- Football Conference
Football Conference Countries England, Wales Founded 1979 (National)
2004 (North & South)
Number of teams 24 National
22 North & 22 South
Levels on pyramid 5 (National)
6 (North and South)
Promotion to Football League Two Relegation to Northern Premier League Premier Division
Isthmian League Premier Division
Southern League Premier Division
Domestic cup(s) FA Cup
Conference League Cup
Current champions Crawley Town (National)
Alfreton Town (North)
Braintree Town (South)
Website Conference 2011–12 Football Conference
The Football Conference is a football league in England which consists of three divisions called Conference National, Conference North, and Conference South. Some Football Conference clubs are fully professional, such as Luton Town, but most of them are semi-professional (see full listing of clubs below). Conference National is the fifth and lowest of the five nationwide football divisions in England, below the Premier League and the three divisions of the Football League, and the top tier of the National League System of non-League football. Conference North and Conference South form the sixth tier of English football. The Football Conference consisted of only one division up until 2004, but expanded as part of an extensive restructuring of the National League System which took effect beginning with the 2004–05 season.
The Football Conference stands at the top of the National League System (NLS), a comprehensive structure linking together over 50 different leagues under the auspices of The Football Association (FA). Conference National is at Step 1 of the NLS, and Conference North and Conference South make up Step 2. Above the Conference are the 92 clubs which together make up the highest levels of English football, the Premier League and The Football League; below the Conference are the Step 3 and lower leagues of the NLS.
The Conference National has 24 clubs and the North and South divisions have 22 clubs each. Each club plays the others in its division twice during a season, once at home and once away. Clubs earn three points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss.
At the end of each season two clubs are promoted from Conference National to Football League Two and two teams from League Two are relegated to Conference National to take their place. The two promotion places are awarded to the Conference National champions and to the winners of a playoff between those clubs finishing second to fifth in the standings.
At the other end of the table, the bottom four clubs in Conference National are relegated to either Conference North or Conference South. The decision as to which division the relegated club joins is made by the FA's NLS Committee, but is largely determined by geography. The four relegated teams are replaced by four promoted teams, two from Conference North and two from Conference South. For each of these two leagues this will be the champions and the winners of playoffs between the second to fifth place clubs.
At the bottom of Conference North and Conference South, three clubs from each division are relegated and these six clubs are divided among the Step 3 leagues of the NLS, the Northern Premier League, the Southern League, and the Isthmian League. Each of these Step 3 leagues promotes their respective champions and second to fifth place playoff winners. The NLS Committee determines which Step 3 leagues the relegated clubs will join, and whether the promoted clubs will join Conference North or Conference South.
Of course, clubs are not always relegated from the national division in a geographically balanced manner. Thus, should it be deemed necessary the NLS Committee will order one or more Midlands or East Anglian-based clubs in the sixth tier to switch divisions (to move "horizontally" through the leagues so to speak) so as to maintain numerical balance between North and South. The most recent example of this sort of movement came in 2008 when the clubs relegated from the National division were all based in northerly locales and the Southern League was won by one of its northernmost clubs, compelling Worcester City to play the following season in the South to make way for them. Redditch United was also to be transferred to the South but this move was cancelled due to the expulsion of Halifax Town and Boston United.
Due to financial constraints at this level of football, some clubs have escaped relegation despite finishing in a relegation position, due to the misfortune of others. For promotion to proceed, whether from The Football Conference to The Football League, within the Conference, or between the various leagues of the NLS, certain conditions concerning finances and facilities must be met. Failure to meet the requirements of the league concerned will prevent the eligible club from being promoted.
The Football Conference was formed in 1979 from leading teams in the Northern Premier League and Southern League and was originally known as the Alliance Premier League. The founding members were:
Barrow and Northwich had previously been members of The Football League. Barrow failed re-election in 1972, while Northwich resigned from the league in 1894. Barnet and Yeovil are currently members of the Football League, while Scarborough, Maidstone (both now in new incarnations) and Boston have also tasted league football since the formation of the Football Conference, but are now back in non-league football.
Bangor City has since moved to the Welsh football league system, while AP Leamington, Maidstone, Nuneaton, Scarborough and Telford later collapsed and had to be reconstituted in lower English leagues. Gravesend & Northfleet changed its name to Ebbsfleet United in 2007.
