In England, we can be wilfully ignorant when it comes to defending ‘our football’.
‘All the best players play here’ we assert, as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar all raise an eyebrow.
‘Diving is part of the foreign culture’ some declare, whilst Ashley Young and Dele Alli both complete perfect reverse summersaults.
We portray the Bundesliga as Bayern plus 19 pub teams. We make out as if all Serie A games finish goalless and every foreign coach, player and club has nightmares about facing Ryan Shawcross on a drizzly Tuesday evening.
But there is one thing about football in this country that requires no dressing up or denial: The Football League.
You won’t find four divisions of professional clubs anywhere else in Europe. 92 completely independent teams (the closest thing you’ll get to a B-team is Burton Albion or Bristol Rovers) is a thing of true footballing beauty.
The attendances are comparatively staggering too. Games in the Spanish second division – confusingly named La Liga 1/2/3 due to sponsorship naming rights – have an average attendance of 8,201. There are 12 clubs in England’s third and fourth tiers that get higher crowds.
Then there’s the football itself. Wolves would be a match for most sides on the continent, whilst Fulham have mastered a style of football many fans can only dream of their club deploying. League Two has Adebayo Akinfenwa, the strongest footballer in the world according to FIFA, whilst League One’s Will Grigg is so good he spontaneously combusts to frighten off defenders.
The EFL season comes to an end this weekend and as usual, you can expect high drama. Cardiff and Fulham will fight for a place in the Premier League, Wigan and Blackburn will both be looking to finish the season as champions of League One and Sunderland’s defenders will be providing some comic relief as usual. There are relegation battles to be decided in all three divisions and just when it seems like the hysteria has reached its crescendo, the play-offs will begin.
Despite all this, there are some who still turn their nose up at ‘lower league football’. They view it as an irritating necessity, like sun cream or Jake Humphrey. More often than not, it’s these people that make excuses for English football’s shortcomings. They’re so obsessed with comparing Arsenal with Atlético and Manchester with Munich that they miss out on what sets our national game apart from the rest.
The EFL is brilliant and it’s only getting better. Next season, there will be more big names dropping out of the Prem, Accrington Stanley squaring up against Sunderland and Joey Barton getting dog’s abuse every weekend. You just don’t get that abroad.