The Inanity of the Play-offs


When it comes to football, I must confess to being something of a traditionalist. For the purposes of practicality I am an advocate of goal line technology, but its impending imposition still fills me with an irrational urge for a game that caters to traditionalism. I cannot go without my pre match pint, and I am still filled with an unshakable unease whenever my beloved West Ham line up with anything other than a stoic four-four-two. There comes a point though, when we must forgo tradition in favour of fairness. One such case is the Championship play-offs. Despite us finishing some ten points clear of even fourth placed Birmingham City, four clubs contended the competition on an essentially even footing. The advantages of the away leg are negligible and, certainly, once we had gotten to Wembley it was anybody’s game. Had Ricardo Vaz Te’s 87th minute winner not fired us back into the Premier League, a little more than a sense of habitual disappointment might have clouded my Sunday Roast. My resentment, I feel, would not have been unwarranted.

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An air of vindication pervades the celebrations whenever a third placed team goes up. Blackpool may have performed admirably throughout 2011/12, but their Premier League place was largely unmerited; they had finished nine points behind third placed Nottingham Forest and just seven above eleventh placed Middlesbrough. League performance, by nature, should be judged over an extensive period. 46 games, surely, are sufficient to deem a side worthy of promotion. Why then should they be forced to compete in the arduous process of play-offs against a side that hasn’t performed to a consistently comparable standard?

The economic importance of our Wembley victory cannot be overstated. For a club whose finances are as precarious as ours, failure to attain Premier League status would have been catastrophic.

Accountancy firm Deloitte valued our victory at a colossal £46m. In financial terms, this constitutes the largest prize in world football, offering an unparalleled opportunity to enduringly strengthen the club’s foundations; as Big Sam so pertinently put it, ‘[the play-off final] was about people’s livelihoods’. Of course the play-offs have their advantages; they offer something to play for clubs whose last eight games would otherwise be futile, they provide a day out for teams unlikely to otherwise get to Wembley and, for the neutral, they are irrefutably great entertainment. Financially though, the rewards of promotion are just too great to come down to a single game.



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Proposing an alternative to the play-offs would require a radical reimagining of how lower league football works. The most viable option would be simply to offer automatic promotion to the top three clubs. A team could be eligible to go up automatically should they finish considerably higher than the fourth placed club – eight points seems a reasonable distinction. How the promotion system could be overhauled is not for me to say, but I do feel this season demonstrated quite how unfair the current system is. As for West Ham, I’m just glad that we shan’t be facing the angst of the play-offs for at least another couple of seasons; and, hopefully, for a great deal longer than that.

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  • Anonymous says:

    If the play offs are going to stay, I think first and second should go up, third automatically go to the play off final. Then fourth and fifth battle it out for the other final place in the final.

  • Tonka says:

    The play-offs in Super League are structured to give an advantage to teams that finished higher in the league. An example in the Championship would be as follows:

    Game 1: 3rd v 4th
    Game 2: 5th v 6th (loser eliminated)
    Game 3: Loser of Game 1 v Winner of Game 2 (loser eliminated)
    Final: Winner of Game 1 v Winner of Game 3

    It’s much fairer, giving full advantage based on league position. The third placed team gets a single home game to win to get to the final, and if they lose get another chance in Game 3. Meanwhile the 5th and 6th team face sudden death from the start.

    The other advantage of this system is that it keeps the season alive to the end – there would be real value in finishing third rather than fourth for instance.

  • Bob Sheppard says:

    Still think that the play offs should be between the 2nd & 3rd to bottom in the league above, and the 2nd and 3rd in the league below … this would give the Prem clubs and League 2 clubs (for example) a second chance … if they are better than the Chumps or Blue Sq clubs (respectively) then they stay up … the situation when the 6th club in the Chumps can go up, and the 17th club in the Prem with 43 points goes down is a bit unfair, to me

  • zola says:

    Play offs are fine cos teams are given ample opportunity to go up automatically by finishing in the top two. It is not as if a team that has been top all season can be displaced (like could coceivably have happened to Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership), which is very unfair. The playoffs widen the possibility of promotion for the large number of very closely matched teams in the championship in particular, without compromising on fairness by allowing 2 teams automatic promotion

  • Dave says:

    German system is OK. Bottom 2 go down, top 2 come up. 3rd from bottom and 3rd from top play off.

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