• The Championship Playoff Final first took place in 1987, with Charlton beating Leeds

  • Crystal Palace are the most successful team in football’s most lucrative match with four wins

  • Read below for the history of the Championship Playoff Final

The Championship Playoff Final is not only a big occasion in football betting. It is arguably football’s most lucrative fixture, and in seasons where two teams have sewn up the automatic spots, the opportunity to enter the playoffs gives clubs and fans hope. 

It helps retain competitiveness deep into the campaign. Teams can get rolling over the closing weeks of the season and ride that wave to Wembley, and perhaps to the riches and glamour of the Premier League. 

This format also gives something else to ponder in Championship predictions. Here’s all you need to know about the Championship Playoff Final.

How Do The Championship Playoffs Work?

Teams finishing third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the Championship qualify for the Playoffs. This opens up the season for those who can’t quite catch the best Championship teams.

From then on, it’s a straightforward matchup of third versus sixth and fourth versus fifth.

These are two-legged ties, with the lower seed playing at home in the first leg. This gives the team with a better league position home advantage to finish the tie, which is generally considered to be beneficial. 

As is commonplace for two-legged ties like these, the winner is determined by aggregate score. The two scores are simply added together. There are no away goals to consider in the Playoff Semi-Finals.

If they are level after 180 minutes, and at the end of a long season, it goes to extra time. This in the standard format of two 15-minute halves. Should the scores remain level through this period, a penalty shootout will decide the tie.

The winners of the semi-finals meet at Wembley. All of the Football League Playoff Semi-Finals usually take place across a bank holiday weekend in May.


If tied after 90 minutes of the final, it’s once again straight to extra time and penalties. The winner goes into the Premier League next season, while the loser remains in the Championship.

Championship Playoff Final History

The 1990 Playoff Final was the first to be played in the current format. The 1987, 1988 and 1989 Playoff Finals were played across two legs. In fact, the first ever Playoff Final required 270 minutes of action.

Each getting a 1-0 win in the two-legged tie, Charlton and Leeds were forced into a replay at St Andrew’s. The Addicks were victorious in the one-off game, which served as an example for how the Playoff Final would work from 1990 onwards.

Played at the old Wembley from 1990 until 2001, Cardiff was home to the Championship Playoff Final from 2001 until 2006. The Millennium Stadium hosted the three heaviest wins in the history of the Playoff Final.

Although only hosting for a few seasons, the Millennium Stadium saw some of the bigger Playoff moments.

In 2004 and 2005, for instance, Crystal Palace and West Ham snuck into the Playoffs in sixth, but both went on to win the final.

Palace had a change of manager to thank for their turn around, while the Hammers were lucky to have this format, having been 12 points off third-placed Ipswich.

The Playoffs don’t always reward the teams who have been thriving in live betting throughout the season.

The Final returned to Wembley in 2007, and there have been further examples of this with Blackpool gaining promotion from sixth in 2010, and Watford missing out in 2013 despite being just two points off the automatic spots.

Luton, who won the 2023 Playoff Final, were 11 points clear of sixth across the 46-game regular season but it doesn't always work out that way. Southampton finished fourth in 2023/24 and beat Leeds United, one place above them, in the 2024 Playoff Final.

The last decade has generally seen teams finishing third or fourth win the final. Blackpool in 2009-10 were the last team to finish sixth in the table and earn promotion. 

Championship Playoff Final Winners List

The Championship Playoffs are a different test from the 46-game grind. It’s a question of coping under pressure, and of hitting form at the right time.

