Stakes are high for West Ham and Blackpool

Reuters

Fri, 18 May 13:22:00 2012

Hours before the Champions League final kicks off in Munich on Saturday, West Ham United and Blackpool contest a fixture at Wembley that will attract a larger attendance, no little hype and, as a one-off game, is more lucrative for the winner.

The English Championship playoff final offers the golden ticket to the Premier league as its prize, with 45 million pounds ($71.16 million) in extra revenue the financial carrot for West Ham or Blackpool if they gain promotion to the most-hyped domestic league in world football.

While the greater glory will be experienced by Bayern Munich and Chelsea in Bavaria, the winners will only bank nine million extra euros for inscribing their name on the trophy.

Even their season's income from Europe's flagship tournament, expected to be around the 50 million euros accumulated by Barcelona last season, fails to match the high-stakes being played for at Wembley.

The Championship playoff final has established itself in the fabric of English football and because of the build-up and Wembley fanfare overshadows the achievements of the two clubs (Reading and Southampton this season) who earn automatic promotion from the second tier of English football.

Saturday's playoff final is the 26th in the series that began in 1987 under a different format when Charlton Athletic, who had finished fourth from bottom in the top flight, beat Leeds United (who finished fourth in the old division two).

MINI TOURNAMENT

The following year, when the playoffs also involved one team from the top flight and the third, fourth and fifth-placed teams from the second tier, Chelsea tumbled out of the elite in a two-legged final defeat against Middlesbrough.

Since then, the playoffs have been a mini tournament between the third, fourth, fifth and sixth-placed teams in what is now branded as the Championship.

Some of the fading names of England's rich footballing history, the likes of Burnley, Derby County and Notts County have made brief returns to top flight via playoff finals while Blackpool, once graced by the wing wizardry of Stanley Matthews, have fresh memories of success.

Two years ago, they beat Cardiff City 3-2 at Wembley to return to the top echelon for the first time in 39 years and although Ian Holloway's team narrowly failed to survive, they have re-grouped and are again knocking on the door.

West Ham were also relegated last season after finishing rock bottom of the table under Avram Grant.

A regular member of the Premier League over the past decade, their need is perhaps greater than Blackpool's as the club owners are still chipping away at alarming debts, have many players on top-flight salaries and are hoping to become tenants of the Olympic Stadium from 2014.

They were favourites for automatic promotion under Sam Allardyce but, after finishing third, must now hold their nerve in the playoff final, having beaten Cardiff in the semis.

SECURITY NET

Another year deprived of the television revenue guaranteed for the top clubs would hamper their efforts to move forward although, like Blackpool, West Ham have the security net of another 32 million pounds of "parachute" payments over the next two seasons if they do not return to the Premier League.

"While (last year's playoff winners) Swansea City were assured of a 90 million pounds windfall the fact that West Ham and Blackpool are still eligible for parachute payments means that in real terms they are playing for 45 million pounds," Adam Ball of Deloitte told Reuters on Friday.

"Clubs who are relegated and don't come back up for at least three seasons get 16 million pounds per season. However, it's still the most financially lucrative match in football and opens the door for so many other spin-offs."

West Ham's co-owner David Sullivan poured cold water on suggestions promotion would provide an instant fix to the club's debt - estimated at 110 million pounds when he and David Gold stepped in to rescue the club in 2010.

"To be honest, that is rubbish. I don't think people realise the financial burden on you if you go up," Sullivan, who became a millionaire through the adult entertainment industry, told The Sun. "Promotion alone brings a further 14 million pounds in debt with seven million going in bonuses and seven million to honour changes to player's contracts.

"We brought players on Premier league wages in the Championship. They didn't come for love, loyalty counts for nothing in football. Then if we are promoted we will bring in another four or five new players.

"Work it out? The richest game in football doesn't cover that. ($1 = 0.6324 British pounds)

 

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