Plymouth, found that, on average, teams whose first-choice kit was red finished higher in the league and won more home games than teams in other colours.

Little wonder then that Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal have won 38 out of 63 league titles between them since the World War II.

In fact, only three out of 17 Premier League titles have eluded teams traditionally clad in red.

The powerful influence of colour on sporting success was first discovered a few years ago, when evolutionary anthropologists Russell Hill and Robert Barton, from Durham University, were looking for some way to test the idea that colours influence human behaviour.

The 2004 Athens Olympics were coming up, and it dawned on them that in some Olympic combat sports - boxing, taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling - competitors are randomly assigned a red or blue kit.

'We realised that this was a ready-made experiment to study the effects of colour on match outcome,' Barton says.

When they analysed the results they found that shirt colour appeared to influence the result, with nearly 55 per cent of bouts being won by the competitor in red.

In closely-fought bouts it was 62 per cent.

'It should have been roughly 50 per cent red, and this was a statistically significant deviation,' Barton said.

'Skill and strength may be the main factors - if you're rubbish, a red shirt won't stop you from losing, but when fights were relatively symmetrical, colour tipped the balance.'


Whether or not this is the reason why Liverpool, in red on both occasions, managed to beat Manchester United (in black because they were playing away) 2-0 only to lose to Fulham 3-1 remains open to debate.

But it should be noted that while wearing red, United beat City in the fierce Manchester Derby via a Michael Owen winner scored in extended injury-time.

Remember all that hullabaloo about Martin Atkinson awarding seven minutes of extra-time, almost as if willing United to score a last-gasp winner?

Weird science? Maybe not.

Another unpublished analysis by Hill and Barton of the Euro 2004 soccer finals in Portugal found that teams who had red as the main colour in one of their kits won more often and scored more goals when playing in that strip.

Meanwhile, a group led by Iain Greenlees at the University of Chichester, found that goalkeepers felt more confident about saving penalties from footballers wearing white shirts rather than red.

Clearly the effect of wearing red is strong enough to tip the balance of fights and soccer matches, but where did it originate?

Most researchers believe that red directly affects how you perceive the wearer of that colour.

In nature, red is often used to signal dominance and aggression, and in humans this is reinforced by cultural symbols such as warning signs and stop signals.

Recent evidence supports the idea that red exerts its effect on humans via perceptions of dominance.

In an experiment, Hill and colleague Tony Little showed 105 volunteers different coloured circles and asked them to indicate which would be 'most likely to win a physical competition' and which circle looked 'most dominant'.

Yes, you guessed it. Red won hands down

Even more remarkably, Elliot has found that viewing red for just a few seconds can make people more timid.

We're not suggesting feisty Chelsea players like John Terry, Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba will be intimidated by the Red Devils. That would be akin to heresy.

Anyway, Chelsea are one of two teams to break the 'Red Monopoly', winning the league in 2004/05 and 2005/06.

But ominously, it is Atkinson officiating again tonight.

Could he somehow prove the experts right by calling the big decisions in United's favour at the Battle of the Bridge?

Stay tuned.


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