Northern Ireland football league system

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The Northern Ireland football league system is categorised into three levels: senior, intermediate and junior. Clubs attain intermediate status by fulfilling certain criteria (e.g. owning or leasing its own enclosed ground). Senior status requires clubs to reach stricter criteria. National leagues exist at senior and intermediate level. All junior leagues and some intermediate are organised on a regional basis.

Regionally, there are four regional football associations: the North East Ulster Football Association (also known as the County Antrim & District Football Association), the Mid-Ulster Football Association, the North West of Ireland Football Association and the Fermanagh & Western Football Association.

Senior[edit]

The Northern Ireland Football League, which is the national league of Northern Ireland, has one senior division, the NIFL Premiership, which consists of twelve semi-professional clubs. Existing members of the Premiership must possess a domestic licence in order to retain membership. Clubs that wish to be promoted to the Premiership from intermediate football must attain a Championship Licence, and after one season must then gain a Domestic Licence to retain membership.

At national level there are two senior cup competitions: the Irish Cup and the Northern Ireland Football League Cup, although intermediate teams are entitled to enter both.

At regional level, three of the four regional FAs organise their own senior cup competition. The North East Ulster Football Association runs the County Antrim Shield; the Mid-Ulster Football Association organises the Mid-Ulster Cup and the North West of Ireland Football Association organises the North West Senior Cup.

Intermediate[edit]

The national league has two intermediate divisions: NIFL Championship 1 and NIFL Championship 2. One club is automatically promoted from the Championship to the Premiership at the end of each season, and one club is relegated to the Championship from the Premiership. In addition, there is a play-off between the Championship runners-up and the second-bottom-placed team in the Premiership. In the event, however, that the Championship winners do not possess a Championship Licence, there is no automatic promotion and, instead, there is a play-off between the runners-up and the bottom-placed Premiership team. In the event that neither the Championship winners nor the runners-up possess a Championship Licence, there is no promotion.

The NIFL Reserve League, which is also an intermediate league, comprises the reserve teams of the twelve senior NIFL Premiership clubs.

In 2010-11, a "pyramid" system was introduced, with the possibility of promotion and relegation between the Championship and the four regional intermediate leagues, namely:

Clubs in these leagues may only gain promotion to the Championship if they win their respective league championship and meet the necessary criteria. In the event that more than one league champion meets the criteria, only one will be promoted, to be decided by a play-off or series of play-offs.

At national level there is one intermediate cup competition: the Intermediate Cup. At regional level, three of the four regional FAs organise their own cup competitions. The North East Ulster Football Association runs the Steel & Sons Cup; the Mid-Ulster Football Association organises the Bob Radcliffe Cup; and the North West of Ireland Football Association organises the Craig Memorial Cup. The Fermanagh & Western Football Association organised the Fermanagh & Western Intermediate Cup for three seasons, but it is now defunct.

Junior[edit]

There are numerous junior leagues in Northern Ireland, including junior divisions of the Northern Amateur League and the Mid-Ulster League. The term "junior" is not related to the age of the players but the fact that the clubs are at amateur level.

There is one national junior cup competition: the Irish Junior Cup. At regional level, each of the four regional FAs organises its own cup competition. The North East Ulster Football Association runs the County Antrim Junior Shield; the Mid-Ulster Football Association organises the Mid-Ulster Shield, the North West of Ireland Football Association organises the North-West Junior Cup, and the Fermanagh & Western Football Association organises the Mulhern Cup.

The current system[edit]

For each division, its official name and number of clubs is given:

Level

League(s)/Division(s)

1

NIFL Premiership
12 clubs

2

NIFL Championship 1
14 clubs

3

NIFL Championship 2
15 clubs

4

Ballymena & Provincial League Premier Division

11 clubs

Mid-Ulster Football League Intermediate A

13 clubs

Northern Amateur League Premier Division

14 clubs

Northern Ireland Intermediate League

8 clubs

5

Mid-Ulster Football League Intermediate B

14 clubs

Northern Amateur League Division 1A

14 clubs

6

Northern Amateur League Division 1B

14 clubs

7

Northern Amateur League Division 1C

14 clubs

Previous systems[edit]

At national level, from 1890 until 1951 there was only one league the Irish Football League, which operated at senior level.

In 1951, the B Division was created at intermediate level.

In 1977, the B Division split into Section 1 and Section 2.

In 1995, the Irish Football League split into two senior divisions: the Premier Division and the First Division.

In 1999, the B Division Section 1 was renamed the Second Division and Section 2 was renamed the Reserve League.

In 2003, the Irish Premier League was created as the single senior league in Northern Ireland. The Irish Football League First Division reverted to intermediate status alongside the Second Division.

In 2004, the IFA Intermediate League (First and Second Divisions) replaced the Irish Football League.

In 2008, the IFA Premiership replaced the Irish Premier League, and the IFA Championship and IFA Interim Intermediate League replaced the IFA Intermediate League.

In 2009, the IFA Championship was expanded and divided into two divisions and the IFA Interim Intermediate League folded.

In 2010, a pyramid system was introduced, with the possibility of promotion and relegation between the Championship and the four regional intermediate leagues.

In 2013, the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) took control of the senior league and the two intermediate divisions below, as well as the Reserve League.

National league system since 1890[edit]

Years Senior Intermediate Reserves
1890–1951 Irish Football League none
1951–1977 Irish Football League B Division
1977–1995 Irish Football League B Division Section 1 Irish Football League B Division Section 2
1995–1999 Irish Football League Premier Division
Irish Football League First Division
1999–2003 Irish Football League Second Division Irish Football League Reserve League
2003–2004 Irish Premier League Irish Football League First Division
Irish Football League Second Division
IFA Reserve League
2004–2008 IFA Intermediate League First Division
IFA Intermediate League Second Division
2008–2009 IFA Premiership IFA Championship
IFA Interim Intermediate League
2009–2013 IFA Championship 1
IFA Championship 2
2013– NIFL Premiership NIFL Championship 1
NIFL Championship 2
NIFL Reserve League

† Senior clubs' reserve teams have intermediate status and compete against other intermediate teams in many competitions.

Women's system[edit]

The women's system currently has six steps. Each step has only one division. There is promotion and relegation between all levels. They are:[1]

References[edit]