No shortage of excitement at level two in Europe

BURNLEY have secured their place in next season’s Premier League, scoring plenty of goals and building the reputation of their manager, Vincent Kompany. Who joins them remains to be seen, but Sheffield United are looking good and then it is any one from half a dozen teams. Burnley have become, to some degree, too big for the Championship but not quite big enough for the Premier, although they did remarkably well for a while in their previous spell. 

Kompany is being billed as Manchester City’s next manager and receives praise on a daily basis, but it is far too early to judge whether the Belgian is a Guardiola in the making. However, Burnley will be welcomed back to the top flight, not least because their Turf Moor home is a “proper football ground” and they are, after all, a club that is part of the game’s rich heritage.

Across Europe, some big name clubs are playing in the second division of their domestic league – in Germany, there seems to be a multitude of under-achievers such as Hamburg, Hannover, Nürnberg, Kaiserslautern and Fortuna Düsseldorf. Bundesliga 2 is the best supported second tier league in the world, with an average crowd of 21,694. It does fluctuate in accordance with who comes down from the Bundesliga and in recent years, there have been some sizeable casualties.

But the teams at the top this season are Darmstadt and Heidenheim, hardly big fish in the German game but nevertheless, well-run clubs on the up once more. Darmstadt were in the top flight fairly recently, but Heidenheim have never flown so high and only reached Bundesliga 2 in 2014 for the first time. They come from a town of less than 50,000 people in southern Germany and their crowds are generally less than 10,000. On Easter Saturday, Heidenheim meet another promotion-chasing club in St. Pauli, just a few weeks after beating leaders Darmstadt 1-0 at the Voith Arena in front of 12,000. Darmstadt, meanwhile, host another pretender in Paderborn and Hamburg, currently in third place, are at home to Hannover 96.

In France, Le Havre are looking likely Ligue 2 champions with a nine point lead over Bordeaux, who are drawing the best crowds in the division, an average of 19,500. Of the three relegated sides from last season, Bordeaux are faring better than Metz and Saint-Étienne, although the former are in the battle for promotion while Les Verts are below mid-table and have also had a three-point deduction for crowd trouble at their home ground in 2021-22.

Frosinone and Genoa are at the top of Serie B in Italy, but among the play-off chasers is Südtirol from Bolzano, who are in their first season at that level. The 2021-22 campaign was the most successful in the history of a club that at plays at the Stadio Druso, which was named after a Roman general. Interestingly, the bottom five of Serie B includes teams who have recently tasted Serie A football: Venezia, Benevento, SPAL and Brescia.

Spain’s Segunda Division is a close-run contest this season with Eibar and Las Palmas currently at the top, but a cluster of clubs behind them, notably Granada, Alavés and Levante. Some lesser-known sides such as Cartagena from Murcia and Burgos still have slim hopes of making the play-offs. Further down the table, you can find Zaragoza, a name from the past, and Sporting Gijon.

Scottish football received a boost recently with the national team’s win over Spain, but it is also good to see Queens Park heading the Scottish Championship, although Dundee, Partick Thistle and Ayr United are close behind. With so many league title races a foregone conclusion and all too predictable, the second level can often become more exciting than its big brother. In Scotland that could be the case.

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