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The Play-offs continue to exceed expectations

This season shows why system works and works well

Jay Crame

The initial idea of a play-off system was not greeted with wide acceptance, more a view that it was another money making scheme for the game of football.

To a certain respect that initial viewpoint was correct but no-one could have believed quite how much of an impact the new system would have following its introduction in 1987.

It certainly took a while to evolve and it is seen in different guises across the world of football. The initial system involved one top flight club and three second tier sides. That only lasted two seasons which saw Charlton Athletic retain their top flight status while Chelsea lost theirs.

They are many that would like to see a return of such now in view of how much of a success the Premier League has become and the finances that it attracts. Imagine this season, Fulham, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough being joined in a round of play-off games by Swansea City with one place in the Premier League at stake?

Regardless, the play-offs become an important part of the footballing calendar, not to mention the tension and drama that more often than not create for management, players and fans alike.

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The promotion only play-offs first took place in 1989 as Crystal Palace beat Blackburn Rovers over two legs played home and away. They were fine tuned once again in 1990 with just the one game for the final which have been played at either the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff or Wembley Stadium.

Who could argue over the current format, one that has created such excitement and enjoyment ever since it was introduced up and down the English football pyramid. Perhaps enjoy is the wrong word to use, as anyone who has been involved in the play-offs will testify just how much emotion the whole process involves, a real roller coaster of emotions.

To date, the specialist play-off side is Crystal Palace. The Eagles have appeared in the final on five separate occasions, securing promotion four times, the most of any team. Ipswich Town have been involved in the play-offs a record eight times, only making the final once which they managed to win. Leicester City appeared in the play-off final four times in the space of five seasons, being triumphant twice.

Of course, the play-offs up and down the leagues are the same in terms of excitement but they do not have anything close to the same guarantees the Championship play-off final has. There is not one sporting event in the world that comes close to being as valuable to the winners as this one game does. They end up an estimated£60million better off thanks to the increased commercial revenue that goes hand in hand with being a Premier League side.  

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Whether that takes the gloss off the game itself is perhaps a pertinent point. There are some games that have proved tense with the vast amount at stake. Maybe that suggests that a change is needed but that certainly cannot be said for the other finals that grace Wembley.

The fight for promotion is as fierce as ever in an effort for clubs to move on up the pyramid. The glamour of the Championship play-off is likely to weigh heavily on any clubs that contest that one game going forward. It will be interesting to see how Aston Villa and Fulham fair in just over a weeks’ time. Two sides that have been entertaining all season, thrust into the spotlight of a multi-million pound carrot, dangling from the roof of Wembley Stadium.

There have both tasted it, and they want to again. Whether it is a disappointment or not, there are other finals to be contested that will likely live up to expectations. Long live the play-offs.

By Jay Crame – follow him and his Crystal Palace blog on Twitter @TheEaglesBeak

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