Football Conference

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Football Conference
Football Conference.png
Country England
Other club(s) from 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
FA Trophy
Conference League Cup (defunct)
Current champions Mansfield Town (National)
Chester (North)
Welling United (South)
(2012–13)
TV partners BT Sport[1]
Website Conference
2013–14 Football Conference

The Football Conference is a men's football league in England consisting of three divisions, the Conference Premier, Conference North and Conference South. Around half the Conference Premier clubs are fully professional, whilst most Conference North and Conference South clubs are semi-professional. The professional clubs are usually clubs who have been in the Football League in the past as opposed to those who have always been in 'Non-League'. The Conference Premier 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 is the top tier of the National League System of non-League football. The 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.

As part of a sponsorship deal with Skrill, the Conference Premier is now known as the Skrill Premier, and the tiers below as the Skrill South and the Skrill North until the end of the 2015–16 season.[2]

Organisation[edit]

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 Premier 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 Premier 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 defeat.

At the end of each season two clubs are promoted from Conference Premier to Football League Two and two teams from League Two are relegated to Conference Premier to take their place. The two promotion places are awarded to the Conference Premier 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 Premier 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.

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.

History[edit]

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 Football 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. Yeovil are currently members of the Football League, while Scarborough, Maidstone (both now in new incarnations), Boston and Barnet 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, and from 2004 additionally Nationwide Conference North / Nationwide Conference South)
  • 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) known by fans as the Blue Square Group
  • 2013–: Skrill (Skrill Premier/ Skrill North/ Skrill 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 (currently Conference Premier) 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 and 2013. 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[edit]

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, 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 Premier 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 Premier are then allocated to one or other of the regional divisions dependent on their geographical location.

Conference clubs, 2013–14[edit]

Conference Premier
Aldershot Town
Alfreton Town
Barnet
Braintree Town
Cambridge United
Chester
Dartford
FC Halifax Town
Forest Green Rovers
Gateshead
Grimsby Town
Hereford United
Hyde
Kidderminster Harriers
Lincoln City
Luton Town
Macclesfield Town
Nuneaton Town
Salisbury City
Southport
Tamworth
Welling United
Woking
Wrexham
Conference North
Altrincham
AFC Telford United
Barrow
Boston United
Brackley Town
Bradford Park Avenue
Colwyn Bay
Gainsborough Trinity
Gloucester City
Guiseley
Harrogate Town
Hednesford Town
Histon
Leamington
North Ferriby United
Oxford City
Solihull Moors
Stalybridge Celtic
Stockport County
Vauxhall Motors
Worcester City
Workington
Conference South
Basingstoke Town
Bath City
Bishop's Stortford
Boreham Wood
Bromley
Chelmsford City
Concord Rangers
Dorchester Town
Dover Athletic
Eastbourne Borough
Eastleigh
Ebbsfleet United
Farnborough
Gosport Borough
Havant & Waterlooville
Hayes & Yeading United
Maidenhead United
Staines Town
Sutton United
Tonbridge Angels
Weston-super-Mare
Whitehawk

Former The Football League clubs now in Conference[edit]

Club Years in the Football League Number of seasons
Aldershot Town 2008–2013 ; 1932-1992 (as a previous incarnation) 5 ; 54
Barnet 1991-2001 ; 2005-2013 17
Cambridge United 1970-2005 35
Chester 1931-2000 ; 2004-2009 (both as a previous incarnation) 67
FC Halifax Town 1921-1992 ; 1998-2002 (both as a previous incarnation) 68
Gateshead 1930-1960 (as a previous incarnation) 24
Grimsby Town 1892-1910 ; 1911-2010 106
Hereford United 1972-1997 ; 2006-2012 31
Kidderminster Harriers 2000-2005 5
Lincoln City 1892-1908 ; 1909-1911 ; 1912-1920 ; 1921-1987 ; 1988-2011 103
Luton Town 1897-1900 ; 1920-2009 93
Macclesfield Town 1996-2012 16
Southport 1921-1978 50
Wrexham 1921-2008 80
Barrow 1921-1972 45
Boston United 2002-2007 5
Bradford Park Avenue 1908-1970 (as a previous incarnation) 50
Gainsborough Trinity 1896-1912 16
Stalybridge Celtic 1921-1923 2
Stockport County 1900-1904 1905-2011 98
Workington 1951-1977 26

Past Conference winners[edit]

Season Conference Premier 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)
2011–12 Fleetwood Town* York City* (Match Report)
2012–13 Mansfield Town* Newport County* (Match Report)
2013–14 Luton Town*

* Promoted to The Football League (Fourth Division until 1992, Third Division from 1992 until 2004 and League Two from 2004)
** Not promoted

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
2011–12 Hyde Nuneaton Town
2012–13 Chester F.C. Halifax Town
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
2011–12 Woking Dartford
2012–13 Welling United Salisbury City

** Not promoted. In 2004–05 only three promotion places were available to the Conference Premier. 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[edit]

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 Sports. 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. It has not been held since 2009.

Winners[edit]

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 onwards not held

Former Conference clubs now in The Football League[edit]

Club Years in the Conference Currently Play in (2013–14)
Accrington Stanley 2003–2006 League Two
AFC Wimbledon 2009–2011 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 One
Dagenham & Redbridge 1992–1996; 2000–2007 League Two
Doncaster Rovers 1998–2003 Championship
Exeter City 2003–2008 League Two
Fleetwood Town 2010–2012 League Two
Mansfield Town 2008–2013 League Two
Morecambe 1995–2007 League Two
Newport County 2010–2013 League Two
Oxford United 2006–2010 League Two
Shrewsbury Town 2003–2004 League One
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 Championship
York City 2004–2012 League Two

Media coverage[edit]

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 Premier for a total of three seasons.[3] The thirty matches selected for broadcast will include all five Conference Premier play-offs.[4] 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. BT Sport will cover the Football Conference from the 2013–14 season onwards in a deal worth £300,000.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "BT Sport 'signs £300k Football Conference broadcasting deal'". Cable.co.uk. 2013-05-23. Retrieved 2013-07-03. 
  2. ^ "Skrill announced as new Football Conference sponsor". Non-League Bets. 26 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Premeir Sports Secure Conference TV Rights". Vital Football. 19 August 2010. 
  4. ^ "Football Conference Signs Unique TV Deal". Blue Square Bet Premier. 20 August 2010. 

External links[edit]