National League System

National League System

The National League System comprises the seven levels of the English football league system immediately below the level of the Premier League and The Football League. It contains 91 league competitions and more than 1,600 clubs. 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. For details of leagues above and below the National League System, see the English football league system.

Recently the system has undergone a rearrangement. Phase one went into operation in 2004-05. At the start of the 2006-07 season, phase two was introduced, and a further phase three started from 2007-08 with the starting of a second Step 4 league in the north of England.



The areas covered by Conferences North and South: Step 2 of the National League System.

At the top of the National League System pyramid is the Football Conference. Its top division, the Conference National (currently called the Blue Square Premier), 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 (it is actually the fifth overall division). The 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 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. In particular, clubs that hope to be promoted from Step 5 leagues to Step 4 must apply in advance to be assessed for whether they meet the grading requirements. The teams must then also finish in the top 3 in their league to be considered for promotion, which is not automatic. For instance, in the 2005-06 season 100 clubs applied to be considered for promotion, of which 51 met the grading requirements, and 29 of those finished in the top 3 in their leagues (With an additional division commencing at Step 4 in 2006-07, all 29 clubs had their promotions accepted).

Under the direction of The Football Association, the National League System evolved over many years. Today's pyramid can be said to be barely twenty years old. Leagues have formed and dissolved over the years and reorganizations have taken place every few years as a result. Beginning with the 2004-05 season, Phase One of the latest change was introduced with the formation of a Conference North and Conference South immediately below the Football Conference, renamed Conference National, forcing the top divisions of the Southern League, Isthmian League, and Northern Premier League down one level.

The system

This table includes the seven steps of the National League System (NLS). Above the NLS are the 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. This structure was the result of changes made after the 2005-06 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, except the Northern Premier League Division One North and Division One South which have 20 or 21 teams each, and Conference National, with 24 teams. The FA's National League System Committee determine promotion and relegation between leagues shown, mainly based on location. The NLS Committee also has the power to transfer clubs between divisions and even leagues at the same level of the pyramid should this be deemed necessary in order to maintain geographically practical and numerically balanced divisions and leagues at every level.

All clubs in the NLS are eligible to compete in the FA Cup, but are seeded into it according to tier standing. Tiers 1 to 4 clubs are eligible for the FA Trophy and tiers 5 to 7 for the FA Vase, as well as their respective regional and county cups. With the arrival of the new sponsors for the Football Conference starting in the 2007-08 season, the administrators of the Conference announced the reintroduction of the short-lived Football Conference Challenge Cup, now to be known as the Setanta Shield. This competition, as its predecessor, will be open to clubs in tiers 1 and 2 of the NLS.

Step League/Division
1 Conference National
(Blue Square BET Premier)
Promoted to League Two of The Football League: Champion and winner of 2nd-5th playoff.
Relegated to either Conference North or Conference South: 4 clubs.
2 Conference North
(Blue Square BET North)
Conference South
(Blue Square BET South)
Promoted to Conference National: Champions of each division;
the winners of a 2nd-5th playoff in each division will also be promoted
Relegated to Step 3 leagues: 3 clubs from each division.
3 Northern Premier League
(Evo-stik League)
Premier Division
Southern League
(Evo-stik League Southern)
Premier Division
Isthmian League
(Ryman League)
Premier Division
Promoted to Conference North or South: Champion and winner of 2nd-5th playoff for each league.
Relegated to Step 4 leagues: 4 clubs from each league.
4 Northern Premier League
(Evo-stik League)
Division One North
Northern Premier League
(Evo-stik League)
Division One South
Southern Football League
(Evo-stik League Southern)
Division One Central
Southern Football League
(Evo-stik League Southern)
Division One South & West
Isthmian League
(Ryman League)
Division One South
Isthmian League
(Ryman League)
Division One North
Promoted to Step 3 leagues: Champion and winner of 2nd-5th playoff for each league.
Relegated to Step 5 leagues determined by NLS Committee: 2 clubs from each league.
5 Combined Counties League Premier Division | Eastern Counties League Premier Division | Essex Senior League | Hellenic League Premier Division | Kent League Premier Division | Midland Alliance | Northern Counties East League Premier Division | Northern League Division One | North West Counties League Premier Division | Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division | Sussex County League Division One | United Counties League Premier Division | Wessex League Premier Division | Western League Premier Division
Promoted to Step 4 leagues determined by NLS Committee: Total of 14 League champions.
Relegated: Arranged according to separate agreements with Step 6 leagues.
6 Combined Counties League Division One | East Midlands Counties League | Eastern Counties League Division One | Hellenic League Division One East | Hellenic League Division One West | Kent Invicta Football League | Midland Combination Premier Division | Northern Counties East Division One | Northern League Division Two | North West Counties League Division One | South West Peninsula League Premier Division | Spartan South Midlands League Division One | Sussex County League Division Two | United Counties League Division One | Wessex League Division One | West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division | Western League Division One
Promotion and relegation: Arranged according to separate agreements with appropriate leagues.
7 Anglian Combination Premier Division | Bedfordshire County League Premier Division | Brighton, Hove & District League Premier Division | Cambridgeshire League Premier Division | Central Midlands League North Division | Central Midlands League South Division | Cheshire League Division One | Dorset Premier League | East Berkshire League Premier Division | East Sussex League Premier Division | Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier Division | Essex Olympian League Premier Division | Gloucestershire County League | Hampshire Premier League | Hertforshire Senior County League Premier Division | Kent County League Premier Division | Leicestershire Senior League Premier Division | Liverpool County Premier League Premier Division | Manchester League Premier Division | Mid-Sussex League Premier Division | Middlesex County League Premier Division | Midland Combination Division One | North Berkshire League Division One | Northamptonshire Combination Premier Division | Northampton Town League Premier Division | Northern Alliance Premier Division | Oxfordshire Senior League Premier Division | Peterborough & District League Premier Division | Reading League Senior Division | Somerset County League Premier Division | South West Peninsula League Division One East | South West Peninsula League Division One West | Spartan South Midlands League Division Two | Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division | Suffolk & Ipswich League Senior Division | Sussex County League Division Three | Wearside League | West Cheshire League Division One | West Lancashire League Premier Division | West Midlands (Regional) League Division One | West Sussex League Premier Division | Wiltshire League Premier Division | Worthing & District League Premier Division
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.



The areas covered by the Step 5 leagues of the National League System.

The National League System is expected to continue to operate in a broadly similar manner to how it does currently with the only public plans being the intent to reduce the number of Step 5 leagues down to twelve. The 2006 abolition of the Isthmian League Division Two had this in mind and, in 2006, it asked the Essex Senior League and the Kent League to consider merging (now the only two remaining leagues with one level rather than two at this level). However, no merger has occurred as of the 2011–12 season.

A further possible future change is the increase of the NLS's remit to an eighth step.

See also


External links

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