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England should follow Germany’s lead on relegation play-offs

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Both Hamburger SV and TSV 1860 München secured their statuses this week in dramatic fashion in Germany’s relegation play-offs. Wouldn’t it be awesome if England had them too?

Hamburger SV players and staff celebrate victory after the Bundesliga play-off second leg match between Karlsruher SC and Hamburger SV at Wildpark Stadium on June 1, 2015 in Karlsruhe, Germany
Hamburger SV players and staff celebrate victory after the Bundesliga play-off second leg match between Karlsruher SC and Hamburger SV at Wildpark Stadium on June 1, 2015 in Karlsruhe, Germany
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

So… did you watch the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga relegation play-offs?

Where Hamburg scored in stoppage time and then in extra time — before saving a penalty — to maintain their top-flight status against Karlsruhe? (They’ve never been relegated, by the way.)

Or where 1860 Munich came back with two goals in the last 15 minutes against Holstein Kiel to send the 59,000 at the Allianz Arena happy, keeping themselves in the second tier?

The play-offs in the Football League are neat, sure, but wouldn’t they be a lot better if you had sides fighting to survive too?

Imagine what would’ve happened if Steve Bruce’s Hull City getting one last shot at safety against Norwich City or if Newcastle United got one last chance to save themselves in 2009. We could’ve seen Bolton Wanderers fight for survival a few years back in what would‘ve been a great tie with West Ham United or Norwich get a shot to stay up against Derby County last year.

While it’s not the "English way," relegation playoffs would be a big boost for football and its fans.

If you want to see what the drama could look like, take a peek at Scotland over the past two seasons.

Caught laughing at their crosstown rival’s relegation last season, Hibernian found themselves second-bottom, forced to play in a relegation play-off with Hamilton Academical. It should’ve been straightforward for the Edinburgh side — they were surely the better team — but it didn’t turn out to be.

After a 2-0 first-leg away win, it still looked straightforward for Hibernian, but a late, stoppage-time goal at Easter Road in the return leg forced extra time, with the Accies going on to win in penalties.

This year, with Hearts, Rangers and Hibernian all in the second division, most assumed two sides would win promotion.

Sure, Hearts did with an extremely impressive season, but Rangers were thrashed by Motherwell last week in the promotion play-off.

Two seasons, two unexpected results in Scotland. Let’s have it in England, yeah?

Granted, it’ll never happen as, unlike in Germany, the first and second tiers aren’t governed by the same body; the Deutsche Fußball Liga governs both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, however, England’s Premier League and Football League would be sure to clash on the issue. The Premier League sides wouldn’t knowingly institute a fourth potential relegation spot, while Championship sides wouldn’t happily give up a guaranteed route to promotion via the play-off.

But even then, it’s not as if it’s unheard of. When England were in the process of decreasing the size of the First Division from 22 to 20 teams, England had a relegation play-off, as the fourth-bottom side joined the third-, fourth- and fifth-placed teams from the Second Division in a play-off, not unlike the one currently seen in Scotland.

And it created drama alright.

In 1987, Charlton Athletic needed a replay and extra time to secure its First Division status against Leeds United. Each side won their home leg 1-0, setting up a third tie at St. Andrew’s to decide the teams’ fates.

In fact, the Addicks fell behind in extra time when Leeds scored in the 97th minute to go ahead, but a pair goals in the 113th and 117th minutes helped Charlton preserve its top-flight status.

A year later, Chelsea became the only side to be relegated from the English top flight via a play-off, losing 2-1 over two legs to Middlesbrough.

But with the club count back down to 20 where they wanted it, the relegation play-off was done away with, giving way to the system we currently have.

And if England were to institute such a play-off, it’s likely it’d consist of the Premier League’s 18th-placed side and the Championship’s third-, fourth- and fifth-placed ones, mirroring that format used in ’87 and ’88.

"What about the sixth-place team?," you ask?

Well, they haven’t been much of a factor in the last ten years anyway.

Blackpool are the only sixth-place team to not just win the play-off in that stretch of time, but to even play in the final, meaning third-seeded teams are 9-1 in their semi-final legs.

So, England, let’s get it done.

It’ll mean someone has to budge — either the Premier League adds a "half-relegation" spot (putting Aston Villa in the play-off this year, incidentally enough) or the Football League loses one.

But for the show it would create?

It’d be damn worth it.