Since 1984, the Conference has been publicly known by the names of a succession of official title sponsors. The name was officially changed from Alliance Premier to the Football Conference in 1986. Below is a list of sponsors and what they chose to call the league:
- 1984–1986: Gola (Gola League)
- 1986–1998: General Motors (GM Vauxhall Conference)
- 1998–2007: Nationwide Building Society (Nationwide Conference)
- 2007–2010: Blue Square (Blue Square Premier / Blue Square North / Blue Square South)
- 2010–2013: Blue Square Bet (Blue Square Bet Premier / Blue Square Bet North / Blue Square Bet South)
The Football Conference had a single division for the first 25 years of its existence, but since the 2004–05 season has consisted of three divisions. The original division was renamed Conference National and two new regional divisions one level down were introduced, Conference North and Conference South. The new clubs were drawn from the Northern Premier League, Southern League, and Isthmian League according to guidelines developed by the NLS Committee.
Only seven teams have had the honour of winning the Conference on two occasions; Altrincham (1980, 1981), Barnet (1991, 2005), Enfield (1983, 1986), Kidderminster Harriers (1994, 2000), Macclesfield Town (1995, 1997), Maidstone United, (1984, 1989) and Stevenage Borough (1996, 2010). Kidderminster also finished second in 1997. Of those sides only one, Barnet, was promoted to the Football League on both occasions; Maidstone's first title came before the era of automatic promotion, while Kidderminster Harriers, Macclesfield Town and Stevenage Borough were denied promotion because their grounds were not up to the required standard at the time of their first win. However, all three were promoted when they took their second title. Altrincham are the only team in history to retain the title, as at the time there was no automatic promotion to the Football League.
No former Conference club has yet reached the Premier League, although four clubs did compete in its predecessor, the Football League First Division: Carlisle United, Oxford United, Luton Town and Grimsby Town. Carlisle and Oxford have since returned to the League, albeit both by winning the promotion playoffs. Additionally, Luton and Oxford are the only clubs to play league matches against each other on all top five tiers of English football.
Promotion and Relegation
Prior to 1987, in order for Conference clubs to enter The Football League, they had to be elected by League members. As a consequence, there was no guarantee that winning the Football Conference would result in promotion, and none of the league's first eight champions were promoted. This changed in 1987 and 1997, when automatic promotion and relegation between the Football League Fourth Division and the Conference was agreed. The first clubs to be affected by the new system were Lincoln City, who were relegated and replaced by Scarborough. However, although the champions of the Conference were entitled to a place in the Football League, this was dependent on their stadium meeting the set criteria for membership. For three successive years in the mid 1990s, the Conference champions had been denied promotion to the Football League on these grounds since the 1978/79 season. Since 1997, when Macclesfield Town won the title for the second time in three years, every champion has been promoted.
Since 2003, the Conference has been awarded a second promotion place, which has been decided by a play-off system similar to that of the Football League. The four teams below the Conference champions play against each other over two legs, with second playing fifth and third playing fourth. The winners of these ties then play a single final game, with the winner gaining the second promotion place. Doncaster Rovers were the first team to win the Conference play-offs.
Prior to 2004, relegation from the Conference meant dropping to one of the three feeder leagues below. After Chester City failed to avoid expulsion, 3 teams were relegated instead of 4, to either the Northern Premier League, Southern League or Isthmian League, based on geographical criteria. In turn, the champions of these three leagues would be promoted to the Conference. In 2004, a restructuring of the National Football Pyramid saw the creation of a new level immediately below the Football Conference; two regional divisions named Conference North and Conference South were created, with the feeder leagues dropping below them. There are two promotion places to the Conference National from each regional division — the champions are promoted automatically, while the remaining place is again decided by play-offs. The four teams relegated from the Conference National are then allocated to one or other of the regional divisions dependent on their geographical location.
Conference clubs, 2011–12
Teams in bold have played in The Football League (1 as a previous incarnation).
