Football Conference

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This article is about the English football league. For other uses of the term "football conference", see Football Conference (disambiguation).
Football Conference
Football Conference.png
Country England (66 Clubs)
Other club(s) from Wales (2 Clubs)
Founded 1979 (Conference)
2004 (North & South)
Number of teams 24 Conference
22 North & 22 South
Levels on pyramid 5 (Conference)
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 Luton Town (Conference)
A.F.C. Telford United (North)
Eastleigh (South)
TV partners BT Sport[1]
Website Conference
2014–15 Football Conference

The Football Conference is an association 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 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 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 new sponsorship deal announced in July 2014 with Vanarama, after seven seasons of being known as the Conference Premier it reverted to its original title and is now known as the Vanarama Conference, and the tiers below as the Vanarama Conference North and the Vanarama Conference South.[2]


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). The Conference 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 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 to Football League Two and two teams from League Two are relegated to Conference to take their place. The two promotion places are awarded to the Conference champions and to the winners of the Vanarama Conference 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 Conference 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 their respective Promotion Finals between their second to fifth place clubs in those divisions.

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.

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.

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 timescale 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 operating with only 21 Clubs in membership for 2014-15.


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.

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 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
  • 2013–2014: Skrill (Skrill Premier/ Skrill North/ Skrill South)
  • 2014-: Vanarama (Vanarama Conference/ Vanarama Conference North/ Vanarama Conference 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 ) and two new regional divisions one level down were introduced, Conference North and Conference 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 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, 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 play 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.

Conference clubs, 2014–15[edit]

A.F.C. Telford United
Aldershot Town
Alfreton Town
Braintree Town
Bristol Rovers
Dover Athletic
FC Halifax Town
Forest Green Rovers
Grimsby Town
Kidderminster Harriers
Lincoln City
Macclesfield Town
Nuneaton Town
Torquay United
Welling United
Conference North
A.F.C. Fylde
Boston United
Brackley Town
Bradford Park Avenue
Colwyn Bay
Gainsborough Trinity
Gloucester City
Harrogate Town
Hednesford Town
Lowestoft Town
North Ferriby United
Oxford City
Solihull Moors
Stalybridge Celtic
Stockport County
Worcester City
Conference South
Basingstoke Town
Bath City
Bishop's Stortford
Boreham Wood
Chelmsford City
Concord Rangers
Eastbourne Borough
Ebbsfleet United
Gosport Borough
Havant & Waterlooville
Hayes & Yeading United
Hemel Hempstead Town
Maidenhead United
Staines Town
St Albans City
Sutton United

Note: The Conference South has 21 teams (one less than usual) for the 2014–15 season, due to the expulsion of Salisbury City from the division before the start of the season.

Former Football League clubs now in the 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
Bristol Rovers 1920–2014 87
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
Kidderminster Harriers 2000–2005 5
Lincoln City 1892–1908; 1909–1911; 1912–1920; 1921–1987; 1988–2011 103
Macclesfield Town 1996–2012 16
Southport 1921–1978 50
Torquay United 1927–2007; 2009–2014 78
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

Past Conference winners[edit]

Season Conference 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)

* 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 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 F.C.
Season Conference 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

** 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's Britannia Stadium, which Eastbourne lost 2–1 to the Conference North Playoff winners, Altrincham.

Conference League Cup[edit]

Main article: 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 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.


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 (2014–15)
Accrington Stanley 2003–2006 League Two
AFC Wimbledon 2009–2011 League Two
Burton Albion 2002–2009 League Two
Cambridge United 2005–2014 League Two
Carlisle United 2004–2005 League Two
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 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 Two
Stevenage Borough 1994–2010 League Two
Wycombe Wanderers 1985–1986; 1987–1993 League Two
Yeovil Town 1979–1985; 1988–1995; 1997–2003 League One
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 Promortion 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 the television broadcast partner 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "BT Sport 'signs £300k Football Conference broadcasting deal'". 2013-05-23. Retrieved 2013-07-03. 
  2. ^ "Vanarama announced as new Football Conference sponsor". Non-League Bets. 30 July 2014. 
  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]