Scottish football league system

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The Scottish football league system is a series of generally connected leagues for Scottish football clubs.

In senior football in Scotland there is one national league, the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), which has four divisions. There are also several regional leagues (most notably the Highland Football League and since 2013 the Lowland Football League). From 2014–15, a promotion/relegation play-off between the two regional leagues and the SPFL national league was introduced for the first time.[1]

The Scottish system is more complicated than many other national league systems, consisting of several completely separate systems or 'grades' of leagues and clubs. Outside of senior football is junior football, and also amateur football and welfare football.

Two clubs based in England play in the senior Scottish system - Berwick Rangers in the Lowland League and Tweedmouth Rangers in the East of Scotland League. A small number of English amateur clubs in the lowest levels of the game, based on or around the Anglo-Scottish border, also compete in Scottish leagues for geographical and travel reasons.

Men's system[edit]

Until 2013 Scottish football had no pyramid league system, and as a result it was impossible for clubs in regional leagues to progress into the national leagues, unless a vacancy opened in the Scottish Football League. The final example of this was ahead of the 2008–09 season, where Gretna's demise allowed Annan Athletic to take their place. Overall, the structure of men's football in Scotland was among the most fractured and multi-faceted in Europe, being unique in having a plurality of adult male governing bodies (with Seniors, Juniors, Amateurs and Welfarers - see below). It was not uncommon for a given town or county to have clubs in as many as three or four separate systems.

Moves towards creating a pyramid system began in 2008 under the tenure of Scottish Football Association (SFA) chief executive Gordon Smith, with discussions between the SFA and the regional and junior leagues.[2] On 7 May 2013 Scottish Premier League clubs unanimously agreed on the introduction of a pyramid structure to Scottish football along with the reintroduction of a single governing body for the 42 clubs competing at a national level, a revised financial distribution model, and the possibility of a promotion/relegation play-off between the top two divisions.[3]

Senior football[edit]

The current system has been in place since 2013–14, when the Scottish Professional Football League was formed by a merger of the Scottish Premier League (tier 1) and the Scottish Football League (tiers 2–4). At the same time, the Lowland Football League (tier 5) was founded, and a year later the leagues below (tier 6) began to be incorporated as each joined the system. For each division, its official name, number of clubs, number of games, and promotion/relegation spots are given:

*Subject to confirmation/approval for 2021–22

Level League(s) / Division(s)
Scottish Professional Football League
1

Scottish Premiership
12 clubs playing 38 games
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

2

Scottish Championship
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 3 promotion playoff spots
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

3

Scottish League One
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 3 promotion playoff spots
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

4

Scottish League Two
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 3 promotion playoff spots
↓ 1 relegation playoff spot

Non-League / Regional Leagues
5

Highland Football League
18 clubs playing 34 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation playoff spot

Lowland Football League
18 clubs playing 34 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation spot

6 Midlands League*

19 clubs playing 18 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

North Caledonian League*

12 clubs playing 22 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

North Super League*

14 clubs playing 26 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

East of Scotland Football League
Premier Division

18 clubs playing 34 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 4 relegation spots

South of Scotland Football League

14 clubs playing 26 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

West of Scotland Football League
Premier Division

20 clubs playing 38 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 7 relegation spots

7 North First Division*

9 clubs

East of Scotland Football League
First Division Conferences A & B

30 clubs (two conferences) playing 28 games
↑ 2 promotion spots

West of Scotland Football League
Conferences A, B & C

46 clubs (three conferences) playing 28/30 games
↑ 3 promotion spots

8 North Second Division*

8 clubs

East of Scotland Football League
Conference X

11 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 2 promotion spots

West of Scotland Football League
Division Four

8 clubs
(for new entrants in 2021–22)

The leagues below level four are classed as "non-league football", meaning they are outside the Scottish Professional Football League and are played on a regional not a national basis. The Lowland League is parallel to the Highland League. These divisions created level five on the pyramid and since season 2014–15, the two league winners have played off against each other, with the winner then playing the team finishing 10th in League Two in a promotion/relegation play-off.

Below the Lowland League is the East of Scotland Football League (59 clubs, including one reserve team, split into a 18-team Premier Division, First Division conferences, and Conference X for 11 new clubs; the South of Scotland Football League (14 clubs, including two reserve teams, in a single division); and the West of Scotland Football League (75 clubs, split into a 20-team Premier Division, three conferences at Tier 7 each containing 15 or 16 teams, and Division Four for 8 new clubs). An end of season promotion three match round robin play-off takes place between the champions of each league (subject to meeting licensing criteria) for a place in the Lowland League.

