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Have the Playoffs Improved Football in England?

For many fans of a certain generation, the playoffs have always been part of the post-season mix-up. They are the final embers of a season that for many clubs will have long been extinguished.

There is always going to be some debate about whether the post-season lottery is a fair way to decide who goes up, largely because one side competing in them could have finished the season with a dozen points more than another.

The problem without them, of course, is the season for many sides would be already over by Christmas, making the final five months of the year a drab and pointless affair.

Clubs like Reading are a prime example of the pre-playoff format's sterility. In the 1960s, the Berkshire outfit were firmly stuck in Division Three under the management of Roy Bentley, to the point where there is even a book about how stationary life was for the club during that period.

So, from their perspective, the introduction of the playoffs would have been hugely welcome. Other sides will be sure to point out the fundamental flaw with the whole process as often a side finishing sixth will end up getting promoted instead of the team in third.

So let's have a look at both sides of the argument:

Why the playoffs are a good thing for football

The first thing that comes to mind about the end-of-season play-off structure is that it often creates great drama.

During the 1990s, some of the most outstanding matches were those of playoff finals. For example, Swindon Town's promotion to the Premier League was sealed in 1993 via a playoff final with Leicester City that had everything.

The Robins got themselves into a three-goal lead, only to let it slip and just when it looked as though the game was going the Foxes' way. Swindon then won a controversial penalty that would send them up and see them play the likes of Tottenham in the Premier League the following season.

Without the playoffs, this simply would not happen.

The other important plus about them is that they make the season meaningful for longer for a number of teams. This has fans invested a lot more than they would be if their side had nothing to play for by Christmas.

Take the Championship this season. With six games to go, the team in 12th were still only six points from the team in sixth giving the run in a lot more intrigue. This meant that, as of April 7th, Betway felt ten sides still had a chance of finishing in the top six, with Aston Villa the favourites at 1/5.

If the playoffs didn't exist then the table would suggest only three sides in the top half would have anything to play for, which is far less exciting.

The downside to the playoffs

Like with most things that have good points, they also have bad, and the playoffs are no different. Just as sides can cling onto the hope of getting a late-season push to finish in the top six (or seven in the case of League Two), others can see their massive lead over those behind them become meaningless.

Reading have twice finished just outside the automatic promotion spot and failed to go up via the play-offs. In 2001 they finished five points ahead of Walsall and ended up losing to them in the play-off final on May 27.

They also lost in the same manner in 1995 when Bolton defeated them 4-3, with the Royals famously sponsored by AutoTrader, the company owned by chairman John Madejski at that time.

The other two arguments that are often used to disparage the playoffs are the fact that the season already contains too many games so adding potentially three more just compounds the problem.

The other issue that sides in the playoffs can often find difficult is their preparation for the next season gets disrupted as they are not sure which division they will be playing in. This can be frustrating for the head of recruitment and for players as well, due to the difficulty they have in deciding their future.

On Balance

There are both positive and negative aspects to the playoffs but overall they have surely done more good for the game than bad. Having more teams involved in a race for promotion in April and May gives the end of the season some real jeopardy and excitement, plus memorabilia collectors would miss searching for famous programmes or ticket stubs from all the great games the end-of-season lottery has given us over the years.

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