The Football League Championship play-offs are a series of playoff matches contested by the teams finishing from third to sixth in the Football League Championship table. The semi-finals are played over two legs, with third playing sixth and fourth playing 5th, with the return fixtures following. The final is played at Wembley Stadium, although from 2001 to 2006, it was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff while Wembley was being rebuilt.

The first playoffs at this level were contested in 1987, when it was the Football League Second Division. From 1993 to 2004, following the creation of the FA Premier League as a breakaway from the Football League, it became the Division One playoffs, and after 2005 has taken its current name as the Championship playoffs following a rebranding of the remaining three divisions of the Football League.

There is no single sporting event in the world more valuable to the winners,[2] who end up approximately £60m better off than the losers, mainly due to the increased commercial television revenue from being promoted to the Premier League.[3] Notwithstanding by convention the two finalists agree that the loser will keep all the gate receipts from the game, so as to slightly soften the financial blow of missing out.[4]

The most recent final was between Middlesbrough and Norwich City on May 25th 2015, with the score ending 2–0 to Norwich City. First half goals from Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond were enough for the Canaries to secure the win.

Ipswich town have been in the Championship play-offs a record eight times: 1987, 1997–2000 inclusive, 2004, 2005 and 2015, making the final only once in 2000 (when they won promotion). Leicester City have reached the Championship play-off final four times (in the space of five seasons), losing two in 1992 and 1993 and winning two in 1994 and 1996. Crystal Palace have additionally appeared in the final five times, losing in 1996 and winning in 1989, 1997, 2004 and 2013.[5]

The team finishing highest in the league (third) has succeeded in winning promotion nine times out of twenty five seasons up to 2011, with fourth managing four promotions, fifth six and sixth five.

The play-off winners have managed to finish above the Championship winners and runners-up in the subsequent Premier League season on seven occasions: Blackburn Rovers in 1992-93, Leicester City in 1996-97, Ipswich Town in 2000-01, West Ham United in 2005-06 and 2012-13, Swansea City in 2011-12, and Crystal Palace in 2013-2014.

Format

At the end of each Season, the top two teams in the Football League Championship gain automatic promotion to the Premier League. The next four teams (that finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the League) enter the play-off competition. [6]

The semi-final matches are played over two legs. In the first leg, the two teams who finished in third and fourth place in The League play away from home - the third placed team against the sixth, and the fourth placed team against the fifth. The second leg is a return match of the same pairs - this time the two teams who finished in third and fourth place in The League playing at home. The winner of each semi-final (based on the aggregate score of the first and second legs) goes forward into the play-off final.

In the second leg, if the aggregate scores are level at the end of ninety minutes, additional time is played. If the scores remain level at the end of additional time the tie is determined by the taking of kicks from the penalty mark.

The play-off final is normally played at Wembley Stadium. In the final, if the score is level at the end of ninety minutes, additional time will be played, followed if necessary by kicks from the penalty mark. The winning team is promoted to the Premier League.


History

Name changes
1987–1992Football League Second Division play-offs
1993–2004Football League First Division play-offs
2005 –Football League Championship play-offs

In addition to the branding changes which affected English football in 1992 and 2004, the Championship play-offs have additionally changed in format.

When they were introduced for the 1986–87 season, the play-offs originally featured a top-flight team as well as the three second-tier clubs. This format was continued for the 1987–88, but discontinued afterwards to include only the four teams who finished behind the team or teams winning automatic promotion. As before, the semi-final and final were both two-legged and held at the home grounds of the two teams involved, apart from 1987, when Charlton Athletic and Leeds United couldn't be separated over two legs with the tie settled at a third match at St. Andrews, Birmingham. Charlton won the game to retain their First Division status, while Leeds remained in the Second Division. A year later, however, Middlesbrough won the playoffs to win promotion to the First Division with their opponents Chelsea being relegated.

The first winners of the promotion-only playoffs at this level were Crystal Palace, who beat Blackburn Rovers over two legs at the end of the 1988-89 season.

Since 1989–90, the final has been a single game (contested between the winners of the semi-finals, which remain two-legged) has been held either at Wembley or the Millennium Stadium. The first winners of the one-match playoff final were Swindon Town, who beat Sunderland 1-0 in 1990 but were later denied promotion due to financial irregularities, with Sunderland being promoted instead.[7]

Birmingham City have reached the Championship Play-Offs four times consecutively from 1999-2002, losing the first three attempts before, in 2002, reaching the Play-Off Final at the Millennium Stadium, finally winning promotion to the Premier League after additional time and then penalties. They suffered an additional playoff failure in 2012. Their local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers were beaten three times in the playoffs between 1995 and 2002 before finally winning at the fourth attempt in 2003. They suffered a further playoff failure in 2007.

