National League System

From Academic Kids

The National League System, otherwise known as the football pyramid, is a comprehensive league structure for football clubs in England playing below the level of the FA Premier League and The Football League. Comprising some 2,200 leagues and 40,000 clubs playing so-called non-league football, it comes under the jurisdiction of The Football Association. The National League System has a hierarchical format with promotion and relegation between leagues at different levels, and allows even the smallest club to dream of rising to the very top of the English football league system.


At the top of the National League System pyramid is the Football Conference. Its top division, the Conference National (currently called the Nationwide Conference), is the only division in the System which is organised on a national rather than regional basis. Although the Conference is the top level of the non-league pyramid, it is not the highest level of English football. The FA Premier League and The Football League comprise the top 92 clubs in the English game, and two teams from the Conference are able to achieve promotion to the lowest division of The Football League each season.

Below the Conference, the layers have progressively more leagues and cover ever smaller geographic areas. Some leagues have more than one division. At the lower levels the existence of leagues becomes intermittent, although in some areas there are as many as twenty layers.

All the leagues are bound together by the principle of promotion and relegation. Clubs that are successful in their league can rise higher in the pyramid, whilst those that finish at the bottom can find themselves sinking further down. In theory it is possible for a lowly local amateur club to rise to the pinnacle of the English game and become champions of the FA Premier League. While this may be unlikely in practice, there certainly is significant movement within the pyramid. The number of teams promoted between leagues or divisions varies, and promotion is usually contingent on meeting criteria set by the higher league, especially concerning appropriate facilities and finances.

Under the direction of The Football Association, the National League System evolved over many years, finally reaching the point of encompassing virtually the entire organised sport. Today's pyramid can be said to be barely twenty years old. Leagues have formed and dissolved over the years and reorganisations have taken place every few years as a result. Beginning with the 2004-05 season another change was introduced with the formation of a Conference North and Conference South immediately below the Nationwide Football Conference, renamed Conference National, forcing the top divisions of the Dr Martens Southern League, Ryman Isthmian League, and UniBond Northern Premier League down one level.

With around 2200 leagues and 40,000 clubs, the National League System involves hundreds of thousands of players. Although world-famous full-time professionals may play in a few teams, most are strictly local amateur clubs playing before relatively few spectators. The National League System does not include the amateur version of the game often called Sunday League football. These leagues are independent entities with no promotion or relegation involving the football pyramid. However, some Sunday League clubs have been known to join pyramid leagues if they desire to progress higher.

The system

This table includes the seven steps of the National League System (NLS). Above the NLS are the FA Premier League and The Football League. Two teams from the Football Conference can be promoted to Football League Two at the end of each season. The structure of the NLS was heavily revised beginning with the 2004-05 season.

The official name is given for all the leagues listed, and the sponsorship name is also provided for the leagues in the top four steps. All divisions in the top four steps have 22 clubs each. The FA's National League System Committee determine promotion and relegation between leagues shown, mainly based on location.

Step League/Division
1 Conference National
(Nationwide Conference)
Promoted: Champion and winner of 2nd-5th playoff, to League Two of The Football League.
Relegated: 3 clubs, to either Conference North or Conference South.
2 Conference North
(Nationwide North)
Conference South
(Nationwide South)
Promoted: Champions of each division, to Conference National

Playoff: the winners of a 2nd-5th playoff in each division will play each other to determine the third promotion place.

Relegated: 3 clubs from each division, to Step 3 leagues.

Northern Premier League
(UniBond League)

Premier Division

Southern League
(Dr Martens League)

Premier Division

Isthmian League
(Ryman League)

Premier Division
Promoted: Champion and winner of 2nd-5th playoff for each league, to Conference North or South.
Relegated: 4 clubs from each league, to Step 4 leagues.

Northern Premier League
(UniBond League)

Division One

Southern League
(Dr Martens League)

Division One West

Southern League
(Dr Martens League)

Division One East

Isthmian League
(Ryman League)

Division One
Promoted: Champion, 2nd, and winner of 3rd-6th playoff for each league, to Step 3 leagues.
Relegated: 2 clubs from each league, to Step 5 leagues determined by NLS Committee.
5 Combined Counties League Premier Division | Eastern Counties League Premier Division | Essex Senior League | Hellenic League Premier Division | Isthmian League Division Two | Kent League | Midland Football Alliance | Northern Counties East Premier Division | Northern League Division One | North West Counties League Division One | Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division | Sussex County League Division One | United Counties League Premier Division | Wessex League Division One | Western League Premier Division
Promoted: Total of 8 League champions, to Step 4 leagues determined by NLS Committee.
Relegated: Arranged according to separate agreements with Step 6 leagues.
6 Eastern Counties League Division One | Hellenic League Division One East | Hellenic League Division One West | Northern Counties East Division One | Northern League Division Two | North West Counties League Division Two | Spartan South Midlands League Division One | Sussex County League Division Two | United Counties League Division One | Wessex League Division Two | Western League Division One
Promotion and relegation: Arranged according to separate agreements with appropriate leagues.
7 Anglian Combination | Bedford and District League | Brighton Hove and District League | Cambridgeshire Premier League | Central Midlands League | Combined Counties League Division One | Crawley and District League | Devon County League | Dorset Premier League | East Berkshire League | East Sussex Border League | Essex and Suffolk Border League | Essex Intermediate League | Gloucestershire County League | Hertfordshire County League | Kent County League | Leicestershire Senior League | Liverpool Combination | Manchester League | Mid Cheshire League | Mid Sussex League | Middlesex County League | Midland Combination | Midland League | North Berks League | Northamptonshire Combination | Northampton Town League | Northern Alliance | Oxfordshire Senior League | Peterborough and District League | Reading League | Somerset Senior League | South Western League | Spartan South Midlands League Division Two | Suffolk and Ipswich League | Sussex County League Division Three | Wearside League | Wessex League Division Three | West Cheshire League | West Lancashire League | West Midlands Regional League | West Sussex League | Wiltshire Football League | Worthing and District League
Promotion and relegation: Arranged according to separate agreements with appropriate leagues.
Note: If Step 7 leagues have other divisions below this level, then only the division at Step 7 is considered part of the National League System.

External Link

Football in England

League competitions

The FA

Cup competitions

FA Premier League FA Cup
The Football League (Champ, 1, 2) England
League Cup
Football Conference (Nat, N, S) FA Community Shield
Northern Premier League (Prem, 1) (women) Football League Trophy
Southern League (Prem, 1W, 1E) List of
FA Trophy
Isthmian League (Prem, 1, 2) FA Vase
English football league system Records FA NLS Cup

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Template:Football in the United Kingdom


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