The English Football League Play-offs have been creating dramatic end-of-season storylines since they were introduced in 1987, with fans experiencing the range of emotions that come with high-stakes knockout football. But is the system fair? And is it good for the game?

We spoke with Elliott Brown, who has recently completed his BA (Hons) Football Business & Finance degree at UCFB Wembley, producing a dissertation analysing the play-off format after interviewing representatives from a range of clubs from across the country who have been involved. Here, Elliot shares his expert insight ahead of a huge weekend at Wembley…

What are your thoughts on the format of the EFL play-offs? Is it a fair system or are there pros and cons in your eyes?

The EFL play-offs are certainly an exciting method of allocating the final promotion places in the three professional leagues below the Premier League. They have some very strong benefits but also some questionable drawbacks.

A large problem amongst lower leagues without a play-off system is that a large proportion of teams that are safe from relegation but too far away from automatic promotion lose the incentive to give everything they have towards the end of a season – this format provides a goal for high midtable teams to strive for. This increases the excitement for staff and fans involved with those clubs and gives the opportunity for a team as low as seventh in League Two to achieve promotion.

The major downside to the current format however is that it undermines the meritocratic philosophy of English Football at its roots because it creates seasons for some teams where they fail to be rewarded for very successful seasons that don’t quite merit automatic promotion if they fail to advance through this format; teams such as this season’s Leeds side. A strong argument can be made for the unfairness of the third best team in the championship, for example, having to play three extra games beating two extra teams just to obtain the third promotion place. The three worst teams in the league are automatically relegated, so why aren’t the three best teams automatically promoted?

The ‘richest game in football’ takes place on Bank Holiday Monday with Aston Villa and Derby meeting in the Championship play-off final. As a former BA (Hons) Football Business & Finance student, what impact has the success of the Premier League had on the leagues below?

The ballooning of finances involved with the Premier League has hugely impacted the EFL as the riches now associated with being a top-flight team for even just a single season are enough to completely catapult a football club into future stability – providing there is smart management. If a championship team can earn promotion and is able to survive in the top tier without an unwise wage expenditure, the television rights revenue alone will be able to fund all sorts of improvements in every department of a club whether that be infrastructure, better footballing personnel or simply just higher returns for shareholders. Second division teams have absolutely everything to gain through promotion, now more than ever.

Blackpool hold the record for most play-off promotions with five from seven finals, with Preston failing in nine out of 10 attempts. Do you think mental strength comes into play more in the play-offs compared to the standard league season?

Absolutely. It is sometimes very clear that certain teams are more suited to a three-game knockout tournament than others in the way that the squads are constructed or in the way that they are coached. This is yet another factor that sometimes prevents teams that have worked so hard all season to accumulate the points that they have from earning the reward that they have merited. It is important, however, to a lot of stakeholders that the underdogs are provided with a chance at an upset in order to maintain interest at the end of the season.

Your role as General Manager at Biggleswade United means you oversee all areas of the football club – what insight has this given you in terms of the impact that promotion or relegation can have on a club?

My two and a half seasons at Biggleswade United have shown me the real and tangible effects of promotion and relegation on everyone involved at a club of its size. Although BUFC have not experienced either during my time, I have seen not only the impact of both on rival teams, but also the effects of not obtaining both. There have been teams saved from relegation by FA pyramid reshuffles as well as teams that have been denied their duly earned promotion to step four of the non-league ladder. At that level, a team can be torn apart from its players to its coaches to even its volunteers in a single summer and I have been able to witness first-hand the consequences of situations such as these. People’s jobs, people’s happiness, and people’s lives can depend on it.

And lastly, what are your predictions for the three matches this weekend? Will you be supporting any of the six teams?

I don’t support any of the six teams unfortunately as a Southampton fan, however I will have a slight vested interest in the winner of the League Two playoff final as it will impact my first season in fulltime work, as I have to say goodbye to my time at Biggleswade United for a new challenge working as the new Digital Sales Executive at Stevenage FC in League Two. They, unfortunately, missed the seventh playoff spot by just a point and we will surely have a fierce competitor to go up against next season in whichever one of Newport County or Tranmere Rovers fail to gain promotion. My predictions are: League Two – Newport County; League One – Sunderland; and Championship – Aston Villa.

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