Steve Bruce is preparing his players for the richest domestic game in world football the Championship Playoff Final on Saturday as his Aston Villa team face Fulham for the right to play in the Cash Cow that is the Premier League. It is worth around a guaranteed minimum of 160 million pounds for the winning team even if you don’t win a point, a throw in or a corner in the Premier League.
I am sure most of the player’s agents and wives will already be thinking about Premier League wages with the agents preparing to ask for new deals for their players.
However that all becomes secondary to fans, players, coaches and manager as the occasion and challenge gets closer by the day. For the supporters it’s certainly about the glory of reaching the Premier League to play against the best teams in the country. On the day they won’t care a jot that a win would see them promoted to become Premier League bit part player for the top six teams in fact just an extra in the soap opera that is the top flight league. Because winning promotion is success and they will celebrate that together on and off the pitch.
I have covered 3 play-off finals at the Millennium- in 2001 I saw Walsall beat Reading then in 2002 I saw my own team Blues beat Norwich and then 2003 I saw Wolves beat Sheffield United 3-0.
At Wembley in 1993 I watched West Brom beat Port Vale while I also saw West Brom Lose to Derby County in 2007.
The Championship Play-off Final is indeed a wonderful emotional roller coaster ride of an occasion that you never forget especially when your team wins. However Wembley or the Millennium are the loneliest of places on earth for losing teams.
In my broadcasting career I have witnessed both sides of that particular coin. In 2002 the delirious joy of Blues fans after beating Norwich and then in 2007 when Baggies fans left the stadium in tears after a dismal defeat to Derby.
It’s a lot less stressful to be promoted automatically especially as Champions as I am sure Wolves fans will agree however to do it through the play off final is a far more enjoyable occasion for supporters even if they suffer loads of stress, nerves and emotional overload.
But there are no guarantees that a team will win the final so I would imagine Steve Bruce would rather be mowing his lawn having won automatic promotion than going through the emotional wringer he most certainly will on Saturday; unless his team wins then the champagne will be flowing.
However for any team the real problems start when you win promotion especially through the playoffs because you are weeks behind every other team in recruitment for the Premier League.
What I have never got to grips with is that winning promotion through the play offs gets you a trophy but winning automatic promotion in second place doesn’t?