x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

West Ham knock suits off the play-off final agenda

The play-off system is a fun but pragmatic device to keep the league interesting for longer. Yes, it ends at Wembley but that does not make it a cup final, and it should not be treated as such.

FILE - Liverpool's manager Kenny Dalglish reacts as he watches his team play Chelsea during the English FA Cup Final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London, in this file photo dated Saturday, May 5, 2012. The American owners of Liverpool soccer club, Fenway Sports Group terminated Dalglish's contract on Wednesday May 16, 2012, after less than 500 days in charge of the top flight team. (AP Photo/Tim Hales, File) *** Local Caption *** Britain Soccer Liverpool Dalglish Out.JPEG-03f5f.jpg
FILE - Liverpool's manager Kenny Dalglish reacts as he watches his team play Chelsea during the English FA Cup Final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London, in this file photo dated Saturday, May 5, 2012. The American owners of Liverpool soccer club, Fenway Sports Group terminated Dalglish's contract on Wednesday May 16, 2012, after less than 500 days in charge of the top flight team. (AP Photo/Tim Hales, File) *** Local Caption *** Britain Soccer Liverpool Dalglish Out.JPEG-03f5f.jpg

Like many a sentimental old fool, I still get a tingle up my spine when I see footballers arriving at Wembley Stadium in a smart new tailored suit.

Everyone stands prouder in a new outfit and the sight of such puffed-up specimens emerging from the team bus is a powerful reminder that playing on England's hallowed turf is a day to be savoured.

Flout this time-honoured dress code at your peril. Kenny Dalglish was criticised for failing to wear a suit for the FA Cup final against Chelsea two weeks ago, and look what happened to him.

That sartorial faux pas was not the primary cause of his dismissal by Liverpool, of course, but it was symptomatic of part of his problem. Namely, that his foul temper and apparent disdain for the modern game - and what better way to show your disdain than to turn out for the cup final like it was another wet Wednesday at the training ground? - had alienated large chunks of the media and non-Kopite public.

Even tinkering with the styling of the traditional suit can be problematic, as Liverpool (again) know only too well. Sir Alex Ferguson reckons he knew his Manchester United team had won the 1996 FA Cup final the moment he saw the Liverpool players arrive in white suits. He later said they looked like bakers, but perhaps the real problem was that they thought they looked like pop stars, and played football like them, too.

Bearing all this in mind, you might think that Sam Allardyce, the West Ham United manager, is playing with fire by banning his team from wearing suits to tomorrow's Championship play-off final against Blackpool.

On the contrary: it is absolutely the right decision, albeit reached by the wrong route.

The Hammers stalwart Mark Noble said: "We all spoke about it the other day and decided we are going to treat this game like a normal away game and so there'll be no suits, just our tracksuits to keep it low key."

That seems sensible, but the real reason you should not wear a suit to a play-off final is that West Ham finished third in the league behind Southampton and Reading, none of whose players got to strut around Wembley in sharp new threads.

The play-off system is a fun but pragmatic device to keep the league interesting for longer. Yes, it ends at Wembley but that does not make it a cup final, and it should not be treated as such.

To see the winning team celebrating third place in the Championship like first place in the Champions League, as we surely will, is shameful. They should accept their promotion to the Premier League with nothing more than an embarrassed wave. Even those who choose to wear tracksuits should still behave like gentlemen.

sports@thenational.ae