Past Conference winners
Season Conference National champions Playoff winners 1979–80 Altrincham** 1980–81 Altrincham** 1981–82 Runcorn** 1982–83 Enfield** 1983–84 Maidstone United** 1984–85 Wealdstone** 1985–86 Enfield** 1986–87 Scarborough* 1987–88 Lincoln City* 1988–89 Maidstone United* 1989–90 Darlington* 1990–91 Barnet* 1991–92 Colchester United* 1992–93 Wycombe Wanderers* 1993–94 Kidderminster Harriers** 1994–95 Macclesfield Town** 1995–96 Stevenage Borough** 1996–97 Macclesfield Town* 1997–98 Halifax Town* 1998–99 Cheltenham Town* 1999–00 Kidderminster Harriers* 2000–01 Rushden & Diamonds* 2001–02 Boston United* 2002–03 Yeovil Town* Doncaster Rovers* (Match Report) 2003–04 Chester City* Shrewsbury Town* (Match Report) 2004–05 Barnet* Carlisle United* (Match Report) 2005–06 Accrington Stanley* Hereford United* (Match Report) 2006–07 Dagenham & Redbridge* Morecambe* (Match Report) 2007–08 Aldershot Town* Exeter City* (Match Report) 2008–09 Burton Albion* Torquay United* (Match Report) 2009–10 Stevenage Borough* Oxford United* (Match Report) 2010–11 Crawley Town* AFC Wimbledon* (Match Report) Season Conference North champions Playoff winners 2004–05 Southport Altrincham 2005–06 Northwich Victoria Stafford Rangers 2006–07 Droylsden Farsley Celtic 2007–08 Kettering Town Barrow 2008–09 Tamworth Gateshead 2009–10 Southport Fleetwood Town 2010–11 Alfreton Town A.F.C. Telford United Season Conference South champions Playoff winners 2004–05 Grays Athletic Eastbourne Borough ** 2005–06 Weymouth St Albans City 2006–07 Histon Salisbury City 2007–08 Lewes Eastbourne Borough 2008–09 AFC Wimbledon Hayes & Yeading United 2009–10 Newport County Bath City 2010–11 Braintree Town Ebbsfleet United
** Not promoted. In 2004–05 only three promotion places were available to the Conference National. The third place was decided in a Playoff at Stoke's Britannia Stadium, which Eastbourne lost 2–1 to the Conference North Playoff winners, Altrincham.
Conference League Cup
The Conference has organised a cup competition for its teams throughout its history, with occasional breaks when sponsors were not available. Known initially as the Bob Lord Trophy and then the Spalding Cup from 1995–96 until 2000–01, the League cup competition was reinstated in 2007–08 as the Conference League Cup , sponsored by Setanta. Very much like the Football League Cup and Football League Trophy at the professional levels, it has not always proved popular with fans and is generally viewed as of secondary importance to the FA Trophy.
Season Winner Runner-up 1979–80 Northwich Victoria Altrincham 1980–81 Altrincham Kettering Town 1981–82 Weymouth Enfield 1982–83 Runcorn Scarborough 1983–84 Scarborough Barnet 1984–85 Runcorn Maidstone United 1985–86 Stafford Rangers Barnet 1986–87 Kettering Town Hendon 1987–88 Horwich RMI Weymouth 1988–89 Yeovil Town Kidderminster Harriers 1989–90 Yeading Stamford 1990–91 Sutton United Barrow 1991–92 Wycombe Wanderers Runcorn 1992–93 Northwich Victoria Wycombe Wanderers 1993–94 Macclesfield Town Yeovil Town 1994–95 Bromsgrove Rovers Kettering Town 1995–96 Bromsgrove Rovers Macclesfield Town 1996–97 Kidderminster Harriers Macclesfield Town 1997–98 Morecambe Woking 1998–99 Doncaster Rovers Farnborough Town 1999–2000 Doncaster Rovers Kingstonian 2000–01 Chester City Kingstonian 2001–02 not held 2002–03 not held 2003–04 not held 2004–05 Woking Stalybridge Celtic 2005–06 not held 2006–07 not held 2007–08 Aldershot Town Rushden & Diamonds 2008–09 AFC Telford United Forest Green Rovers 2009–10 not held
Former Conference clubs now in The Football League
Club Years in the Conference Currently Play in (2010–11) Accrington Stanley 2003–2006 League Two AFC Wimbledon 2009–2011 League Two Aldershot Town 2003–2008 League Two Barnet 1979–1991; 2001–2005 League Two Burton Albion 2002–2009 League Two Carlisle United 2004–2005 League One Cheltenham Town 1985–1992; 1997–1999 League Two Colchester United 1990–1992 League One Crawley Town 2004–2011 League Two Dagenham & Redbridge 1992–1996; 2000–2007 League Two Doncaster Rovers 1998–2003 Championship Exeter City 2003–2008 League One Hereford United 1997–2006 League Two Macclesfield Town 1987–1997 League Two Morecambe 1995–2007 League Two Oxford United 2006–2010 League Two Shrewsbury Town 2003–2004 League Two Stevenage Borough 1994–2010 League One Torquay United 2007–2009 League Two Wycombe Wanderers 1985–1986; 1987–1993 League Two Yeovil Town 1979–1985; 1988–1995; 1997–2003 League One
The Football Conference was available on Setanta Sports. The channel showed 79 matches each season. It also showed the Conference League Cup. The FA Trophy Final was also shown on Setanta Sports (after being shown on Sky Sports until 2008).