As of 2021–22 this totalled 287 teams across 18 divisions.

There remains one Senior league - the North Caledonian Football League - which has not yet been incorporated into the pyramid system. It is based in the north of Scotland, including a club from the island of Orkney, and currently contains 13 teams. They will play in divisions of 7 and 6 in 2020–21 - respectively 12 and 10 games - before forming a single division from 2021–2022. Discussions have taken place about adding the league to tier 6 below the Highland League.[4] In April 2021, it was announced that subject to SFA approval the North Caledonian League, would be joined at Tier 6 by the North Super League and a rebranded 'Midland League' (the remaining Junior East Region clubs that play in Tayside) to form a fully-integrated Tier 6 below the Highland League from 2021–2022.[5]

Cup competitions[edit]

All clubs in tier 5 and above automatically enter the Scottish Cup, along with clubs in other divisions who are full members of the Scottish Football Association. Up to three non-SFA members can qualify for the Scottish Cup each season by winning the East or South leagues, or the East & South Cup-Winners Shield. All 42 SPFL clubs compete in the Scottish League Cup, along with the Highland and Lowland champions, and one of the runners-up. The Scottish Challenge Cup features 30 SPFL clubs from outside the Premiership, Under 21s teams, and four from the Highland and Lowland leagues.

The SFA South Region Challenge Cup is for all non-league clubs in the Lowland area, a total of 152 (excluding reserve teams). There are also a variety of smaller cup tournaments at league and regional level.

Junior football[edit]

Also outside of the national structure, overseen by the Scottish Junior Football Association, are the two junior regions: the SJFA East Region of 17 clubs; and the SJFA North Region of 33 clubs (3 clubs withdrew for 2020–21) - split into four separate districts. This represents a total of 47 teams across 5 divisions. The term 'junior' refers not to the age of the players but the level of football played.[6][7][8]

These clubs operate separately from the Scottish Football Association, except Banks O' Dee who became a full SFA member in 2013. Junior clubs participate in a number of their own regional cup competitions, as well as the Scottish Junior Cup. Up to three non-SFA members can qualify for the Scottish Cup each season by winning one of the two Regions or the Junior Cup. Banks O' Dee also enter Senior tournaments the Aberdeenshire Cup and Shield, and run an Under-20s team in the Senior development structure (the Aberdeenshire & District League).

In 2020, as part of a long process to form an integrated footballing pyramid structure, all 63 West Region Junior clubs decided to depart and join the newly founded West of Scotland Football League, a feeder to the Lowland League. Since 2017 more than half of the East Region clubs have departed the Junior ranks, joining the senior East of Scotland Football League which is also below the Lowland League, the remaining clubs in the East Premiership South joined the East of Scotland Football League for season 2021–22. Discussions are ongoing for clubs in the East Premiership North to form a "Midland League" at Tier 6, and also for the North Region to also join the pyramid structure at the same level.[9]

Leagues
East Region (ERJFA) North Region (NRJFA)
East Premiership North

(McBookie.com East Premiership North)
17 clubs playing 16 games

West

(McBookie.com NRJFA West)
8 clubs playing 14 games

Banff and Buchan

(McBookie.com NRJFA Banff and Buchan)
8 clubs playing 14 games

Aberdeen North

(McBookie.com NRJFA Aberdeen North)
7 clubs playing 12 games

Aberdeen South

(McBookie.com NRJFA Aberdeen South)
7 clubs playing 12 games

Amateur football[edit]

Again separate from the above, and generally agreed to lie 'below' the senior and junior levels, are the hundreds of clubs in membership of the Scottish Amateur Football Association which oversees 50 different leagues[10][11][12] - although this includes a number of Sunday League football and futsal competitions. Prestige centres around the historic Scottish Amateur Cup. A number of Senior and Junior clubs run reserve teams in Amateur football.

As of 2020–21 there are 400 teams – in 13 geographic leagues containing a total of 35 league divisions – playing Saturday football under a regular August–May season. In addition there are 141 teams playing in four specialist Saturday Morning leagues (including one for Colleges) in Dundee and Glasgow, plus 28 teams playing in Churches leagues.

There are also 110 teams playing in the Summer Saturday leagues, most of which are located in the Highland; 227 teams are in the Sunday League system.

Student and Police football is also affiliated to the SAFA.


