National League (English football)

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"Football Conference" redirects here. For other uses, see Football Conference (disambiguation).
National League
Country  England (67 Clubs)
Other club(s) from  Wales (1 Club)
Founded 1979 (National League)
2004 (North & South)
Number of teams 24 National League
22 North & 22 South
Level on pyramid 5 (National League)
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 Barnet (Conference)
Barrow (North)
Bromley (South)
(2014–15)
TV partners BT Sport[1]
NLTV (since 2015)
Website Conference
2015–16 National League

The National League is an association football league in England consisting of three divisions, the National League, National League North and National League South. Around half the National League clubs are fully professional, whilst most National League North and National League South clubs are semi-professional. The professional clubs are usually clubs which have been in the Football League in the past, as opposed to those who have always been Non-League. The National League is the 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 National League North and National League South form the sixth tier of English football. The National League consisted of only one division 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 new sponsorship deal with Vanarama, the league is known as the Vanarama National League. Beginning with the 2015–16 season, the league has been named the National League, after previously being known as the Football Conference.[2]

Organisation[edit]

The National League 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). The National League is at Step 1 of the NLS, and National League North and National League South make up Step 2. Above the National League are the 92 clubs which together make up the highest levels of English football, the Premier League and the Football League; below the National League are the Step 3 and lower leagues of the NLS.

The National League 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 National League to Football League Two and two teams from League Two are relegated to National League to take their place. The two promotion places are awarded to the National League champions and to the winners of the National League Promotion Final from home and away semi finals between those clubs finishing second to fifth in the standings.

At the other end of the table, the bottom four clubs in National League are relegated to either National League North or National League 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 National League North and two from National League South. For each of these two leagues this will be the champions and the winners of their respective Promotion Finals between their second to fifth place clubs in those divisions.

At the bottom of National League North and National League 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 National League North or National League South.

The clubs relegated from the national division are not always geographically balanced. 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" between the leagues, so to speak) so as to maintain numerical balance between North and South.

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 National League to the Football League, within the National League, 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.

At the end of the 2013–14 season both Hereford United and Salisbury City were expelled from the Football Conference after each failed to meet financial criteria set. In the case of Salisbury City, due to the time-scale around their expulsion and appeal, the Football Association ruled that no further movement of clubs under the NLS would be permitted, hence the Conference South operated with only 21 clubs in 2014–15.

History[edit]

The National League 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 and subsequently the Football Conference. 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 and Barnet 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 National League, but are now back in non-league football.

Of the 20 founding members, the last to leave the fifth level were Northwich. They were relegated in 2005, a year after the demise of Telford. Barnet are the only founding member who have remained in the top five levels continuously since 1979.

Bangor City has since moved to the Welsh football league system, while AP Leamington, Maidstone, Nuneaton, Scarborough and Telford later collapsed and were reconstituted in lower English leagues. Gravesend & Northfleet changed its name to Ebbsfleet United in 2007.

Since 1984, the National League 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, and to the National League in 2015. 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)
  • 2013–2014: Skrill (Skrill Premier/ Skrill North/ Skrill South)
  • 2014–2015: Vanarama (Vanarama Conference/ Vanarama Conference North/ Vanarama Conference South)
  • 2015– :Vanarama (Vanarama National League / Vanarama National League North / Vanarama National League South)

The National League 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 National League) and two new regional divisions one level down were introduced, Conference North and Conference South (currently National League North and South). The new clubs to form this larger competition were drawn from the Northern Premier League, Southern League, and Isthmian League according to guidelines developed by the NLS Committee.

Only one team has won the National League three times: Barnet (1991, 2005, 2015). Prior to Barnet's third title win, six other clubs had also become champions twice: Altrincham (1980, 1981), 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 these sides, only Barnet was promoted to the Football League on the first two 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 National League club has yet reached the Premier League, although four such 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, by winning their respective Promotion Final. Luton returned to the Football League in 2014 after a five-year exile by winning the Conference title, having been defeated in the playoffs in their first three seasons in the Conference. Additionally Luton and Oxford are the only clubs to have played league matches against each other in 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. This meant that Northampton Town, Exeter City and Torquay United all avoided relegation from the Football League, although Exeter and Torquay were both relegated to the Conference at a later date.

For three successive years in the mid-1990s, the Conference champions had been denied promotion to the Football League on these grounds. 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 in semi-finals over two legs, with second playing fifth and third playing fourth. The winners of these ties then play a single final game known as the Promotion Final, with the winner gaining the second promotion place. Doncaster Rovers were the first team to win the Conference Promotion Final.

Prior to 2004, relegation from the Conference meant dropping to one of the three feeder leagues below. After Chester City failed to avoid expulsion in 2010, 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. The closure of Chester City during the later stages of the 2009–10 season was the first mid-season closure of a club in the division since Newport County in the second half of the 1988–89 season; on both occasions, the records of both clubs were expunged.

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 from each regional division – the champions are promoted automatically, while the remaining place is again decided by semi final play-offs as in the Conference division and a Promotion Final. The four teams relegated from the Conference are then allocated to one or other of the regional divisions dependent on their geographical location.

