In Praise Of… Play-Offs

It’s almost that time of year again. The non-league end of season play-offs started last night with wins for Hampton & Richmond Borough and Eastleigh in the Blue Square South, and tonight the clubs of the Blue Square North do battle in the first part of their end of season mini-tournament. The Football League ends this weekend, and there is a sizeable group of people that now count the Championship Play-Off final at the end of May as being a more important match than the FA Cup Final. There remains, however, a minority of people that continue to regard the end of season play-offs as being a sop to money and exhibitionism which overlooks the performance of clubs throughout the course of a season. People are right to be wary of anything that compromises the sanctity of league football, but they are looking in the wrong place when they criticise play-offs. Firstly, end of season play-off matches are nothing like a recent invention. Between 1893 and 1899 they were used between what were then the two divisions of the Football League before being scrapped in favour of automatic promotion and relegation. They weren’t called anything as vulgar as “play-offs”, of course. They were called “test matches”, and were played at first by the bottom three teams in Division One and the top three team in Division Two in a...

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