Why the Championship Playoffs Is the Greatest Tournament in Football
Everyone has their favorite time of year.
For some, it’s Christmas.
For some, it’s the summer.
For some, it's Ashley Cole's bi-annual public meltdown on Twitter.
But there are people for whom those times of year do nothing. There are people in this world who count down the days in their calendar to the Championship playoffs.
And after the dramatic finish to this weekend's Watford vs. Leicester City game, you can see why.
Four teams from English football's second tier battle it out in a knockout tournament, with the winner gaining promotion to the Premier League. And it doesn't get any better than that.
Fans desperately want their team to play on one of world football's biggest stages, and players with dreams of making their name want themselves in the shop window in one of sport's most lucrative shopping centers.
This year Watford, Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace and Leicester City have all been competing for an elevator pass to the most watched league in the world.
So you can stuff your World Cups, throw your Champions Leagues down a well, and put the FA Cup in a rocket ship and fire it over a rainbow.
This is our love letter to the greatest tournament in football: the Championship playoffs.
The Winner Gets a Proper Prize
Promotion to the Premier League from the Championship is estimated to be worth about £90 million in extra income.
That’s a hell of a prize for winning a game of football.
Imagine if there was a game show where the top prize was £90 million. The list of people wanting to apply for that would be longer than Newcastle United's wait for a major trophy.
A trophy’s nice and all…but £90 million! You could buy all of Shropshire and make that into a trophy for £90 million.
The winners also get to play in the Premier League next season. Compare that to winning the World Cup; if you win the World Cup, you don’t even get automatically entered for the next World Cup anymore. You have to qualify like every other Tom, Dick or Haiti.
Anyone Can Win It
The beauty of the Championship as a league is no two games are ever the same.
We all talk about the Premier League, La Liga and/or Bundesliga being the best leagues in the world. But the English Championship is genuinely the most exciting league in the world.
The league is always very tight, and the teams in there are always so tough. If you string three wins together (very rare in the Championship) you can go from relegation threatened to automatic promotion candidates.
And the playoffs is the Championship's four best teams (well, apart from two that got automatic promotion) of that year, going to war. Anything could happen. Almost everyone has a good a chance of winning as anyone else.
Just the Final Is at Wembley
The final for the Championship playoffs is at Wembley.
And no other round.
The FA Cup having its semi-finals at Wembley has taken the gloss off of the achievement of getting to football's hallowed ground.
And the playoffs see teams who never usually get to go to Wembley, get to go to Wembley. It has the magic of the FA Cup that the FA Cup doesn’t have anymore.
The final scenes are played out at the home of football (the biological home, the Maracana is just the foster home),
It's an End-of-Season Treat
We all know that feeling. That lull when the football season’s over, especially in a year like this when there are no major international tournaments to look forward to over the summer.
As the last full-time whistle is blown and all the results are in, you suddenly think to yourself: "what now?" A summer of having to do something on your Saturday afternoons besides watch sport is hovering over you like a swarm of angry wasps.
From May, the first day of the season in August seems such like a long time away. But the playoffs are a bit of extra time. A stay of execution.
In computer-game terms, the playoffs are a bonus level for when you’ve completed a game. It’s a little bit more fun.
And boy what fun the playoffs can be.
It Seeds and Draws Itself
The format is simple: The team who finishes third plays the team who finishes sixth. The team who finishes fourth plays the team who finishes fifth. They play over two legs, and the winner of both games meet in the final.
And that's it.
There are no ridiculous over-the-top ceremonies to make a draw, like for the Champions League or World Cup. There’s no flying everyone in the media, a representative from each team involved, and Emeli Sande out to Zurich to witness the draw.
And there are no expensive-looking video montage packages on the history of the competition and how it "helps the global community."
There are no star names like Alessandro Del Piero, Edgar Davids and Paul Furlong picking team names, which have been written onto something resembling a Poké Ball, out of a crystal salad bowl.
And the whole process isn’t dragged out for an hour-and-a-half and doesn't cost about six million quid to just effectively draw names out of a hat.
It sorts itself out. No fuss. Just people keeping their heads down and getting things done. The British at their best.
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