I am writing this as I watch the Man City v Tottenham game. It's 2.15 pm here in the Midwest and it's a good job I got most of my work done earlier in the day as I'm not getting much done right now. I thought I would write about the distinct pressure and atmosphere of this game and other playoff games throughout the various leagues.
Apart from occasional instances over the decades, this kind of atmosphere and pressure is pretty new and something I first noticed when the English leagues moved to a playoff format to decide the final promotion places.
Why is the atmosphere and pressure different than let's say a cup final or the Champions League final? Obviously in those games, there is an enormous pressure to win and become the "Champions". However, for those that lose in those finals, the loss is not that great. Afterall, they have enjoyed a great run getting to the final. They have it on their record that they reached the final and enjoy the build up to the final.
But the playoff are totally different and I love them. For the record, I have only seen the playoff games for 2-3 years on TV, then for some reason they stopped showing them here in the U.S. about 4-5 years ago. But just loved watching them. In fact, I would prefer to watch the games from League One, looking for promotion to the Championship, instead of an EPL game...They were just more exciting.
What makes them different? It's the all or nothing aspect and there is so much on the line. The loser gets nothing or worse...gets relegated and the winners set themselves up for next season and in the process usually a ton load of money as well. For instance, in this Man City v Spurs game, the winner finishes in 4th place in the EPL. This qualifies them for Champions League play next season. This is huge. Not only for the players...and all top level players want to play Champions League soccer...just ask Torres, Gerrard and other Liverpool players how they feel about missing out next season. But it will also give the team somewhere in the region of an additional $40 million in revenue.
So unlike a cup final where the loser at least can claim some semblance of success from a good cup run, the losers of a playoff game are absolutely distraught and can take nothing from losing. This makes the pressure immense for the players and leads to some pretty intense and fast paced games. I suppose the best way I could describe the games is to say that they are played as if both teams are losing 1-0 and it's the last five minutes of a cup final. Every tackle is critical, every header is important and it appears that every challenge is a last gasp stretch.
Just watching the Man City v Spurs game, and it's only the first 20 minutes, but every corner is defended as though it was the last minute with more than a hint of panic. Makes for a great game.
One thing I would like to see brought back to the playoffs is a four team playoff for the last relegation spot. One reason is this makes the season more interesting because even teams in the middle of the league table are usually only a few points above the team who are sixth from bottom and in the last playoff spot. But for some reason, the atmosphere at those games was even more intense.
Now all I need for some cable channel to start carrying the playoff games again. For now though, I will make do with this special one-off game of Man City v Spurs.