Today the Football League announced that the League One and Two play-off finals will be played at Old Trafford, rather than Wembley. Most of the country’s media glossed over this relatively small news, as let’s face it - those below the Premier League don’t really matter, do they?
Well, many Football League fans have already expressed via the internet it seems there is an air of disappointment at today’s announcement.
I can only speak from my own experience, but when my side, Yeovil Town, embarked on their play off campaign in 2007, the only silver lining from the cloud of being played off the park by a very good Blackpool side was that I got to see the team I have supported since a boy run out at football’s HQ, Wembley Stadium.
I didn’t mind that I spent an unspeakable about of money on a hotdog or that I had a feeling that many of the 30,000 supporting Yeovil that day probably wouldn’t step foot in Huish Park any time soon, because I was there with my lads on the same pitch the greatest game of all, the FA Cup final, had been played on not a week before.
But this year, there will be none of that for the sides involved.
Old Trafford is still a wonderful place to play and its ability to hold major finals is not in doubt, they’ve been doing it for those egg chasers of Rugby League for a while now but the play-off system has lost some of its magic on the back of today’s announcement from the leagues’ governing body.
Moving two of the three football league finals as a one-off might be alright as everything should return to normal next season, but it sets a dangerous precedent for future years. The Champions League final is a reasonable replacement for TV revenue and the neutrals, but what if the NFL decides they want to play a game in May, or if Take That plan a couple of extra dates on their next world tour at the wrong time? I’m worried about who might come out on top, seeing football finals being played elsewhere.
The FA and Football League are forever having to answer questions on what I call ‘big club – little club syndrome’ where the finance and cash cow that is the Premier League will always get their way, often at detriment of those in the lower divisions. The gap between the big boys and the smaller sides is unfortunately getting bigger.
Firstly, the Women’s FA Cup final still stays away from Wembley, now the play-offs are being shipped out, whilst the FA Cup semi-finals are brought in – killing their magic in the process too. Maybe, I’m a just a football league fan looking out for others like me but I am genuinely concerned this is the first step in a negative direction.
Should Old Trafford do a brilliant job, which I expect them to, the opportunity to pass off two of the “less important” Wembley dates during a busy period may be too good to turn down.
So, if there is a large stadium out there who fancies the FA Trophy or FA Vase final, please make your applications out to Wembley Stadium, SW1P 9EQ. I suppose for the teams that leave Manchester on the winning side, it won’t really matter too, much – they’d take promotion via the local park in front of three men and a dog if they had to.
The Champions League final between two great European sides (neither of which could be English) will be a great watch, but for one game to seriously alter a whole weekend for the fans of Rotherham, Bury and Oldham just to benefit those from Barcelona, Madrid and Milan – seems just wrong.
I really hope it’s me that is wrong because for most League One and Two sides the chance to play at Wembley doesn’t come all that often, with less and less teams taking the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy seriously, the play-offs provided teams like Yeovil a chance to feel like World Champions, well it would have if we had won!
For the sake of us in the Football League, keep the play-offs at Wembley, retain the magic of the system and don’t let money get in the way.
Ben Barrett, BenBarrettSportwriting.