How do the EFL playoffs work?

How do the EFL playoffs work? The EFL playoffs were introduced in 1987, with teams from each division of the English Football League (today known as Championship, League One and League Two) playing against each other, and the winner earning promotion to the division above.

In the Championship and League One, teams who finish between third and sixth place in the table “play off” against each other, in two-legged semi-finals, with the winners meeting in the final. The same system applies to League Two but with one extra team gaining automatic promotion, meaning that teams who finish between fourth and seventh place go to the playoffs.

Naturally, there is typically a lot of drama and tension surrounding these games with what is at stake – promotion to a higher division and a big financial gain – which has made for some very entertaining and exciting matches over the years!

EFL play-off finals are usually played at Wembley Stadium – Photo by Icon Sport

EFL playoffs format explained

Championship

The Championship playoffs consist of the four teams that finish between third and sixth place in the Championship table. The semi-finals are sixth vs third and fifth vs fourth, with the sixth and fifth-placed teams playing their first legs at home respectively. The final is then played between the winners of the two semi-finals at a neutral ground, usually Wembley Stadium, and the winner earns promotion to the Premier League.

Last season's Championship playoff went right down to the wire, as Luton overcame Coventry on penalties after 120 gruelling minutes produced a 1-1 draw. That ended the Hatters' wait of 31 years to play in the English top flight, with the club remarkably doing so after losing their EFL status altogether only in 2009.

League One

The League One playoffs consist of the four teams that finish between third and sixth place in the table. Again the fifth and sixth placed teams play at home first, with a final on neutral turf.

Last season brought one of the most dramatic turnarounds ever witnessed in any EFL playoff, as Sheffield Wednesday wiped out a 4-0 first leg defeat to Peterborough by beating them 5-1 at Hillsborough, before prevailing in the penalty shootout and then edging out Yorkshire rivals Barnsley 1-0 in the Wembley showdown.

League Two

The League Two playoffs consist of the four teams that finish between fourth and seventh place. The semi-finals are seventh vs fourth and sixth vs fifth, with the seventh and sixth-placed teams playing their first legs at home. Wembley Stadium is the default venue for this showdown to reach League One via the backdoor.

The very next day after Luton's aforementioned playoff final win, Carlisle United emerged victorious on penalties at Wembley after a 1-1 draw against Stockport County 12 months ago, completing 2022/23's trio of playoff winners.

Teams can earn a lot of money by winning EFL playoff finals. Spada/LaPresse – Photo by Icon Sport

Do away goals count?

No, away goals do not count in the EFL playoffs. This rule was abolished in the 1999/00 season, when it used to mean that if the aggregate score was level over two legs, the team who scored the most away goals would go through. If away goals were equal too, the semi-final would be decided by a penalty shoot-out.

If the away goals rule still stood, last season's EFL playoffs would have looked very different. The Championship would have stayed the same, but in League One, Peterborough United would have advanced to the final on away goals instead of Sheffield Wednesday, and in League Two, Salford City would have reached the final instead of Stockport County!

Prize money for each tier of the EFL system

Championship

For winning the Championship play-off final, teams can receive anywhere between £135-265m in prize money, depending if they can avoid relegation from the Premier League. It is often referred to as the “richest game in football” for a reason!

League One

For winning the League One play-off final, teams can receive anywhere between £6-7m in prize money.

League Two

For winning the League Two play-off final, teams can receive anywhere between £450,000-675,000 in prize money.


Adam is a lead writer on Football Whispers. He is a big Arsenal fan, and also follows his local club Wealdstone, made famous by The Wealdstone Raider, of whom he has interviewed. Adam also follows darts, boxing, cricket and tennis, among many other sports.