the real fa cup

Good Grief!

Damon’s Play Off Blueprint & The Ryman League Finale.

I’ve supported Ipswich Town all my life and, bar one remarkable day at the turn of the millenium, it has been nothing but play off defeat, after defeat, after defeat…

Ipswich 1 Charlton 2
Ipswich 3 Sheffield United 3 (Sheff U win on away goals)
Ipswich 0 Charlton 2
Ipswich 1 West Ham 2
West Ham 4 Ipswich 2

Not as bad as Preston, mind, but still a woeful effort.

In selecting my ‘new team’, Dulwich Hamlet, play off trauma potential was not something I really bore in mind, they fitted the bill simply by being the closest to where I now live. But, helpfully, in the three years I’ve been going to see them, they have steadfastly refused to break away from mid table and in to the danger of the play off zone, which has been a boon.

However, this season, having been as good as their mid-table word for the vast majority, through the ineptitude of others they found themselves stumbling into the final play off place on the penultimate day of the season. Given my previous experience of such things, WHY ON EARTH did I find myself traipsing across London to watch them try and finish the job on the final day??!! STEP AWAY FROM THE MISERY, STEP AWAY!

As if the potential for disappointment wasn’t bad enough, today’s hosts to Dulwich were the other side benefiting from the utter collapse of Burgess Hill Town in recent weeks. If Dulwich lost, Walton & Hersham would be the team rubbing their/our noses in it at the final whistle. What on earth was I letting myself in for?

As it happened, The Swans were toothless, never looked like scoring, always looked second best and, ultimately, lost 2-0 to an accomplished if unspectacular Dulwich side. It was actually relatively nerveless, with goals 5 minutes either side of half time Dulwich eased towards a clash with 2nd placed Metropolitan Police … Oh but wait a minute, what’s that … Oh me oh my, Bognor Regis Town only drew at 2nd bottom Chatham? Way to blow it, guys!

So, Met Police Bognor Regis will now be visited, on Tuesday night, by Dulwich. Now, here’s an age-old debate. Are the play offs fair?  In 2005 Ipswich finished 12 points ahead of West Ham, got dumped out of the play offs by them and then watched helplessly as a team who finished 14 points off automatic promotion went up ahead of them. That is nothing, Dulwich finished 31 (THIRTY ONE) points shy of 2nd placed Bognor Regis. Ouch.

The play offs were brought in to extend the worth of the season by creating fewer dead games at the end of the season. It also dangles a carrot of mediocrity for those muddling along in mid table. Finish strongly and you could sneak into the lottery. This is all well and good but when the gap between 2nd and 5th is a whopping 31 points, is it really very fair? Dulwich, in 5th, were even 23 points behind 4th placed Leatherhead. Arguably, Leatherhead have justified their place in the play offs, they were only 8 points off top.

Some people argue that if the team is so much better they should be able to dispatch the upstarts. True, particularly if it’s over two legs. Ah. Ryman play offs aren’t two-legged. Dulwich are just 90 fortuitous minutes from knocking out a team who, lest we forget, lost just four games all season, a quarter of the number lost by Dulwich.

Here is where I think things need evening out.  At the start of the season the play off position should be as it is now, the four places behind the last automatic promotion spot have a bunfight.  However, 2nd place should hold the aces. In the past folk have suggested 3rd and 4th should play off for the right to meet 2nd. Fair point but it still doesn’t necessarily rid the league of the possibility that a team could finish miles behind the team who just missed out on promotion and yet go up ahead of them.

To cater for this, 2nd place should be the benchmark. If the three teams below them do not make it within 10% of their points total, they cannot enter the play offs. There are then four simple scenarios. If there are three further teams that qualify, the play offs continue as they do now. If there are just two, they play off for the right to face 2nd in the final. If just one team makes it then it’s a straight final and, if there are no other teams within 10%, 2nd place goes up automatically – no play offs.

In this scenario Dulwich would not be in the play offs and Leatherhead and Whitehawk would play off for the right to meet Bognor. As it stands, Bognor are on a hiding to nothing. Over the course of the season they were 1 goal off being Champions of the league, as it happens they now face 90 minutes of tension against a team with nothing to lose who won a stonking 10 fewer games.

The added bonus of this new play off regime is that I now wouldn’t find myself getting sucked into a play off scenario running the risk of ultimate disappointment. Again. Yet AGAIN! It has to be said that neither of my cohorts at the game on Saturday were entirely convinced.

Bognor Regis Town .v. Dulwich Hamlet – Tuesday 3rd May 2011 at 7:45pm.

*Should be noted that play offs in the Ryman League are drawn from 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places!

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