London’s Wembley stadium hosts the beautiful game’s most lucrative match on Monday (May 25) with the winners set to earn an estimated £120m (€168m). Norwich City take on Middlesbrough in the Championship play-off final to decide who gets promotion to the promised land of the English Premier League and secure the massive financial windfall.
It is described annually as the richest game in football with the winning side securing a slice of the EPL’s huge TV deal, combined with the expected revenue boost from ticket and match-day sales. The financial rewards for the winners dwarfs that of other competitions and is far more than either Barcelona or Juventus will have earned for winning this year’s UEFA’s Champions League, estimated to be between €50m-€75m
Norwich were relegated from the Premier League last season and just missed out on bouncing straight back with automatic promotion after finishing third in the Championship. Middlesbrough ended their regular season in fourth place and have already beaten the Canaries (so called because of their bright yellow kits) twice this season – a 4-0 win last November followed by a tighter 1-0 victory in April’s reverse fixture.
However, Boro captain Jonathan Woodgate thinks those two games will stand for little at Wembley on Monday, saying: “They’re going to be favourites, let’s be honest.” The former Real Madrid defender explained: “Every single one of them [Norwich players] played in the Premier League last year, more or less. The onus is on them. The pressure will be on them more because they’re bigger players than us in my opinion.”
Woodgate’s views aren’t shared by bookmakers with neither team a clear favourite to take their place among England’s elite.
History isn’t on Boro’s side given they have failed to win any of their previous four appearances at Wembley, while Norwich, who overcame fierce local rivals Ipswich Town in their play-off semi-final, have in their ranks Gary O’Neill who is aiming to extend his own unbeaten record at the home of English football. The 32-year-old midfielder has enjoyed securing play-off promotion with Portsmouth, West Ham and last year QPR, and said: “I’ve never lost when I’ve played there, and I imagine it’s not great to go home as a loser. Hopefully I won’t find out.”
Speaking to the club’s official site, O’Neill reflected on Norwich’s record against Boro this season, adding: “They’ve had a good season, and are a good side who are strong defensively. They don’t score many goals but have beaten us twice this year, so hopefully it’s our turn.
“There’s no extra motivation needed because the hard work of a whole season is riding on 90 minutes. We all want to be in the Premier League.
“They’ll have the exact same aims as us. Hopefully we can come out on top. It’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere because it’s a great day for the fans.
Despite the financial rewards for the victorious club and players, Woodgate echoed O’Neill’s comments, saying: “For the players it’s not about the money, it’s about playing at the top level.” The Boro captain added: “It feels like we’ve come to the end of a cup competition – it’s a big final, it’s massive for us. “Everyone says it’s the biggest thing outside of winning a competition. If we can do it, it’ll be huge for the club and for the town.”
BY: JOE CAHAL