National League (division)
|Other club(s) from||Wales|
(as Alliance Premier League)
|Number of teams||24|
|Level on pyramid||5
Step 1 (National League System)
|Promotion to||League Two|
|Relegation to||National League North
National League South
|Domestic cup(s)||FA Cup
|TV partners||BT Sport
|2015–16 National League|
The National League, formerly Conference Premier (currently named the Vanarama National League for sponsorship reasons), is the top division of the National League in England. It is the highest level of the National League System and fifth-highest of the overall English football league system. While all of the clubs in the top four tiers of English football are full-time professional, the Conference Premier has a mixture of full-time and semi-professional clubs. The National League is the lowest nationwide division in the English football pyramid. Beginning with the 2015–16 season, the league was renamed as the National League.
The league was formed as the Alliance Premier League in 1979, coming into force for the 1979–80 season. It was the first attempt to create a fully national league underneath the Football League, drawing its clubs from the Northern Premier League and the Southern League. It greatly improved the quality of football at this lower level, as well as improving the financial status of the top clubs. This was reflected in 1986–87, when the Football League began accepting direct promotion and relegation between the Conference (which the league had been renamed by then) and the bottom division of the Football League which at that time was known as the Football League Fourth Division and is now Football League Two. The first team to be promoted by this method was Scarborough and the first team relegated was Lincoln City, who regained their Football League status a year later as Conference champions.
Since 2002–03, the league has been granted a second promotion place, with a play-off deciding who joins the champions in the Football League. Previously, no promotion from the Conference would occur if the winners did not have adequate stadium facilities. As of the start of the 2002–03 season, if a club achieves the automatic promotion or the play-off places but does not have an adequate stadium, their place will be re-allocated to the next highest placed club that has the required facilities. In 2004–05, the Conference increased its size by adding two lower divisions, the Conference North and Conference South respectively, with the original division being renamed Conference National. For the 2006–07 season, the Conference National expanded from 22 to 24 teams by promoting four teams while relegating two teams and introduced a "four up and four down" system between itself and the Conference North and Conference South.
The league's first sponsors were Gola, who sponsored it during the 1984–85 and 1985–86 seasons. When Gola's sponsorship ceased, carmaker Vauxhall Motors — the British subsidiary of American combine General Motors — took over and sponsored the league until the end of the 1997–98 season. The 1998–99 Conference campaign began without sponsors for the Conference, but just before the end of the season a sponsorship was agreed with Nationwide Building Society. This lasted until the end of the 2006–07 season, after which Blue Square took over. This would also prompt their renaming leagues with the Conference National becoming the Blue Square Premier, the Conference North becoming Blue Square North and the Conference South becoming Blue Square South. In April 2010, Blue Square announced a further three-year sponsorship deal. From the start of the 2010–11 season the divisions were renamed, with the addition of the word "Bet" after "Blue Square".
In July 2013 the Conference agreed a sponsorship deal with online payment firm Skrill. This lasted for only one year and the following July the Conference announced a brand-new three-year deal with Vanarama. The three divisions are now known as the Vanarama National League, Vanarama League North and Vanarama League South.
In August 2006 Setanta Sports signed a five-year deal with the Conference. Under the deal, Setanta Sports started showing live matches in the 2007–08 season, with 79 live matches each season. Included in the deal were the annual Play Off matches as well as the Conference League Cup, a cup competition for the three Football Conference divisions. Setanta showed two live matches a week, with one on Thursday evening and one at the weekend. In Australia the Conference National was broadcast by Setanta Sports Australia. Setanta Sports suffered financial problems and ceased broadcasting in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2009. Sky Sports broadcast the Conference Play-off final 2010 at Wembley Stadium.
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. The thirty matches selected for broadcast will include all five Conference Premier play-offs. 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. In July 2013, BT Sport announced a two-year deal to broadcast 30 live games per season including all 5 playoff matches. The National League announced it has a renewed three-year deal with BT Sport, and in addition, it launched its own channel called NLTV that will focus on all 68 member clubs across the three divisions.
|Club||Finishing position last season|
|Barrow||1st (promoted from Conference North)|
|Boreham Wood||2nd (promoted via Conference South Play-Offs)|
|Bromley||1st (promoted from Conference South)|
|Cheltenham Town||23rd (relegated from League Two)|
|FC Halifax Town||9th|
|Forest Green Rovers||5th|
|Guiseley||5th (promoted via Conference North Play-Offs)|
|Tranmere Rovers||24th (relegated from League Two)|
Numbers in parentheses indicate wins up to that date.
