The only two emotions that there are in Playoffworld

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There is a scene in the Blues Brothers when Jake and Elwood wander into an unknown bar and pass themselves off as the band booked to appear that evening. “Er, what kind of music do you usually have here?” asks Elwood of the barmaid. “Oh, we got both kinds,” she replies. “We got country and western.” And so, seamlessly, to the Football League play-offs. After losing and then winning the National League play-off final in 2017 and 2018, Tranmere get this weekend’s triple-headed ball rolling against Newport County on Saturday, having become battle-hardened by their previous experience. “A core of the group,” says goalkeeper Scott Davies, “have been through both emotions.” That’s happy and sad. Both emotions. The two emotions that there are in Playoffworld.

This weekend our attention turns once again to Wembley, graveyard of dreams, crematorium of hope, bonfire of the buoyancies. It is towards the looming arch that the players and fans of six teams will trudge over the course of this long weekend, and away from it that half of them will plod a couple of hours later after watching the efforts of nine months exploding like the celebratory glitter-bombs which shower the jubilant victors in unnecessary if shiny debris. And for the winning players, the familiar pleasure of victory combined with the rare joy of potentially transforming the future not just of their clubs but of their very selves.

Tranmere were the sixth best side in League Two this season, while Newport came seventh. If successful, County would have the second-worst promotion-resulting goal difference in the entire history of English league football (it is zero; they were the only team in the top 15 not to finish in the positive). “Newport have done fantastically well to get to this stage,” tooted Tranmere boss Mickey Mellon, with brutal condescension.

Sunderland and Charlton got their seasons under way with a game against each other on the first Saturday in August, and will end it with a game against each other on the last Sunday in May. This is the first time the same two teams have met in two play-off finals, bringing to mind the 1998 second-tier goalfest that absolutely nobody has relentlessly dredged up in the build-up to this game. Charlton lost that August curtain-raiser but finished three points above Sunderland and, having won eight of their last 10 games, go into this one in high confidence: “Good form is good because it puts you into a good place,” philosophised manager Lee Bowyer.

The Championship play-off final concludes the jamboree on Monday, with Plain Old John Terry’s Aston Villa and Frank Lampard’s Derby County competing to focus on the ball despite the blinding glare of incalculable riches. Victory in “the most lucrative one-off match in world football” will bring the winners at least £170m, according to top number-crunchers at Deloitte. “The financial prize is likely to reach £300m if they survive the first season in the Premier League,” added the senior manager of their Sports Business Group, nominative determinism’s Sam Boor. Like Tranmere, Villa were in a play-off final last season, though having lost it they have only experienced one of the emotions. Fortunately their manager, Dean Smith, seems to have worked out what the play-offs are all about. “You have to prepare,” he says, “for winning or losing.”


“I do different things, with less intensity. I have a better perspective of what is going on. I see the mistakes managers make … and I don’t pay the price for it” – Arsène Wenger gets his chat on with Amy Lawrence.

Man like Arsène.
Man like Arsène. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images


“Thanks for drawing attention to the plight of the promotion-winning heroes at Bury FC (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs). It may be de rigueur to highlight the gap between the haves and the have nots, but the club is dying. When Citeh beat Watford 6-0 last week, Bury lost more than the outright FA Cup final victory record (previously held following a 6-0 triumph over Derby County in 1903). In a competitive catchment area City and United bolster their monstrous incomes with the majority of local support. Salford City have emerged with a very different rags-to-riches story and have been bankrolled into the Football League, with (over-)exposure courtesy of the Class of 92 (coincidentally, the year football was invented). Meanwhile, two proud mainstays of the League, Bury and Bolton Wanderers, are fighting for survival. Clubs like this are more vulnerable than ever to rapacious ownership. Unfortunately, well-run lower-league clubs are a significant minority. Once a Bury or a Bolton goes to the wall a lot more will follow. For Bury’s own chairman to release such a vague, inflammatory and unprofessional statement has only increased my fear for the existence of this great club. Anyway, keep up the work” – Darrien Bold.

“As a veteran of paper-rounds for the old ‘Kiosks’ shop at 175 Whiteladies Road in Bristol in the late-80s/early-90s, I can confirm that it is indeed a predominantly ‘City’ part of town (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs). Whiteladies Road is famous for its ‘Cresta Run’ pub crawl – essentially because you go downhill in and out of lots of pubs – which participants on my stag do endured before rewarding ourselves afterwards with refreshments in a central trendy nightspot. Apparently the wife of the then Bristol City goalkeeper was part of a group there enjoying our frolics, but now I think about it, perhaps they’ve been having me on all this time” – Martin Eales.

Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is Darrien Bold.


England’s women have been put through their paces by the Royal Marines as they step up their World Cup training. “There were men there who had had their legs blown off, amputees. It was inspiring for us,” explained Beth Mead.

Steph Houghton and Jade Moore are put through their paces.
Steph Houghton and Jade Moore are put through their paces. Photograph: Lynne Cameron for The FA/Rex/Shutterstock

Real Madrid have angrily responded to Mauricio Pochettino’s quip that they blanked a request from Spurs to kip at their training ground before Big Cup final. “It is outright false that this request was produced,” harrumphed a club statement.

Everton have swooped for Huddersfield keeper Jonas Lössl and Bayern Munich are trying to do likewise, for a considerably higher wedge, for Leroy Sané.

Suitors of Jack Grealish, however, will have to pay top dollar for the midfielder should his Aston Villa side fail to reach the Premier League. “He loves Villa and he’ll want nothing more than to get promoted with Villa. If we don’t go up he’ll cost someone a hell of a lot of money,” roared Dean Smith.

It’s another statue story, folks.

England U-21 boss Aidy Boothroyd has signed a new two-year deal.

And Luciano Camilli, vice-president of Italian third-tier club Viterbese, has been banned for five years after assaulting the president of rivals Arezzo before their Serie C promotion play-off. Camilli pushed La Cava, kicked his legs and then “hit him with extreme violence with a punch to the head”, according to a disciplinary tribunal.


Arsenal should consider boycotting Baku as a result of all the Big Vase bother surrounding Henrikh Mkhitaryan, thunders Barry Glendenning.

Ewan Murray previews the Scottish Cup final between Hearts and the Queen’s Celtic and chin-strokes on what victory would mean to each manager.

Fitba! Photograph: Steve Welsh/PA

Massimiliano Allegri deserves to be remembered as one of the great Juve managers, reckons Dan Cancian.

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