Having one of the Championship top scorers might not matter if they aren’t on top of their game in May. Here are the teams who have overcome those pressures to win the Championship Playoff Final:

  • 1987 – Charlton

  • 1988 – Middlesbrough 

  • 1989 – Crystal Palace

  • 1990 – Swindon Town

  • 1991 – Notts County

  • 1992 – Blackburn Rovers

  • 1993 – Swindon Town

  • 1994 – Leicester

  • 1995 – Bolton

  • 1996 – Leicester

  • 1997 – Crystal Palace

  • 1998 – Charlton

  • 1999 – Watford

  • 2000 – Ipswich

  • 2001 – Bolton

  • 2002 – Birmingham

  • 2003 – Wolves

  • 2004 – Crystal Palace

  • 2005 – West Ham

  • 2006 – Watford

  • 2007 – Derby

  • 2008 – Hull

  • 2009 – Burnley

  • 2010 – Blackpool

  • 2011 – Swansea

  • 2012 – West Ham

  • 2013 – Crystal Palace

  • 2014 – QPR

  • 2015 – Norwich

  • 2016 – Hull

  • 2017 – Huddersfield

  • 2018 – Fulham 

  • 2019 – Aston Villa

  • 2020 – Fulham

  • 2021 – Brentford

  • 2022 – Nottingham Forest

  • 2023 – Luton Town 

  • 2024 - Southampton

Biggest Margin Of Victory In A Championship Playoff Final

Three goals is the biggest margin of victory in a Championship Playoff Final. This was achieved three times in six years with Bolton, Wolves and Watford running out 3-0 victors against Preston, Sheffield United and Leeds respectively.

The highest scoring Championship Playoff Final was before the trio of 3-0s, though. Charlton and Sunderland matched up at the old Wembley back in 1998 and played out a 4-4 thriller.

The Addicks were the eventual winners in a dramatic penalty shootout, securing their second Championship Playoff Final win after toppling Leeds over two legs in 1987.

Of the 3-0 wins, Wolves’ triumph can be viewed as the most emphatic. The Midlands club scored all of their goals before half-time, with Mark Kennedy, Nathan Blake and Kenny Miller getting on the scoresheet.

While Wolves blew the Blades away in 2003, the final between Bolton and Preston two years earlier was a different pattern, despite finishing with the same score line.

Gareth Farrelly’s strike from outside the box gave Wanderers a first half lead. It was a tense affair from then on, though, with both teams enjoying periods of pressure.

Only in the 89th minute did Bolton get an insurance goal. Ricardo Gardner scored a matter seconds later to seal a 3-0 win for Sam Allardyce’s side.

Since 2015, Playoff finals have been nervy affairs. Brentford’s 2-0 win over Swansea in 2021 is the only time a team has won by two clear goals at Wembley with Huddersfield and Luton needing penalty shootouts to win in 2017 and 2023 respectively. 

Which Club Has Won The Most EFL Championship Playoff Finals?

Crystal Palace have won the most EFL Championship Playoff Finals. The Eagles won in 1989, 1997, 2004 and 2013. No other club has won more than two Playoff Finals.

Fulham, Hull, West Ham, Watford, Bolton, Charlton, Leicester and Swindon have each won the EFL Championship Playoff Final twice.

This includes Playoff Final wins before the division was renamed. Fulham have been the most successful club in recent memory, winning the big game in 2018 and 2020.

Palace have been ruthless in finals, winning four of their five appearances. At the other end of the spectrum, Derby, Reading and Sheffield United have lost three Playoff finals apiece. 

While previously seen as a yo-yo club, Palace have consolidated in the Premier League. The 2023-24 season is their eleventh consecutive campaign in the top flight.

How Much Do Clubs Earn For Winning The Championship Playoffs?

There is no direct financial prize for winning the Championship Playoffs.

It is, however, regarded as the most lucrative match in world football. Some estimates suggest that promotion can be worth towards half a billion pounds, with more conservative estimates coming in at £150 million.

Tony Incenzo's Championship Playoff Final Memories

THE Championship Play-Off Final is abundantly described as football’s richest game. It delivers a massive financial carrot via promotion to that elusive top flight promised land.

To quantify, Play-Off Final winners will subsequently pocket a minimum of £140-150 million in 12 months of Premier League membership. The match itself attracts frenzied Championship betting.

On a personal note, this wonderful showpiece provided me with my greatest day as a football supporter. It came when I was in the press box to watch my beloved Queens Park Rangers defeat Derby County 1-0 at Wembley Stadium on 24th May 2014 before 87,348 spectators.