Saturday Leagues (Winter)[edit]

Leagues Divisions
Aberdeenshire Amateur Football Association

66 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

2 Division One (North)

14 clubs

Division One (East)

14 clubs

3 Division Two (North)

11 clubs

Division Two (East)

11 clubs

Ayrshire Amateur Football Association

42 clubs

1 Premier League

12 clubs
↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Division 1

12 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots, ↓ 2 relegation spots

3 Division 2A

9 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Division 2B

9 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Border Amateur Football League

32 clubs

1 A League

10 clubs

2 B League

10 clubs

3 C League

12 clubs

Caledonian Amateur Football League

27 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs
↓ 3 relegation spots

2 First Division

13 clubs

↑ 3 promotion spots

Central Scottish Amateur Football League

28 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

2 Championship

14 clubs

Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur Football League

43 clubs

1 Division 1

11 clubs

2 Division 2

10 clubs

3 Division 3A

10 clubs

Division 3B

12 clubs

Kingdom of Fife Amateur Football Association

32 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Championship

14 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots, ↓ 2 relegation spots

3 Division 1

15 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Lothian & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association (Saturday)

30 clubs

1 Premier Division

11 clubs

2 Championship

12 clubs

3 Division 1

13 clubs

4 Division 2

14 clubs

Midlands Amateur Football Association

30 clubs

1 Premier Division

15 clubs

Perthshire Amateur Football Association

22 clubs

1 Division One

11 clubs

2 Division Two

11 clubs

Scottish Amateur Football League

27 clubs

1 Premier

9 clubs

2 Premier 1

10 clubs

3 Premier 2

8 clubs

Stirling & District Amateur Football Association

21 clubs

1 Premier Division

11 clubs

2 First Division

10 clubs

Dundee Saturday Morning Amateur Football League

38 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

2 1st Division

12 clubs

3 2nd Division

14 clubs

Glasgow & District Saturday Morning Amateur Football League

32 clubs

1 Premier Division

16 clubs

2 Division 1

16 clubs

Glasgow Colleges Amateur Football Association

31 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Division One (a)

9 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Division One (b)

10 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Strathclyde Saturday Morning Amateur Football League

40 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

2 Championship A

9 clubs

Championship B

8 clubs

Championship C

9 clubs

Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League

28 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

2 Division 1

14 clubs

Saturday Leagues (Summer)[edit]

Leagues Divisions
Isle of Arran Amateur Football Association

5 clubs

1 5 clubs
Caithness Amateur Football Association

15 clubs

1 Division 1

8 clubs
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

2 Division 2

7 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot

Inverness & District Amateur Football Association

28 clubs

1 Premier Division

9 clubs

2 Division One

9 clubs

3 Division Two

10 clubs

Lewis & Harris Amateur League

9 clubs

1 9 clubs
North West Sutherland Amateur Football Association

13 clubs

1 Division 1

6 clubs

2 Division 2

7 clubs

Orkney Amateur Football Association

12 clubs

1 A League

8 clubs

2 B League

4 clubs

Shetland Amateur Football Association

8 clubs

1 Premier League

8 clubs

Shetland Works Amateur Football League

6 clubs

1 6 clubs
Skye & Lochalsh Amateur Football Association

8 clubs

1 8 clubs
Uist & Barra Amateur Football Association

6 clubs

1 6 clubs

Sunday Leagues[edit]

Leagues Divisions
Aberdeen Sunday Football Association

14 clubs

1 14 clubs
Airdrie & Coatbridge Sunday Amateur Football League

31 clubs

1 Premier Division

15 clubs

2 Championship

16 clubs

Ayrshire Sunday Amateur Football Association

13 clubs

1 Division 1

13 clubs

Dumfries Sunday Amateur Football League

12 clubs

1 12 clubs
Fife Sunday Amateur Football League

17 clubs

1 East League

9 clubs

West League

8 clubs

Glasgow & District Sunday Championship Amateur Football League

36 clubs

1 Premiership

12 clubs

2 Championship

12 clubs

3 Division 1

12 clubs

Lothians & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association (Sunday)

56 clubs

1 Sunday Morning Division 1

10 clubs

Premier Division

11 clubs

2 Sunday Morning Division 2

11 clubs

Division 1

12 clubs

3 Division 2

12 clubs

Sunday Central Amateur Football League

48 clubs

1 Division A

12 clubs

Division B

12 clubs

Division C

12 clubs

Division D

12 clubs

top 3 of each Division form Premiership, 4-6 form Champipnship, then Division 1 and 2.


Welfare football[edit]

Roughly concurrent with the Scottish Amateur Football Association is the Scottish Welfare Football Association, which has a very low profile nationally. The SWFA was established in the aftermath of World War I, and oversees leagues mainly operating Sunday and summer or midweek football, predominantly in the north of Scotland.

