England’s Euro finalists – Excelling in Germany but made in the English Football League

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In the space of less than a decade Ollie Watkins has gone from firing in the non-league to firing England to a European Championship final.

Beneath the shiny glow of the Premier League, in which practically all of this English side have made their name, is a football pyramid that is the envy of the world. One that helps prop up this country, and gives joy and despair in equal measure to millions on a weekly basis.

Anybody who has supported a team in the English Football League knows what it gives to English football, but in Dortmund on Thursday night, as Watkins lasered his effort into the far corner of the Netherlands net, we were offered another reminder of how important it really is.

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Of the 16 players that featured against the Dutch, 10 of them have played in the Championship, League One and League Two. Between them they’ve racked up over 860 appearances in those divisions, winning promotions and titles, scoring plenty of goals along the way. Many of them were raised in this pyramid.

For many they were always destined for greatness. Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Declan Rice, Kobbie Mainoo and Luke Shaw never stepped out onto the field in an EFL league fixture, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Everybody else has climbed the ladder, whether that be on a loan or permanent basis, and that is the clearest indication of how vital it is.

The English national team needs our football pyramid as much as it needs the Premier League, without it there’s no breeding ground, no development, no room for growth. Without it we have no Watkins, no Jude Bellingham, no John Stones – and that’s just to name a few.

England’s job isn’t done, they still have a very good Spanish team to beat on Sunday if they’re to finally claim the title as Europe’s best team. But if they do – and they absolutely could – then those who belittle those outside of the top-flight, those who make decisions to hurt this pyramid, need to remember to helped get them there.

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