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  Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Play-offs pay off for Wembley
Martijn Reuser
Martijn Reuser send Ipswich up and the fans wild
BBC Sport Online's Steve Cresswell examines the joy and despair witnessed by football fans at the Wembley play-offs.

Wembley has long been associated with cup finals and international matches but it has only been in recent times that the Twin Towers have witnessed the drama of the play-off finals.

The May Bank Holiday weekends have decided the fortunes of entire campaigns for club's since the play-offs moved to a one-off final at Wembley in 1990.

And that move has proved a popular decision with these matches frequently attracting bigger crowds than some England internationals.

They proved a chance for teams from outside the top flight to take centre stage in a special atmosphere created by teams who were not exactly seasoned Wembley visitors.

Nicky Weaver
Nicky Weaver leads the City celebrations in 1999

And the saying that Wembley is a great place to win, but a terrible place to lose has never been more apt than for the play-offs.

Not surprisingly these games are arguably of even greater importance than any cup finals. But while many of the domestic cup competitions have thrown up disappointing Wembley finale's, the play-offs have provided some of the most dramatic spectacles.

Sometimes there has even been heartbreak for the winners. Just ask the thousands of Swindon fans who were in the near 73,000 crowd to see their side beat Sunderland in 1990 only to be relegated to Division Three for financial irregularities (though they were reinstated to Division Two on appeal.)

Goals have frequently been in large supply and penalties have often been called upon to provide the outcome, only further heightening the drama.

Blackpool fans know all about the drama of Wembley penalty shootouts. After a 2-2 draw with Torquay in 1991 they went down 5-4 on penalties, but 12 months later they bounced back with a 4-3 shootout victory over Scunthorpe following a 1-1 draw.

Michael Gray
Michael Gray is consoled after his penalty miss in 1998
Leicester staged one of the greatest comebacks that the Twin Towers have ever seen, when in 1993 Brian Little's side came back from three goals down against Glenn Hoddle's Swindon, only to then fall to a Paul Bodin penalty.

That same year York City booked their place in Division Two with a 5-3 penalty victory over Crewe Alexandra.

1995 threw up another seven-goal thriller in the Division One play-off final as Bolton Wanderers and Reading slugged it out on the nation's biggest stage. But as The Royals looked set for their first ever crack at top flight action, Bolton dashed their hopes with a 4-3 victory.

Unfortunate villain

When Charlton met Sunderland in 1988 there was even greater drama. After sharing eight goals during the opening two hours of the contest, Michael Gray was cast as the unfortunate villain when his penalty miss handed the Addicks a 7-6 spot-kick win.

And the incessant penalty drama took an even greater twist in 1999 as having somehow fought back from two goals down, Manchester City then beat Gillingham on penalties to send Nicky Weaver wild on the pitch and leave Liam Gallagher in a similar state up in the Olympic Gallery.

Gillingham did though taste their Wembley glory last season, along with Ipswich, for so long the bridesmaids of the play-offs.

And so as the Swindon's, Blackpool's and Gillingham's have proved when it comes to Wembley play-offs, it's been a case of 'if at first you don't succeed, try again.'

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