By Joshua Richards
THERE is much debate as to whether England’s Premier League is the most exciting competition in the world.
But, according to one-well travelled midfielder, what is certain is that lower league football in this country is the best on the globe.
Mansfield Town’s Fergus Bell has enjoyed spells in Scotland, Spain, Belgium and Italy but insists there is no country he would rather be than England.
“There is no place like England to play football,” said London-born Bell, 23, who netted his first Mansfield goal earlier this month in a 2-1 win at Exeter.
“Spain and Italy might have better stadiums in the lower leagues, but they don’t get the interest and the atmosphere at games. The foreign players that come over can’t believe the exposure you get even at the lower level.”
Bell, who links his attack-minded mentality to his Brazilian bloodline, began his career in the Sunderland academy, then to Hibernian, before becoming the victim of Celta Vigo’s relegation from La Liga and consequent financial problems, leading to his contract being torn up.
He was rescued from the footballing abyss by former England boss Glenn Hoddle – whom he credits with dramatically improving his technique – and who, together with Dave Beasant and Graham Rix, were building a team in Jerez full of young English talent, including Ikechi Anya and Sam Clucas, now of Watford and Chesterfield respectively.
A move to Belgium via Barnsley, briefly, followed before he ended up in Monza for a season. Bell admits that a part of him always felt he was missing out by plying his trade away from his homeland.
“I have learned a lot more having the journey I did on and off the pitch. But nothing compares to the English changing rooms for banter.”
Rarely do British players take opportunities to play abroad, and although Bell is adamant his globetrotting days are behind him, he believes players should be more open minded to moves away to maximise their potential.
“I’ve been subjected to lots of different training methods under lots of different coaches and I see myself as a chameleon, I can adapt to any team and any style,” he added.
“I’d encourage players to go away. I never felt that far from home, particularly when I was in Belgium. Culturally they are the nicest people I have come across.
“On the last day of the transfer window, I had a call from Monza. They were looking to bring in an attacking midfielder and a striker. Myself and Alex Fisher, who had been instrumental in my initial move to Belgium, were contacted and we flew out and signed there and then.
“My girlfriend lived with me in Italy. They are quite stubborn about not speaking English, so it was difficult to interact. The manager didn’t speak English, so it was nice to go home to my girlfriend and have a chat.
“These experiences make you stronger, on and off the pitch. I don’t regret anything.”