I fulfilled a lifelong dream this past weekend, and here’s how it went:
As a kid, I’d always watched play-off finals from the comforts of a living room forever wondering what it would be like to soak in that atmosphere for myself.
Now, as a slightly chubby 25 year-old man, I know exactly what it’s like.
For obvious reasons, a play-off final takes on a much greater significance than most.
Even when there’s a regular tournament final, there’s almost a full stop straight after you lift that particular trophy. Whether it’s a UEFA Champions League, an FA Cup or even a FIFA Club World Cup honour; you pick it up, soak it in and prepare to win it again.
Promotion play-offs are completely different.
Yes, you pick up a token trophy. But then, that excitement and anticipation as you earn your way into the unknown for the next season, is a biblical sporting affair.
To be there and experience it (this time with Sunderland making their long-awaited return to the EFL Championship) was nothing short of awesome. So, I thought I’d take up another slot on The Twelfth Media Blog to tell you everything you need to know about it.
Which begins with probably the most obvious question of all …
How do I get a ticket for a Play-Off Final?
This does get pretty tricky if you don’t support either club.
If you do, even then, it’s not quite so simple.
Rightly so, either participating club for a play-off final slowly drip-feed their ticket allocation to fans in order of their participation throughout the preceding fans.
Generally, this involves sending out available tickets to season ticket holders first, then those with a demonstrable history of buying tickets before (generally approved via creating a ticketing account with the club) and then onto general admission.
Typically, sale is restricted to a set number of fans per transaction, but you often hear of the same fan acting under different accounts to secure more tickets.
Thus, making that general admission stuff very difficult indeed for neutral fans.
For us, you’re better off making an account with the team you’d like to align with at least a month before a play-off final or similar event. Or, as I found trying to make a Wycombe account, you’ll be considered ‘too new’ to gain access to a ticket reserved for die-hards.
So, best to be prepared at least a month ahead to avoid disappointment.
Or, for you natural daredevils out there, you can do what I did. And shamelessly post on social media that you’re looking for a spare ticket, thrust in a load of hashtags that you feel either set of fans will be using en route to the play-off final.
I was very lucky, mind you – the guy I dealt with was a legend.
Not only did he not scam me, but we still follow each other on Twitter now!
So, be cautious and pay someone through PayPal if you can – their ability to get money back from scammers has been exceptional during my own experiences with them.
After this, you need to then think about:
Making your way to Wembley Stadium
A logistical nightmare or dream depending on where you’re based.
Both teams of a play-off final will give their fans the opportunity to coach it down together for the event, but this is focused on the tier system we spoke of earlier.
If you can’t manage that, then you’ll need to travel down to London.
I don’t drive, so i don’t know much about ULEZ, congestion charges, best journeys and the like, but I can tell you that parking is a nightmare around Wembley in general for a play-off final, so you’re best off parking (and/or staying) in a neighbouring area in London (best if you can make a weekend out of it if possible) and travelling down via the tube.
You can use your contactless card to make your way down to Wembley Stadium, which can be found via three different stations on as many different lines.
Wembley Park (Jubilee/Metropolitan), Wembley Central (Bakerloo), Wembley Stadium (Overground).
Of them all, Wembley Park is the most convenient.
Thus, making it the most crowded.
So, if you’re planning to go there on either the Jubilee or Metropolian Line (the last one has air-conditioning, by the way), then maybe get there three or four hours ahead of kick-off for an easier journey and more pleasant build-up.
Because, don’t worry, there’s plenty to do while you’re there.
Restaurants, Bars, the Outlet – you won’t find yourself short of options.
Getting into the Stadium
Once you’ve got everything sorted, you need to actually get in and enjoy!
You should be sent an email containing your ticket and it’s definitely best to get it printed out so that it can be easily processed through the scanner.
One thing you don’t need to do is arrive bang on in the time it tells you to.
That’s only there to reduce congestion at the stalls prior to the event, but you can manage this based on whatever plans you have, so no need to stress about that.
Plus, although it says (in big, bold letters, might I add) to print it out in landscape (black or white or colour is fine), it’s not an absolute necessity.
I enlarged the QR code on my phone screen and put it under the scanner and it didn’t even flinch. But it didn’t stop me from shaking like a leaf beforehand, so purely for the sake of prolonging your life, printing is best.
Otherwise, just ask one of the stewards and they’ll sigh and point.
From that point on, it’s all about …
Taking everything in
Oh, and try to eat before you get in there.
The prices aren’t awful for some things but queues really are.
You’re allowed to take your beers into the stadium, though everything else will need to have the caps taken off of them. Because, in typical Wembley logic, you can throw caps at the players but you’ll want to preserve the bottles as mementos.
There’s not much space to store any drink though, mind you.
Under the seat is best, but even then – it’s worth leaving the drinking to before or after the event, and just use the rest of the time to take in where you are.
Which, if it’s a play-off final – you’re going to want to do.