The history of the Play-Offs at Wembley

Friday, 23, May, 2014
Cambridge win the 1990 Division 4 Play-Off Final

Playing the Football League Play-Off Finals at Wembley has been a great success story for the world-famous Stadium. As always with that special venue, players have an ambition to play there and fans are happy to travel there in their thousands – whether their team plays in the Championship, League 1 or League 2.

Play-Offs were introduced by the League in 1986-87 and in the first three seasons the Finals were played over two legs on the home grounds of the clubs involved. The Finals were brought to Wembley in 1990 and Cambridge United were the first to be promoted, from Division Four to Three, after scoring the only goal against Chesterfield. The attendance of 26,000 would have far exceeded any crowd at their home grounds.

On a fantastic weekend of football action Notts County beat Tranmere Rovers 2-0 and Swindon Town edged Sunderland 1-0 before nearly 73,000 fans to earn a top-flight promotion spot that they subsequently lost due to financial irregularities.

There were some classic Division One Play-Off Finals in the ‘90s with that great prize at stake: Swindon Town 4 Leicester City 3 in 1993, Bolton Wanderers 4 Reading 3 in 1995 and Charlton Athletic 4 Sunderland 4 in 1998. Charlton won the latter after an almost unbearably tense penalty shootout that was settled when Sasa Ilic saved from Michael Gray.

The Championship Play-Off Final continues to be a match worth millions to the winners and matches full of drama are virtually guaranteed.

The magnificent new Wembley, opened in 2007, had hosted seven weekends of Play-Off Finals before this year. There have been some spectacular attendances, like 86,703 for Hull City v Bristol City in 2008 and 86,581 for Swansea City v Reading three years later. Nearly three million people have watched the matches going back to 1990, so the message is clear…

We love the Wembley Play-Offs!