National League clubs, 2015–16[edit]

National League
England Aldershot Town
England Altrincham
England Barrow
England Boreham Wood
England Braintree Town
England Bromley
England Cheltenham Town
England Chester
England Dover Athletic
England Eastleigh
England FC Halifax Town
England Forest Green Rovers
England Gateshead
England Guiseley
England Grimsby Town
England Kidderminster Harriers
England Lincoln City
England Macclesfield Town
England Southport
England Torquay United
England Tranmere Rovers
England Welling United
England Woking
Wales Wrexham
National League North
England A.F.C. Fylde
England A.F.C. Telford United
England Alfreton Town
England Boston United
England Brackley Town
England Bradford Park Avenue
England Chorley
England Corby Town
England Curzon Ashton
England F.C. United of Manchester
England Gainsborough Trinity
England Gloucester City
England Harrogate Town
England Hednesford Town
England Lowestoft Town
England North Ferriby United
England Nuneaton Town
England Solihull Moors
England Stalybridge Celtic
England Stockport County
England Tamworth
England Worcester City
National League South
England Basingstoke Town
England Bath City
England Bishop's Stortford
England Chelmsford City
England Concord Rangers
England Dartford
England Eastbourne Borough
England Ebbsfleet United
England Gosport Borough
England Havant & Waterlooville
England Hayes & Yeading United
England Hemel Hempstead Town
England Maidenhead United
England Maidstone United
England Margate
England Oxford City
England St Albans City
England Sutton United
England Truro City
England Wealdstone
England Weston-super-Mare
England Whitehawk

Former Football League clubs now in the National League[edit]

Club Years in the Football League Number of seasons
Aldershot Town 2008–2013; 1932–1992 (as a previous incarnation) 5; 53
Barrow 1921–1972 44
Boston United 2002–2007 5
Bradford Park Avenue 1908–1970 (as a previous incarnation) 51
Cheltenham Town 1999–2015 16
Chester 1931–2000; 2004–2009 (both as a previous incarnation) 67
FC Halifax Town 1921–1993; 1998–2002 (both as a previous incarnation) 69
Gainsborough Trinity 1896–1912 16
Gateshead 1930–1960 (as a previous incarnation) 23
Grimsby Town 1892–1910; 1911–2010 106
Kidderminster Harriers 2000–2005 5
Lincoln City 1892–1908; 1909–1911; 1912–1920; 1921–1987; 1988–2011 104
Macclesfield Town 1997–2012 15
Southport 1921–1978 50
Stalybridge Celtic 1921–1923 2
Stockport County 1900–1904, 1905–2011 99
Torquay United 1927–2007; 2009–2014 78
Tranmere Rovers 1921–2015 87
Wrexham 1921–2008 80

Past National League winners[edit]

Season National League champions Promotion Final winners
1979–80 Altrincham**
1980–81 Altrincham** (2)
1981–82 Runcorn**
1982–83 Enfield**
1983–84 Maidstone United**
1984–85 Wealdstone**
1985–86 Enfield** (2)
1986–87 Scarborough*
1987–88 Lincoln City*
1988–89 Maidstone United* (2)
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* (2)
1997–98 Halifax Town*
1998–99 Cheltenham Town*
1999–00 Kidderminster Harriers* (2)
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* (2) 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* (2) 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* Cambridge United* (Match Report)
2014–15 Barnet* (3) Bristol Rovers*

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

Season National League North champions Promotion Final 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 (2) Fleetwood Town
2010–11 Alfreton Town A.F.C. Telford United
2011–12 Hyde Nuneaton Town
2012–13 Chester F.C. Halifax Town
2013–14 A.F.C. Telford United Altrincham
2014–15 Barrow Guiseley
Season National League South champions Promotion Final 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
2013–14 Eastleigh Dover Athletic
2014–15 Bromley Boreham Wood

** Not promoted. In 2004–05 only three promotion places were available to the Conference Premier. The third place was decided in a Promotion Final at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium, which Eastbourne Borough lost 2–1 to the Conference North Playoff winners, Altrincham.

Conference League Cup[edit]

Main article: Conference League Cup

The Conference 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 National League clubs now in the Football League[edit]

Club Years in the National League Currently play in (2015–16)
Accrington Stanley 2003–2006 League Two
AFC Wimbledon 2009–2011 League Two
Barnet 1979–1991; 2001–2005; 2013–2015 League Two
Bristol Rovers 2014–2015 League Two
Burton Albion 2002–2009 League One
Cambridge United 2005–2014 League Two
Carlisle United 2004–2005 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 League One
Exeter City 2003–2008 League Two
Fleetwood Town 2010–2012 League One
Luton Town 2009–2014 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 1994–2010 League Two
Wycombe Wanderers 1985–1986; 1987–1993 League Two
Yeovil Town 1979–1985; 1988–1995; 1997–2003 League Two
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 included all five Conference Premier matches culminating in the Promotion Final itself.[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 are now one of the television broadcast partners and commenced a contract in 2013/14 to cover again up to 30 Conference matches including the end of season semi finals and the Promotion Final.The deal worth £300,000,[1] sees the fee to each home clubs as £7,000 and the away club £1000. The National League launched its own channel called NLTV which focuses on all 68 member clubs across the three divisions.[2]

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. ^ a b "Football Conference to be renamed as National League", BBC Sport, 6 April 2015
  3. ^ "Premier 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]