Tuesday, May 27, 2008

All Played Off

And with that, the season was over. That's your lot - or, at least, it is until the start of the European Championships. The final weekend of the domestic season was, perhaps surprisingly, not quite as dramatic as one might have expected. Because of Euro 2008, the play-offs for the Football League were played in reverse order this year (something to do with the Championship players being more likely to be taking part in it, apparently), so on Saturday it was Bristol City against Hull City at Wembley and, surprise surprise, it was Hull that won the match thanks to an absolutely belting goal from the 63 year-old Dean Windass. With it, of course, comes at least a year in the Premier League and the opportunity to pit their wits against the best. Now whether either they or the automatically promoted Stoke City will be capable of doing any better than Derby County did last year is open to question, but it is a sign of the ever-widening gulf between the Premier League and the rest that many commentators aren't even talking about their chances of survival, but of their chances of getting more than the feeble tally of eleven points that Derby managed this season. Such considerations are, however, for another day. For now, Hull is no longer the biggest British city to have never hosted top division football - that dubious honour now belongs to Plymouth. Argyle need to buck their ideas up.

In League One on Sunday, a lesson was given in how to overcome massive adversity. It wasn't, unsurprisingly, given by Leeds United, whose supporters chose to boo the chief executive of the Football League, Brian Mawhinney, at Wembley instead. So it was that Doncaster Rovers took their place in the Championship, ten years after they fell out of the League altogether with one of the worst playing records that the bottom division has ever seen, with a main stand that mysteriously burned down and a stack of debts that weren't satisfied by the insurance claim that resulted from this after it became apparent that the fire was an act of arson carried out by their very own chairman. More on that later in the week. As it turned out, Doncaster were the better of the two teams on the day and thoroughly deserved their 1-0 victory. They will take their place in the Championship with South Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday next season. For Leeds, well, look on the bright side. At least they'll be the biggest team in the division for another year. Finally, in League Two, Stockport County beat Rochdale 3-2 yesterday to earn their promotion. On paper, it could have been a "fairytale" for Rochdale, who have been inhabitants of the bottom division since 1974 without ever seriously threatening to get promoted. In their centenary season, they won't have had a better chance than when they went 1-0 up yesterday, but Stockport fought back to a 3-1 lead that they didn't lose. It's worth remembering that these have also been testing times for Stockport, who sold their ground on a leaseback basis, so severe were their financial troubles. They are now owned by their Supporters Trust, who are trying desperately to raise the money to buy Edgeley Park back, and their victory marked the completion of a quartet of promotions by Trust-owned clubs this season.

More to follow this evening on the end of the English season.


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