All hope abandon, ye who enter in?

In the first part of his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, Dante is accompanied by the Roman poet Virgil as he travels through the circles of hell where punishments fit the crimes of those cast below into Satan’s lair. I have no idea what fans of clubs who consistently have to compete in the playoffs have done in previous lives, but it must have been pretty bad to justify the psychological torture that they are forced to endure at this point of the season.

The playoff system is at once exciting, hopeful and cruel. For some it’s an exciting novelty, for others it’s the inevitable end to a season that promised much but failed to live up to expectations.

Though exciting for all concerned, the playoffs offer differing types of excitement. For neutral observers it’s the thrill of seeing teams put everything on the line with massive prizes up for grabs, not least in the Championship playoffs where a place in the promised land of the Premiership beckons. For fans of the clubs involved its like a mini cup run for teams that often don’t get to play in the latter stages of the cups, and a chance to potentially have a day in the sun at Wembley.

For the hopeful the playoffs can be a joy. Teams that have been on the outskirts of the playoffs for most of the season and have managed to sneak in with a late charge can embrace the role of underdogs with nothing to lose and everything to gain. This can be a great boost, contributing to a ‘what the hell, lets have a go’ attitude that higher placed sides may not be able to muster.

For those fans that sit in optimism corner, with positive outlooks and hope in their hearts, it can offer an extra chance to redeem a season that hasn’t gone quite as well as it could have, but could end up with the outcome that was sought from the start.

But the playoffs can be cruel. For teams that have been chasing automatic promotion and missed out by a whisker it can be an ignominy to have to face teams that may have been 10 or more points behind them all season. The pressure of being favourites while having to recover from the psychological blow of missing out on the automatic spot can often be hard to bear. For those perennial playoff contenders the hope that’s raised only to be dashed once again can be exceedingly cruel, as yet again a season that promised so much ends in disappointment

At this time of the season, everything is heightened. Injustices are more unjust, bad refereeing decisions sting further, goals are sweeter, the game is studied and analysed and mulled over in more depth. It can be all-consuming. But the fact is that three of the four teams involved in each division will be disappointed. And it’s the mill of hope, despair and crushing, crushing failure that get to you. Though failure in the playoffs cannot match Judas’ punishment in the centre of hell, where he is perpetually chewed and skinned in Satan’s bloodred maw, in the immediate aftermath it can often feel that way. I’ll just be happy if I manage to get through this whole thing without too many tears or too much vomit.

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