Northern Ireland football league system
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
- Ballymena & Provincial League
- Mid-Ulster Football League
- Northern Amateur League
- Northern Ireland Intermediate League
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.
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
For each division, its official name and number of clubs is given:
|2||NIFL Championship 1
|3||NIFL Championship 2
|4||Ballymena & Provincial League Premier Division
|Mid-Ulster Football League Intermediate A
|Northern Amateur League Premier Division
|Northern Ireland Intermediate League
|5||Mid-Ulster Football League Intermediate B
|Northern Amateur League Division 1A
|6||Northern Amateur League Division 1B
|7||Northern Amateur League Division 1C
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 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
|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
|2013–2016||NIFL Premiership||NIFL Championship 1
NIFL Championship 2
|NIFL Reserve League|
|NIFL Premier Intermediate League|
† Senior clubs' reserve teams have intermediate status and compete against other intermediate teams in many competitions.
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: Women's Premier League
- 2: Women's Championship
- 3-6: Women's Division 1 to 4