Three golden rules: How to win footy tipping bragging rights

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Forget about premierships, there are few things more precious in football than bragging rights over colleagues, friends and family in footy tipping. I know from experience after taking out The Age’s expert tipping competition.

I now believe only the finest minds win tipping competitions. Albert Einstein may have come up with the formula E=mc², but he never tipped nine.

At the risk of jeopardising my title defence, I will share some of my not-so-intricate trade secrets.

To borrow football coach terminology, the key to success in this game is not so much structure but discipline. That means submitting your tips before the start of every round so that you do not get hit by penalties such as getting the away team or, in some more brutal leagues, being handed a zero for that week. And you must stick to three non-negotiables.

Coaches love to say all games are equally important as there are never more than four points on offer – but we know that is not true. The same applies in tipping. Each game may be worth the one tip, but some matches are worth more than others. I call them the “swing games”.


The less important games have an overwhelming favourite. For example, as nearly everyone would tip reigning premiers Geelong to beat last year’s wooden-spooners North Melbourne, or leading flag fancy Melbourne to defeat lowly West Coast in Victoria, it does not really matter who wins.

If someone tips the upset, cop it on the chin. In the long run, they will lose. There may be a freak week when the outsiders get up en masse, but it is not a sustainable play over 24 rounds.

Swing games

Concentrate on the “swing games” – the 50-50, 60-40, maybe 65-35 matches which inevitably decide who claims the ultimate prize. These are the ones that really count. Get the majority of them right, and you will be firmly in contention.

There are usually one or two, sometimes three, each week. Round one is an exception. Richmond v Carlton, North Melbourne v West Coast, Port Adelaide v Brisbane Lions, and GWS v Adelaide are such games, though Hawthorn v Essendon, and St Kilda v Fremantle are also tricky.

When tipping swing games, home-ground advantage and ladder position matter. Ryan McClure beat a field of almost 670,000 to claim the ESPN FootyTips competition last year with a score of 163 – 17 more than The Age winner. These were his “most important factors”.

“It often comes down to a gut feeling and recent form of the teams involved,” McClure said.

“Sometimes looking at the recent history between them but more often than not the home team gets a nudge for my tip when things are quite even.”

The stats back him up. According to AFL official stats supplier Champion Data, since 2000 a home team higher on the ladder against a club travelling from interstate has won 75.5 per cent of the time. Ignore this at your peril. The winning rate falls to 72.8 per cent for the home side higher on the ladder.

Home ground advantage on its own is not as important. Since 2000, the home team wins 60.3 per cent of games against an interstate club, and 57.3 per cent of all games.

Tipsters were hanging on Jamie Elliott’s kick after the siren against Essendon in round 19 in what was a famous comeback for the Pies.Credit:AFL Photos

Do not tip all favourites

What about favourites? Last year, 69.57 per cent of favourites won, up from the 60.39 per cent the year before, but about the same as the 69.29 per cent in the COVID-stricken 2020.

Just as tipping the big upsets is a surefire way to disaster, paradoxically, tipping the favourites will not bring success either.

If you had tipped the favourite every game last year, you would have finished equal eighth of 14 in The Age’s competition.

Other tips

I take note of recent head-to-head records, though they are not the decisive metric. Some clubs have the wood over others. It’s no surprise Richmond have won their past 13 against Essendon, and Geelong are 20 from 23 over the Western Bulldogs, but who’d expect Gold Coast to be 3-1 over Sydney since 2020 or St Kilda shooting for six straight over Hawthorn?

At risk of upsetting my colleagues, it also helps to ignore the media noise or hysteria that accompany performances. This can distort a club’s true form and affect thinking for the following round. As the cliché goes, teams are never as good or as bad as they seem. It pays to overlook one bad week, and assess over a larger sample size.

If logic and reason aren’t your cup of tea, go with superstitions. Even the best have them.

“It is my number one rule not to change my tips,” McClure said. “More often than not, that is always a recipe for disaster.”

The Age columnist Mathew Stokes is out to turn the tables on me after running second last year. His (no longer) secret tactic is to back in his old club Geelong, with whom he won two premierships, and tipping on player availability.

“If a team has their superstars, their top 1 per cent, they’ll be the team that wins in my eyes,” Stokes said.

“I look at the top top-tier players. If you look at a Geelong top five or a Gold Coast top five you go Geelong. I try and back in the superstars because they get it done.”

Hopefully, there’s something above for everyone. To those who follow and lose, remember, it’s difficult going back to back.

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