The race to determine the third team to get promoted from the Championship to the Premier League took a step closer to be finalized yesterday after Swansea City defeated Nottingham Forest 3-1 to qualify for the Championship Playoff Final. Later today, Cardiff City will host Reading (live on FoxSoccer.tv) in the second leg of the Championship Playoff semi-final (aggregate score, so far, is 0-0). The winner of that match will play Swansea at Wembley Stadium in London on Monday, May 30 (a bank holiday in the United Kingdom and, conveniently, Memorial Day in the United States).
As a soccer fan, I’m hoping that Reading beats Cardiff City to reach the final today. I’m not saying that because I’m a Swansea supporter. But if Cardiff reaches the final, the Championship Playoff Final will cease to become an open and attacking match. It’ll become a fierce derby which, as many of us have witnessed in previous derbies around the world, becomes a very tense and frustrating experience. A derby final becomes less about soccer and more about not making a crucial mistake against your closest rival. For the sake of entertainment, a Swansea against Reading final would be a joy to watch.
Off the pitch, a Swansea against Cardiff final would be a nightmare to police. If Cardiff win today, it’s quite possible that the police may insist that this become a “bubble” final where Swansea and Cardiff supporters can only travel to the ground separately via authorized transport (either trains or buses, carefully separated and heavily policed). However, there wouldn’t be enough trains or buses to take approximately 72,000 fans from South Wales to London, so police may have no option other than patrolling the 200 miles stretch of M4 motorway between Swansea and London, and hoping that few incidents as possible occur. By the way, the animosity between Cardiff and Swansea supporters makes West Ham against Millwall look like a Sunday picnic. Obviously, police are very concerned about an all-Welsh Championship Playoff final.
Whether Swansea will play Reading or Cardiff in the final, the Swans will be confident going into the match that they can get the win necessary to get promoted to the Premier League where they’ll gain around around £90million in TV revenue, sponsorships, increased ticket revenue and more. As a pessimistic Swansea City supporter who was followed the team since 1979, I’m happy just to be in the final. It was only eight years ago when Swansea were at the bottom of the Football League and only one game away from relegation to the Conference. But in that last match of the season, Swansea beat Hull City 4-2 and stayed up. It was fitting then that the footballer who scored the opening goal last night for Swansea against Nottingham Forest was Leon Britton. The diminutive midfielder played in that win against Hull City and was fouled in the area which led to the penalty that opened up Swansea’s tally that day. Boy have times changed.
Anyone who has watched the Swans this season will have been mesmerized by the skill in this team. The club plays a total football brand of football with Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair attacking down the wings and Franco Borini and Stephen Dobbie up front. All through this Swansea City squad are class players from their goalkeeper Dorus de Vries to their defenders Ashley Williams, Alan Tate, Garry Monk and Angel Rangel. Last but not least is Swansea prodigy, midfielder Joe Allen who partners Britton in midfield. This is a team that has the potential to win hearts and minds of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who watch the Premier League.
But without getting too far ahead of myself, Swansea still have to win the final later this month. If they lose, they risk Premier League clubs (and other Championship clubs who have far bigger salary budgets) picking off most of the Swansea talent. Manager Brendan Rogers would be a target too for Premier League clubs looking for an experienced confident manager who has worked under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. So the stakes for Swansea are massive. A win and they’ll be up in the best league in the world. A loss and they’ll have a challenge keeping their best talent to rebuild for next season. Thankfully, right now the pressure is on Cardiff City to win its match today, while Swansea can begin resting and training for the final in two weeks. No matter who wins today, the 2011 Championship Playoff Final will be a must-see.
UPDATE: Swansea vs Reading in the Championship Final will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel at 10am ET on Monday, May 30.
For more Championship coverage, visit our sister site Championship Talk.