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The Adam Doyle column: The lottery of the play-offs

I bought a lottery ticket last week. It was a Euromillions lucky dip ticket. I can’t remember the exact jackpot amount; just that it was an astronomical sum of money. I bought my ticket knowing full well that the winning numbers would be drawn at random.

I couldn’t affect the outcome or my chances of winning in any real way, other than by buying more tickets, which would have only a marginal effect on the possibility of me holding a winning ticket.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t win. In fact, I didn’t even get one number. But I knew the rules and I knew that since the draw is random my ability to win would be out of my hands.

I often hear football players, fans and commentators talking about the ‘lottery of the play-offs’. They say that it is not a fair way to end a long, tough season. They say the best team doesn’t always win and that there is too much luck involved. This talk is for those who don’t prepare properly. This talk is usually the preserve of the losers.

The lottery of the football season is different from any other lottery. You can affect the outcome in any number of ways. Quite simply you can amass more points than anyone else and finish top. This is the ultimate aim.

It's not like a lottery at all

To be honest, it’s not like a lottery at all. Every team, player and fan knows from the outset what they have to do to win the main prize. They don’t have to rely on anyone else, or even on Lady Luck.

If they fail in their aim they get a second bite at the cherry. Those teams that don’t win the league or automatic promotion take part in play-off matches to decide who else is to be promoted.

They know they have to win a semi-final and a final. These teams failed at their first aim but are given a second chance to secure their prize. To me this seems like a pretty good deal.

Those that oppose the play-off system often cite the vast points difference between the highest and lowest-placed teams in the play-offs. They say the highest placed team deserves it the most as they collected the most points over the season. At best, this is bad logic: at worst, it’s sentimental claptrap.

It’s like saying that Barcelona deserve to win a game because they make the most passes and they have the most possession of the ball. Chelsea exposed this view quite dramatically last week.

The goalposts don't move

‘Deserving it’ has got nothing to do with it. The goalposts don’t move half way through the season. You deserve what you get.

When I was a kid I would play games happy in the knowledge that the rules were the same for everyone, but this was only if I won. Once I lost I would cry foul and smell a conspiracy. Now I’m an adult I can see the folly in such behaviour. Once you know the rules, find a way to win. If you lose, don’t fall back on lazy excuses.

As the 'lottery' of the play-offs approaches, the team that is most prepared and performs the best will win the prize. In my league, the Blue Bet Square Bet South, Dartford have been the most consistent throughout the season; something reflected by the fact they have the most points of all the play-off teams.

If they don’t progress through the play-offs it won’t be down to a lack of luck. It will be down to them not performing as well as the other teams at the time when it most mattered.

Football is a simple game when you think about it. So let’s hear no more talk of lotteries and luck.

As for the Euromillions, well I’m sure I’ll be buying a few more tickets. If I win I’ll be hiring someone to ghost write this column for me and I’ll choose the person best suited for the job. Those that believe in luck need not apply.

By Adam Doyle

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