As of 2020–21 or 2021 there are 82 teams in 9 geographic leagues. From a peak of over 500 clubs, there were 158 teams in membership in November 2012,[13] down from 238 teams in 2007.[14]

Leagues Divisions
Forres and Nairn District Welfare Association League

6 clubs

1 West Conference

6 clubs

East Conference

6 clubs

Forth & Endrick Football League

9 clubs

1 9 clubs
Greenock & District Welfare League

13 clubs

1 13 clubs
Mid-Deeside Summer Football League

5 clubs

1 5 clubs
Lewis & Harris Community Football League

4 clubs

1 4 clubs
Montrose and District Welfare League

10 clubs

1 10 clubs
Moray & District Welfare Football League

11 clubs

1 11 clubs
North East Scotland Welfare Football League

20 clubs

1 League 1

9 clubs

2 League 2

11 clubs

Strathspey & Badenoch Welfare Football League

4 clubs

1 4 clubs

Reserve and Youth football[edit]

The reserve and youth leagues are mostly governed by the relevant adult leagues.

Leagues Divisions
SPFL Reserve League

19 clubs

Reserve 1 Reserve League

10 clubs

↓ no relegation spot

2 Reserve League 2

9 clubs

↑ no promotion spot

SFA CAS Elite League

19 clubs

Youth

(U13-18)

1 U13 U14 U15 U16 U18
19 clubs
SFA Advanced Youth U18 League

6 clubs

Youth

(U18)

1 6 clubs
Aberdeenshire and District League

12 clubs

Youth

(U21)

1 12 clubs
North of Scotland FA U20 League

6 clubs

Youth

(U20)

1 6 clubs
Highland League U17 League

21 clubs

Youth

(U17)

1 East

9 clubs

North

12 clubs

Lowlands Development League

68 clubs

Youth

(U20)

1 Conference A

14 clubs

Conference B

14 clubs

Conference C

15 clubs

Conference D

16 clubs

Conference E

14 clubs

Conference F

15 clubs

Midlands Amateur Football Association Alliance Championship

9 clubs

Reserve 1 9 clubs
Strathclyde Saturday Morning Amateur Football League Development Section

8 clubs

Youth 1 8 clubs
Orkney Amateur Football Association Reserve League

8 clubs

Reserve 1 8 clubs
Shetland Amateur Football Association Reserve League

8 clubs

Reserve 1 8 clubs

Women's system[edit]

The four levels of women's football in Scotland are structured as follows:

Level League(s)/Division(s)
1

Scottish Women's Premier League
(Scottish Building Society)
8 clubs playing 21 games

2

Scottish Women's Premier League 2
(Scottish Building Society)
10 clubs playing 27 games - 2 promotions, 1 relegation playoff

3

Scottish Women's Football Championship – North
12 clubs playing 22 games - 1 promotion + 1 promotion playoff

Scottish Women's Football Championship – South
14 clubs playing 26 games - 1 promotion + 1 promotion playoff

4 SWFL Central/South East

9 clubs playing 16 games

SWFL West/South West

9 clubs playing 16 games

SWFL North/East

10 clubs playing 18 games

Highlands and Islands

9 clubs playing 16 games

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Rules of the SPFL" (PDF). Scottish Professional Football League. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  2. ^ "Smith wants pyramid system". sportinglife.com. 2008-06-04. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  3. ^ "SPL clubs agree league reform package for next season". BBC Sport. 2013-05-07. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
  4. ^ Durent, Jamie (2020-05-10). "Inverurie Locos boss Andy Low would welcome system which saw tier six below Highland League". Evening Express. Retrieved 2020-05-21.
  5. ^ Law, Danny. "Relegation play-offs look set to be introduced to the Highland League from next season". Press and Journal. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  6. ^ The dutiful game: Welcome to the world of junior football in Scotland, The Scotsman, 23 May 2010
  7. ^ The Rise of the Juniors, Craig Anderson, In Bed With Maradona, 2 November 2010
  8. ^ Why Junior football should never grow up, Scott Fleming, Nutmeg Magazine, 1 December 2016
  9. ^ Durent, Jamie. "Talk of north junior football clubs being ready for Highland League promotion plan 'premature'". Press and Journal. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  10. ^ "SAFA Winter Saturday".
  11. ^ "SAFA Winter Sunday".
  12. ^ "SAFA Summer/Highlands".
  13. ^ "Scottish Welfare FA Club Directory". 2012-11-12.
  14. ^ "Scottish Amateur League - An Ongoing Resume".