QPR’s decisive goal was scored by Bobby Zamora in the last minute. So I caught up with Zamora for an interview to ask him about his priceless match winning moment…

Bobby, before we talk about your goal let’s look back at the match itself. Rangers went down to 10 men when Gary O’Neil was sent-off after an hour. The scoreline was 0-0 at the time. In-play betting suggested it would be an uphill struggle from there and it most certainly was wasn’t it?

Yes it made things more difficult. It was a very tough game and Derby were a very good side. They were in great form and they were playing some excellent football that season. So we were up against it somewhat with 10 men.

The R’s had to defend really well in that last half an hour at Wembley as Derby were dominating possession weren’t they?

Our defenders were absolutely magnificent. Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha were fantastic. They really, really were. It was fortunate enough for us that everyone defensively was on their ‘A’ game and we managed to grind out the victory.

Despite all the pressure from Derby, QPR managed to break away and you sensationally scored the winning goal with 10 seconds of normal time remaining. What do you remember about that moment?

I just wanted to get into the box. Whenever the ball goes wide, it is a case for the strikers to make sure they are in the penalty area. When I was initially running in, I thought I couldn’t get in front of the two Derby County centre-backs as I was a little bit of a distance away from them.

But as it happens, Junior Hoilett crossed the ball a couple of seconds earlier than I anticipated. So I checked back. Then their defender Richard Keogh miscued his clearance and it fell just in front of me.

After many years of training and me staying behind after training for repetition of hitting the target, it just becomes instinctive rather than thinking about it. Thankfully it worked in our favour. It dawned on me afterwards how huge the occasion was and it was nice to be a part of that.

I also chatted to another QPR man who was in the thick of the action against Derby County – Gary O’Neil, who took one for the team with a last man challenge for his red card…

Gary, even for an experienced player like yourself it must have still been a really big game at Wembley?

Oh yeah the Play-Off Finals are the biggest games I’ve ever played in because of what is riding on them. You have worked through the whole season and what’s going to happen in the next year is dependent on 90 minutes.

In my first Play-Off Final with West Ham, I found it difficult to play the game rather than the occasion. So in the second one with QPR, I think I managed to perform a bit better having been there before. I had learnt from how I prepared and got ready for the previous Final.

You were sent-off in QPR’s Play-Off Final against Derby for bringing down Johnny Russell just outside the box in the 60th minute to prevent a goal. What are your recollections of that incident?

I didn’t think it was definitely going to be a red card. That was the reason that I made the foul. I was never going to get the ball – it was three or four yards further ahead of me. So it was one of those situations where you get a split second to make a decision.

For some reason, something told me that it was the right thing to do. But for about the next 30 minutes when I was sat in the changing room, I was pretty sure it wasn’t the right thing to do!

However it turned out to be the right decision in the end as we got the winning goal. It was an up and down day for me.

So you weren’t able to watch the rest of the game after you had been sent-off?

There was a very small TV screen just inside the tunnel. I managed to watch that and I was just praying that the lads could get to penalties, where it would be like the toss of a coin who would win promotion.

Obviously we had Bobby Zamora up our sleeves to score the vital goal – the joker in the pack to come and save us with seconds to go.

What did the other QPR players say to you after the final whistle at Wembley?

They were saying stupid things at the time when emotions were running high. They were saying it was the best red card they had ever seen and all sorts of silly stuff!

In the end, I was lucky that it ended up working out for the best as I could easily have been the villain and the one who cost us promotion. If I could go back in time, I would hope to not be the one who had to make that decision.

I’d leave it for someone else to bring Russell down! But unfortunately, it was only me and goalkeeper Robert Green from there on that could stop him.

*Credit for the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Tony is an experienced football broadcaster who has worked for Clubcall, Capital Gold, IRN Sport, talkSPORT Radio and Sky TV. 

His devotion to Queens Park Rangers saw him reach 50 years without missing a home game in April 2023.

Tony is also a Non-League football expert having visited more than 2,500 different football grounds in his matchday groundhopping.

You can follow Tony on Twitter at @TonyIncenzo.