Special Atmosphere/Pressure For Playoff Games

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.


  1. Hugh Clements-Jewery says:

    This identifies the relative strengths and weaknesses of the English league system versus the US conference system. With the English system, winning the league is everything, but at the end only a few games are meaningful because only a couple of teams really have anything to play for. To liven it up for those teams with seemingly nothing to play for, we have a 3rd place play off. With the US conference system, winning the conference doesn’t mean much (other than deciding seedings for playoffs), so the conference games lack importance (relatively speaking) right through the season. But several teams then enter the playoffs after the regular season, with everything riding on it. Hence the lack of interest relatively speaking in the NBA regular season, but a ton of interest in the playoffs.I guess whether you prefer one or the other depends on whether you want your excitement distributed over the season (English) or concentrated at the end (US). Both are good, but I’m biased – I’ll take the English way.

  2. Tyler says:

    Definitely was a fun game to watch. I too would love to see the games in the Championship that are for promotion and relegation. I can’t wait until MLS implements a promotion/relegation system.

  3. Miller says:

    I agree with you about the intensity of the game between Man City and the Tottenham, it was great. There are so many boring EPL games, an example would be the Burnley and Birmingham game. Not a whole lot riding on that one, and the intensity of the match was very low. Even the commentators acknowledged the level of play was down. I love the idea of putting some sort of playoff into the Premier League, it would create a much better game environment at the end of the season for teams with nothing to play for. I would love to see a playoff the fourth Champions League spot. Wouldn’t it be great to see Man City, Tottenham, Aston Villa, and Liverpool fight it out for a Champions League spot. It would be must see TV for soccer fans.

  4. Soulman says:

    Arsenal’s last match at Highbury in 2006 was a similar thriller even
    though Wigan had no eqaul stakes. I have been thinking that since
    Arsenal embnarked on constructing The Emirates Arsene has deliberately
    qualified on the wire because he makes money out of the qualifiers.
    That is shrewd business instict and Tottenham will makes some money too
    Though iy could the far they go.

  5. JPolito says:

    A lot of it boils down to what’s at stake or the relative profile of the match. Look at the intensity of the FA Cup.

    We had a recent tournament, where given the competition, the team was expecting to end up in the consolation match. As it turned out, the team, after one set back, fought harder than they’ve ever played the whole season, and we made it to the finals, first beating the #1 team from the other group, and then narrowly losing to the #2 team in the neighboring state in the finals. For the team, it didn’t matter we came in 2nd, to them, it was a huge success. Totally transformative. If we had only made it to the consolation round, I don’t believe the team would have fought 1/2 as hard.

  6. Ernie says:

    Just a few comments about coaching philosophy. Our little club places player development, competing at the highest level, Reading the Game, not constantly coaching from the sideline and using practical training methods from mostly the Dutch C.I.O.S. Coaches out of Arnhem to develop our players/teams. Using the words winning/losing isn’t mentioned with our U10’s and younger. It’s all about player development and having the player’s safety in mind..

  7. Andy says:


    I support Millwall and once again this season we are in the play offs, albeit from a stronger position. The final last year was a great day out, but the play off games against Leeds to get there had even more tension.

    Certainly the feeling of the fans I went with and mixed with wasnt of dissapointment at losing the final. I dont think you actually lose anything – if that makes sense, you werent strong enough to gain automatic promotion so you havent lost. However winning is everything – awaydays to bigger clubs, seeing better players on match days, more revenue etc….Coming out of Wembley at the end was more of an anti-climaz rather than a dissapointment.

    Hopefully this season it will be elation…..