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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Play-offs deliver once more
Birmingham players celebrate their win
A memorable day for the Blues in Cardiff

Sunday's Division One play-off final between Birmingham and Norwich once again produced the drama and emotion that has come to be associated with the Football League's showcase weekend.

With so much to play for - and with such high rewards - it is not surprising that the play-offs produce games of such nerve-jangling tension.

And Birmingham's match with Norwich was no disappointment.

Carnival atmosphere

With the roof closed at the Millennium Stadium the noise generated by both sets of supporters was deafening.

And the contrast between the yellow and green of Norwich, and the blue of Birmingham, added to the carnival atmosphere inside the stadium.

Even a dire performance from pop group Atomic Kitten prior to kick-off could not dampen the mood - or prevent Norwich director Delia Smith dancing like a 15-year-old at a school disco.

It was a disappointing day for Norwich's best-known supporter
Delia Smith suffered disappointment

Goals may have been at a premium throughout normal time but as the game inched towards the increasingly inevitable penalty shoot-out, the atmosphere oozed tension.

The pitch invasion at the end by Birmingham supporters - the first ever at the Millennium Stadium - betrayed their intense sense of ecstasy at ending an 16-year absence from the top flight.

Norwich's heart-breaking disappointment was illustrated by the speed at which the club's fans disappeared from the stadium.

After all, there is arguably more at stake in the play-offs than in any other major final.


The atmosphere was absolutely magnificent - it was just a shame that one team had to lose
Nigel Worthington
Norwich manager
If you lose a cup final it is disappointing - just ask the Chelsea players slumped on the turf at the end of the FA Cup final after defeat to Arsenal.

But for the losing team in the three play-off finals the disappointment is exaggerated by the inevitability of another season in the same division.

The shattered dreams of competing in the Premiership for Norwich's players are perhaps only equalled by the depression in the boardroom.

The Division One play-off final was described in one newspaper this week as the most expensive game in the world - with 20m at stake in terms of revenue that promotion to the top-flight guarantees.

Spending plans

Canaries boss Nigel Worthington said after the game that the defeat means he may now have to look for free transfers if he wants to strengthen his squad over the summer.

Whereas Birmingham managing director Karren Brady said Blues have already making plans to spend.

"We have arranged a meeting for next week to work out the money situation and who we are going to buy."

Since their introduction in 1987, the play-offs have produced some of the most memorable games of recent times.

Manchester City keeper Nicky Weaver celebrates their play-off victory in 1999
Weaver and Man City triumphed in 1999

In 1993, Swindon raced to a 3-0 lead against Leicester.

The Foxes pulled three goals back only for Paul Bodin to score a dramatic late penalty and seal victory for Swindon.

Five years later, Clive Mendonca scored a hat-trick as Charlton and Sunderland thrashed out a see-saw 4-4 draw before Michael Gray missed a decisive spot-kick for the Black Cats.

And the following season, Manchester City trailed Gillingham 2-0 before Kevin Horlock and Paul Dickov scored two late goals, Joe Royle's team going on to win a penalty shoot-out.

And Birmingham's match with Norwich will take its place in the play-offs' lengthy list of dramatic matches.

Even in defeat Norwich boss Nigel Worthington paid tribute to the occasion.

"It was wonderful - both sets of fans with flags and scarves. The atmosphere was absolutely magnificent.

"It was just a shame that one team had to lose."

 VOTE RESULTS
Who will finish highest?

Birmingham
 11.61% 

Manchester City
 80.91% 

West Brom
 7.47% 

16819 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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