Why do we need the Play-Offs?
It’s that time of year again, when all those months of battling away week in, week out, are cast aside and the play-offs take place. It doesn’t matter if you finished miles ahead of other teams, forget the league it’s time for the lottery of play-offs with away goals and penalties possibly deciding important issues. Why bother having the league in the first place if that’s the way you’re going to decide promotion?
Heartbreak in Harlow
If you finished the league season with 103 points you’d be expecting to plan a promotion party wouldn’t you? Well that’s not the case for Harlow in the Ryman League Division One North. They only finished second behind champions Needham Market who managed 104 points. Harlow were 13 points clear of AFC Sudbury in third and 19 ahead of Thurrock in fifth. But only the Champions win automatic promotion so poor old Harlow had to take part in the play-offs. They lost their semi-final to Thurrock and that’s it, season over for Harlow and no promotion. Third placed Sudbury lost too and it was fourth placed Brentwood Town (who finished 18 points behind Harlow) who won promotion. Now tell me that’s right.
In the four Southern League and Ryman League promotion play-offs, none of the teams that finished second in the table were promoted. In the Evo-Stik Northern league only one of three second placed teams went on to celebrate promotion. In the battle to make it into the Conference, AFC Flyde finished 15 points clear of fifth placed Guiseley but lost to them in the play-offs
There’s always been a great divide between league and cup football. A league determines who the best sides are, while anyone can create a shock in a cup tie. So why do we decide at the end of a season to turn to cup football to decide promotion?
Now this website and blog of course surrounds the world of online betting and the play-offs probably attract huge amounts of punters due to the time of year and the big bookies like bet365 will no doubt have all soccer play-off markets (18+, Ts & Cs Apply) available to give full variety to the excitement surrounding them. I think a lot of bettors would miss these matches in the football calendar because even if your own team is not playing, they provide classic games that are often decided with a nail-biting finish.
What Would Mourinho Say?
Chelsea have dominated the Premier League this season but what if it was decided to go down the same route as rugby league and several other sports? Chelsea would find themselves in the play-offs with Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City to determine the real title winners. I perish the thought at how Jose Mourinho would react if Manchester United, currently 18 points behind Chelsea, won the play-offs and were crowned Premier League Champions. He’d look more miserable than he usally does.
Money Rules the Roost
So why is this crazy play-off system in place? Well for league teams it’s a case of money ruling the roost. All that extra finance from sell-out matches and a big day out at Wembley (while paying for building the stadium of course) that’s why we have to put up with the play-offs.
There’s not millions to be made from a Ryman League play-off match but they still go ahead. Fans suddenly come out of the woodwork to cheer their teams on in the big match. Just a few weeks ago Leek Town played two home games against Goole AFC and Lincoln United with a combined attendance of 305. Their two play-off games were both played at home and the combined attendance suddenly rose to 2,110. Despite finishing second in the league they weren’t promoted as they lost to fourth placed Sutton Coldfield Town. I bet all those special occasion fair weather fans weren’t happy about that.
There’s more to the Leek Town story though. After a series of postponements they had to play ten games in April before their final against Sutton Coldfield Town who played just six. Tiredness after a packed schedule must have played a part in the failure of Leek to win the play-offs. You see after all those months of league games and earning more points than all but one team in the league, it all came down to one match and that’s not right.
In the Southern League Division One Central Play-offs, second placed Royston Town saw their promotion hopes destroyed by a penalty shoot-out. Is that right? Course not. Promotion is so important to a club and failure to achieve it can create serious problems for your club. Players who have performed well for you throughout the season suddenly get snapped up by teams from higher divisions and you have to rebuild your side again. Then there’s all that additional finance available from playing in a higher league that suddenly goes out the window. All because someone wants to add a little touch of excitement to the end of a season. What’s even more sickening is the winners of the league play-offs get given a trophy at the end of the game, unbelievable!
Of course there’s the argument that the play-offs ensure that it means some teams floundering in mid table still have a chance of making the play-offs and getting promoted. Well I don’t really care about them to be honest. Teams like that shouldn’t have a chance of being promoted. They should just look at themselves and work out how they can improve next season.
Whoever wins the Championship Play-offs could see themselves earning over £120m next season. Norwich finished third on 86 points but now have to take on local rivals Ipswich in the semi-finals and they were eight points behind Norwich. That’s two cup ties and a local derby for good measure so anything could happen. Brentford squeezed into the play-offs right at the end of the season but they could easily be in the Premier League in a week or so’s time, even if it takes a couple of penalty shoot-outs to get them there. Remember how Blackpool made their way through the divisions all the way up to the Premier League? They did so without winning automatic promotion and simply became the play-off kings.
The Definitive Date
As I’ve mentioned, sports such as rugby union have play-offs to determine their overall champion, why? Well it’s down to wanting a definitive date when the champions are crowned. With a regular league season you never know exactly when the title race is going to be over. Chelsea winning the Premier League on a Sunday afternoon isn’t the most exciting of moments
If play-offs were introduced, perish the thought, we’d know the date of the Grand Final at Wembley when the title is decided. All of which means millions to be made in gate receipts, merchandise and TV rights. How long will it be before football further sells it soul?
Current Form Shouldn’t Decide Promotion
When we preview matches on this site we look at the form guide. That’s always important for the upcoming match but at this time of year it’s even more vital when the play-offs take place. There are some teams who are in third or fourth place who just aren’t in form at the moment. Then you have the side in fifth who are playing great football and go on to win the play-offs.
The simple fact is this, promotion should be earned by performances throughout the season not just how you do in May. Teams earn promotion after a season that has its ups and downs. For those in the play-offs only ups are allowed from now on.
Scrapping the play-offs and letting teams earn promotion through months of hard work makes sense but even I know it won’t happen. Money rules the roost in football and always will. The poisonous play-offs are here to stay but just tell Harlow that it’s the right thing to do.
May 7th, 2015 by Simon A
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