Saturday, 29 May 2010

Play-offs would've stopped English football's greatest story

I overheard a conversation about Nottingham Forest last night. A casual observer asked if Forest had finished third in this season's Championship, why Blackpool, three places and nine points behind them would be in the Premier League instead of them next season?

The Tangerines, who on the last day of the season clinched the final playoff place, beat two teams in a knockout competition at the end of a rigorous campaign. Basically, Blackpool came into form at the right time as Forest got tired. The team who finish sixth often win promotion. When it was explained to the observer why the playoffs existed, "money" was the predictable, but truthful answer given.

Which reminds me. In 1977, Forest also secured third place in the same division to claim their place among the elite. There were no playoffs then. The rest, as they say, is history.

What came next was one of the most extraordinary ascents to the game's summit ever seen.
Brian Clough's men stormed all before them: signing Peter Shilton and Kenny Burns in the close-season, Forest went on to complete an astonishing League Championship and League Cup double followed by a successful defence of the League Cup and the first of two successive European Cups. Trevor Francis became the first million pound player and journeymen like John Robertson, Archie Gemmill and Tony Woodcock became football's biggest stars.
I'm not saying Billy Davies' charges would have done the same thing had they been promoted, but it's highly questionable if the extraordinary events would've unfolded for Cloughie's men had they been forced to play three more games at the end of a tough campaign, and just to earn the promotion they'd already won on merit.
There aren't relegation playoffs anymore as defeat for the vanquished is too painful, the drama too acute. Remember the riots at the Chelsea v Middlesbrough game at Stamford Bridge all those years ago? The conventional wisdom is that playoffs should be about a positive prize - promotion to the higher league. And that tired metaphor about the Premier League's Promised Land.
But given the history of Nottingham Forest, I am not sure about the play-offs at all.

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