It's considered the most lucrative game in world football. The team that wins the Championship playoff final earns entry into the Premier League and all the trappings of fame and money that come with it. Some estimate that promotion can earn a club upward of £60 million, so for the managers, chairmen, players and fans, the next two weeks are likely to see nails bitten down to the quick.
Things kick off tomorrow, and London interest is being courted from opposite corners of the capital by Crystal Palace and Watford, who play, respectively, Bristol City and Hull in the semi final first legs this weekend.
For Palace fans, it's been an odd yet strangely familiar year. In November, when manager Neil Warnock took over, the club languished in the muddy waters of the Championship's lower reaches, and after six winless games found themselves a spot off bottom. And then suddenly, things clicked: the steely Warnock winning mentality saw the club embark on a long undefeated stretch, and by the season's end they were the league's form club, a final-day hammering of Burnley sealing their reputation as the team that nobody wants to face.
Watford, on the other hand, have seen a steady challenge for automatic promotion - including a long stint at the top of the league - erode in recent months. The club barely limped into the top six, and have won just once in seven matches at home. Manager Aidy Boothroyd is hoping that, with the regular season over, form will become irrelevant, but he must be concerned that his side's fragile mental state will scupper their hopes of an immediate return to the Premier League.
The internecine rivalry of London clubs means that most fans of other local teams won't be wishing the Eagles nor the Hornets well. Yet the more London sides in the Premier League, the more chance for those entertaining, unpredictable cross-town derbies that the big clubs fear and the lower clubs thrive on. Palace beat Spurs both home and away last time they reached the top flight, and here's hoping more such results are on the way should Boothroyd's boys or Warnock's warriors make it through.
Crystal Palace vs. Bristol City, Saturday 10th May, 12.15pm, Selhurst Park. Ticket information.
Watford vs. Hull, Sunday 11th May, 12.00pm, Vicarage Road. Ticket information.
The second leg matches are played on Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th May respectively, with the final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, 24th May
Image courtesy of Toby Forage