On 19 August 2010, Premier Sports announced that it had bought the live and exclusive UK television rights to thirty matches per season from the Conference National for a total of three seasons. The thirty matches selected for broadcast will include all five Conference National play-offs. The deal with the Football Conference is a revenue sharing arrangement whereby clubs receive 50% of revenue from subscriptions, on top of the normal rights fee paid by the broadcaster, once the costs of production have been met. The Conference will also earn 50% from all internet revenue associated with the deal and allow them to retain advertising rights allied to those adverts shown with their matches. During the 2010-11 season, Premier Sports failed to attract enough viewers to its Conference football broadcasts to share any revenue with the clubs beyond the £5,000 broadcast fee paid to home clubs and £1,000 to away clubs.
- List of attendance figures at domestic professional sports leagues — the Conference's attendance in a worldwide context
- ^ http://www.footballconference.co.uk/news/3110/BLUE_SQUARE_EXTEND_SPONSORSHIP.html
- ^ "Premeir Sports Secure Conference TV Rights". Vital Football. 19 August 2010. http://www.broadcasting.vitalfootball.co.uk/article.asp?a=7505416.
- ^ "Football Conference Signs Unique TV Deal". Blue Square Bet Premier. 20 August 2010. http://www.bluesqfootball.com/story/0,20970,13040_6325011,00.html.
Football Conference NationalClubsAlfreton Town · AFC Telford United · Barrow · Bath City · Braintree Town · Cambridge United · Darlington · Ebbsfleet United · Fleetwood Town · Forest Green Rovers · Gateshead · Grimsby Town · Hayes & Yeading United · Kettering Town · Kidderminster Harriers · Lincoln City · Luton Town · Mansfield Town · Newport County · Southport · Stockport County · Tamworth · Wrexham · York CityGroundsAbbey Stadium · Aggborough · Blundell Park · Bootham Crescent · Cressing Road · Darlington Arena · Edgeley Park · Field Mill · Gateshead International Stadium · Haig Avenue · Highbury Stadium · Holker Street · Kenilworth Road · Kingfield · Lamb Ground · Nene Park · New Bucks Head · New Lawn · Newport Stadium · North Street · Racecourse Ground · Sincil Bank · Stonebridge Road · Twerton Park NorthAltrincham · Bishop's Stortford · Blyth Spartans · Boston United · Colwyn Bay · Corby Town · Droylsden · Eastwood Town · FC Halifax Town · Gainsborough Trinity · Gloucester City · Guiseley · Harrogate Town · Hinckley United · Histon · Hyde · Nuneaton Town · Solihull Moors · Stalybridge Celtic · Vauxhall Motors · Worcester City · Workington SouthBasingstoke Town · Boreham Wood · Bromley · Chelmsford City · Dartford · Dorchester Town · Dover Athletic · Eastbourne Borough · Eastleigh · Farnborough · Hampton & Richmond Borough · Havant & Waterlooville · Maidenhead United · Salisbury City · Staines Town · Sutton United · Thurrock · Tonbridge Angels · Truro City · Welling United · Weston-super-Mare · Woking Seasons1979–80 · 1980–81 · 1981–82 · 1982–83 · 1983–84 · 1984–85 · 1985–86 · 1986–87 · 1987–88 · 1988–89 · 1989–90 · 1990–91 · 1991–92 · 1992–93 · 1993–94 · 1994–95 · 1995–96 · 1996–97 · 1997–98 · 1998–99 · 1999–2000 · 2000–01 · 2001–02 · 2002–03 · 2003–04 · 2004–05 · 2005–06 · 2006–07 · 2007–08 · 2008–09 · 2009–10 · 2010–11 · 2011–12See also: Conference League Cup Football in England National teams National Football CentreSt George's Park (Burton) League system Domestic cups OthersMasters Football ListsList of clubs · Current managers · Stadiums by capacity · By altitude
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