- ^1 No promotion to the Football League until 1987.
- ^2 No promotion to the Football League due to club's stadium not being adequate for the Football League.
- ^3 Boston United were allowed to retain their championship title and subsequent promotion to the Football League despite having been found guilty of serious financial misconduct during their title winning season. Following their later relegation back from the Football League at the end of the 2006–07 season, due to ongoing financial concerns and irregularities at the club, Boston were relegated a further division and placed in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League.
|Aldershot Town||EBB Stadium||7,100|
|Barrow||Furness Building Society Stadium||4,414|
|Boreham Wood||Meadow Park||4,502|
|Braintree Town||Cressing Road||4,145|
|Cheltenham Town||World of Smile Stadium||7,266|
|Dover Athletic||Crabble Athletic Ground||6,500|
|Forest Green Rovers||The New Lawn||5,147|
|Gateshead||Gateshead International Stadium||10,000|
|Grimsby Town||Blundell Park||9,546|
|FC Halifax Town||The Shay||14,061|
|Lincoln City||Sincil Bank||10,120|
|Macclesfield Town||Moss Rose||6,355|
|Tranmere Rovers||Prenton Park||16,567|
|Welling United||Park View Road||4,000|
- Most wins in a season: 31 4 — Aldershot Town (2007–08), Crawley Town, (2010–11), Fleetwood Town (2011–12)
- Most consecutive wins: 12 — Burton Albion (2008–09), Mansfield Town (2012–13)
- Fewest defeats in a season: 3 — Yeovil Town (2002–03), Crawley Town (2010–11)
- Most goals scored in a season: 103 — Barnet (1990–91), Hereford United (2003–04)
- Fewest goals conceded in a season: 24 — Kettering Town (1993–94) / Stevenage Borough (2009–10)
- Most points in a season: 105 4 — Crawley Town (2010–11)
- Fewest points in a season: 10 — Hyde (2013–14)
- Largest points gap between champions and 2nd place: 19 — Luton Town (2013–14) (101 points) over Cambridge United (82 points)
- Highest goal difference: 67 — Luton Town (2013–14)
- Biggest win: 9–0 — Runcorn beat Enfield (3 March 1990), Sutton United beat Gateshead (22 September 1990), Hereford United beat Dagenham & Redbridge (27 February 2004), Rushden & Diamonds beat Weymouth (21 February 2009)
- Record attendance (play-offs): 47,029 Bristol Rovers vs Grimsby Town at Wembley Stadium (Play-off final, 17 May 2015)
- Record attendance (league game): 11,085 Bristol Rovers vs Alfreton at The Memorial Stadium (Bristol) Sat 25th Apr 2015
- ^4 Stevenage Borough would have achieved 32 wins and amassed 105 points in the 2009–10 season, but 2 wins (and therefore the six points from those games) against Chester City were expunged, after Chester were expelled from the league before the season ended. This left Stevenage on 30 wins and 99 points from 44 games.
- "Vanarama announced as new Football Conference sponsor". Non-League Bets. 30 July 2014.
- "Football Conference to be renamed as National League", BBC Sport, 6 April 2015
- "Conference announces new sponsors". BBC News. 11 April 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
- Skrill is the new title sponsor for the Football Conference Leagues
- Banham, Mark (29 August 2006). "Setanta signs five-year deal for Conference games". Benchmark Capital. Archived from the original on 21 September 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
- "Conference Signs TV Deal". Benchmark Capital. 29 August 2006. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
- Setanta goes off air in Great Britain Digital Spy, 23 June 2009
- "Premier Sports Secure Conference TV Rights". Vital Football. 19 August 2010.
- "Football Conference Signs Unique TV Deal". Blue Square Bet Premier. 20 August 2010.
- "BT Sport will show live football conference matches". BT. 3 July 2013.
- "Bristol Rovers 1–1 Grimsby". 17 May 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2015.