Ipswich Town were actually the first team to qualify for the playoffs four times consecutively, finally winning promotion in 2000 after being defeated in the semi-finals throughout the three preceding seasons. They had additionally been losing semi-finalists in the inaugural Second Division playoffs in 1987, and were additionally on the losing side in the Championship semi-finals of 2004, 2005 and 2015.

Leicester City (Division One playoff winners in 1994 and 1996) were the first team to win the playoffs twice as this level, their 1994 triumph being the first time in seven attempts that they had won a match at Wembley Stadium, having lost the previous two playoff finals there, as well as four FA Cups between 1949 and 1969. Crystal Palace's Championship playoff triumph in 2013 made them the first team to reach the top flight of English football as playoff winners on four occasions.

West Ham United, Watford, Bolton Wanderers and Swindon Town have additionally won the second tier playoffs on two occasions, although Swindon have only won promotion once, as promotion was withdrawn following the first playoff victory due to financial irregularities.

As well as enabling lower placed teams to gain promotion which wouldn't have been achieved under the format of only having automatic promotion places, a large number of third placed teams who missed out on going up automatically have missed out on promotion after being beaten in the playoffs. In 1995, a reorganisation of the league meant that only the champions went up automatically, and the second-placed team had to navigate the playoffs for a chance of a Premier League placed. The affected team, Reading, missed out on promotion in dramatic fashion - they were leading Bolton Wanderers 2-0 in the playoff final after more than 70 minutes, but two Bolton goals forced additional time and they ended up losing the game 4-3, and having to wait 11 more years before winning promotion to the Premier League. Portsmouth, who only missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference in 1993, were beaten in the playoffs and had to wait 10 years before winning promotion. Millwall finished third a year later and lost in the playoffs, and more than 20 years on they have still yet to reach the Premier League.

Past winners

YearWinnersRunners-upSemi-finalists
1987Charlton AthleticLeeds UnitedOldham Athletic, Ipswich Town
1988MiddlesbroughChelseaBradford City, Blackburn Rovers
1989Crystal PalaceBlackburn RoversWatford, Swindon Town
1990Swindon Town1Sunderland1Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers
1991Notts CountyBrighton & HoveMillwall, Middlesbrough
1992Blackburn RoversLeicester CityDerby County, Cambridge United
1993Swindon TownLeicester CityPortsmouth, Tranmere Rovers
1994Leicester CityDerby CountyMillwall, Tranmere Rovers
1995Bolton WanderersReadingWolverhampton Wanderers, Tranmere Rovers
1996Leicester CityCrystal PalaceStoke City, Charlton Athletic
1997Crystal PalaceSheffield UnitedWolverhampton Wanderers, Ipswich Town
1998Charlton AthleticSunderlandIpswich Town, Sheffield United
1999WatfordBolton WanderersIpswich Town, Birmingham City
2000Ipswich TownBarnsleyBirmingham City, Bolton Wanderers
2001Bolton WanderersPreston North EndBirmingham City, West Bromwich Albion
2002Birmingham CityNorwich CityWolverhampton Wanderers, Millwall
2003Wolverhampton WanderersSheffield UnitedReading, Nottingham Forest
2004Crystal PalaceWest Ham UnitedSunderland, Ipswich Town
2005West Ham UnitedPreston North EndIpswich Town, Derby County
2006WatfordLeeds UnitedPreston North End, Crystal Palace
2007Derby CountyWest Bromwich AlbionWolverhampton Wanderers, Southampton
2008Hull CityBristol CityCrystal Palace, Watford
2009BurnleySheffield UnitedReading, Preston North End
2010BlackpoolCardiff CityNottingham Forest, Leicester City
2011Swansea CityReadingCardiff City, Nottingham Forest
2012West Ham UnitedBlackpoolBirmingham City, Cardiff City
2013Crystal PalaceWatfordBrighton & Hove Albion, Leicester City
2014Queens Park RangersDerby CountyWigan Athletic, Brighton & Hove Albion
2015Norwich CityMiddlesbroughBrentford, Ipswich Town
2016Hull CitySheffield WednesdayBrighton & Hove Albion, Derby County

1: Due to financial irregularities, Swindon Town were prevented from taking their place in the top division, which was instead awarded to the losing finalists, Sunderland.