Torquay United vs Notts County
This coming weekend sees the return of the National League play-off semi finals and the first offering is Torquay United vs Notts County at Plainmoor, home of the Gulls.
The incentive at the end of the process is the Football League, a place the Gulls and the Magpies are well acquainted with after several seasons in it respectively at different points.
At various points in the regular season, it looked like Torquay would return there through the solitary automatic promotion place on offer in the 5th tier as they sat top of the league until the emergence of Sutton United’s unbeaten run which earned them top spot.
Therefore, the Gulls know that this route is one that must end in success otherwise the fact that they lost top spot will be pointed to and be seen as the point upon they and their season did not recover.
As for Notts County, one of the biggest clubs in the league, this semi-final comes a year on from their 3-1 defeat to Harrogate Town in last season’s delayed play off final so they will hope that they can repeat the trick of getting to the final but avoid the pain of the defeat.
Notts County were relegated to this level in 2019 so have not had to endure the misery and ignominy of an extended stay like some other clubs but nonetheless, will be keen to escape it and resume their time in the Football League, a level they arguably should be at.
This game is expected to feature all the nuances and tenson playoff games usually feature but the fact that both clubs aim to return to a league they once knew so well adds another layer of intrigue and interest onto a game already packed and filled with it.
For the winner, the promised land awaits and recognition of a promotion amidst the backdrop of Covid-19 and the difficulties associated with that particularly for a non-league club. But, for the loser, another season in the non-league pyramid beckons and all the undoubted tedium and pain associated with the National League in store.
It promises to be a good semi-final on the English Riviera.
Stockport County vs Hartlepool United
This game like the other one, also features two clubs formerly of the Football League in Stockport County, a club that were regulars in the various leagues of the EFL before financial problems meant they plummeted, and Hartlepool United, a club that have gone between League Two and the National League over recent years and have also experienced their own financial problems of late.
The fact that this game involves Stockport County means that it features one of the behemoths of English football and a club that in its location in Greater Manchester, means that it sits in the shadow of Man City and Man United but maintains its own identity and is not deterred by its geographical location and status as one of the many football clubs in Manchester.
County also possess one of the better fanbases in the league and when away fans were allowed in grounds, regularly took a reputable and sizeable number to most games.
These features of the club mean that like Notts County, they are arguably a club that should be in the Football League and will hope to get there and resume their stint after a period spent in the depths of the Conference North.
As for Hartlepool United, an ex-football league club, they have not quite reached the Conference North but have spent some time in the National League and are therefore missing the heightened status achieved by the virtue of being in League Two.
Like Stockport County, they also have one of the better fanbases in the league, an indicator that they are possibly a football league club waiting to get there but unlike Stockport, they are not nestled in and amongst a big city, instead, are isolated up in the Northeast.
Both County and the Pools had good seasons and finished 3rd and 4th respectively so go into the play offs with a degree of confidence and will know that they have the talent and ability to get to the final at Wembley under the famous arch.
Stockport County have been to Wembley previously so that experience of getting there may give them an advantage in tie.
The fact that both ties will be played between clubs formerly of the Football League means that these pending semi-finals are some of the most heavyweight for a while in that they feature some of English football’s biggest clubs and whoever gets promoted will signal a readdressing and reassertion of English football’s big clubs into their natural habitats.
This tie between the Hatters and the Pools promises to be a good one.
Read more posts by Nicholas Rowland