Scottish football league system

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

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

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]

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 Border Amateur Football League 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:

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 Football League

19 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

North Caledonian League

11 clubs playing 20 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

North Superleague

14 clubs playing 26 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 2 relegation spots

East of Scotland Football League
Premier Division

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

South of Scotland Football League

13 clubs playing 24 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

8 clubs playing 28 games
↑ 2 promotion spots
↓ 1 relegation spot

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

9 clubs playing 24 games
↑ 2 promotion spots

East of Scotland Football League
Conference X

11 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 2 promotion spots

West of Scotland Football League
Division Four

8 clubs playing 28 games
(for new entrants in 2021–22)

  leagues run by regions of the Scottish Junior Football Association

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 (13 clubs, including two reserve teams, in a single division); and the West of Scotland Football League (74 clubs, split into a 20-team Premier Division, three conferences at Tier 7, 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.

The North Caledonian Football League is based in the north of Scotland, including a club from the island of Orkney, and currently contains 11 teams. In April 2021, it was announced that the North Caledonian League, would be joined at Tier 6 by the North Superleague and a rebranded 'Midlands League' (the remaining SJFA East Region clubs that play in Tayside) to form a fully-integrated Tier 6 below the Highland League from 2021 to 2022.[4][needs update]

As of 2021–22 this totalled 285 teams across 18 divisions.

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, South or West leagues, or the East, South and West 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 161 (excluding reserve teams). The SFA North Region Challenge Cup existed between 2007 and 2009. There are also a variety of smaller cup tournaments at league and regional level.

Junior football[edit]

The Scottish Junior Football Association (SJFA) manages two regions: the SJFA East Region of 19 clubs; and the SJFA North Region of 33 clubs (2 clubs withdrew for 2021–22). This represents a total of 52 teams across 4 divisions. The term 'junior' refers not to the age of the players but the level of football played.[5][6][7] These two regions joined the pyramid system at tier 6 below the Highland League in 2021–22.[citation needed]

Members of the SJFA, consisting of 114 teams in total from the two regions as well as the East of Scotland League and West of Scotland League (3 teams are in abeyance for 2021–22), participate in the Scottish Junior Cup. Up to three non-SFA members can qualify for the Scottish Cup each season by winning the Midlands League, North Superleague, or the Junior Cup. Banks O' Dee also enter senior tournaments in 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, and the East Premiership North clubs formed the Midlands League at Tier 6 below the Highland League. The North Region also joined the pyramid structure at the same level.[8][needs update]

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 leagues[9][10][11] - although this includes 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. Student and Police football is also affiliated to the SAFA.

As of 2021–22 there are 396 teams – in 12 geographic leagues containing a total of 35 league divisions – playing Saturday football under a regular August–May season. In addition there are 139 teams playing in four specialist Saturday Morning leagues (including one for Glasgow Colleges Amateur Football Association) in Dundee and Glasgow, plus 27 teams playing in Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League. There are also 97 teams playing in the Summer Saturday leagues (season 2021), most of which are located in the Highland; 257 teams are in the Sunday League system.

Saturday Leagues (Winter)[edit]

Leagues Divisions
Aberdeenshire Amateur Football Association

62 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Division One (North)

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

Division One (East)

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division Two (North)

10 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Division Two (East)

10 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Ayrshire Amateur Football Association

41 clubs

1 Premier League

9 clubs
↓ 1 relegation spot

2 Division 1

10 clubs

↑ 3 promotion spots

↓ 1 relegation spot

3 Division 2A

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Division 2B

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Border Amateur Football League

31 clubs

1 A League

10 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 B League

11 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 C League

10 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

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 relegation spots

2 Championship

14 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur Football League

40 clubs

1 Division 1

11 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots + 1 relegation playoff spot

2 Division 2

10 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots + 1 promotion playoff spot

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division 3A

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Division 3B

10 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Kingdom of Fife Amateur Football Association

43 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Championship

14 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

↓ 2 relegation spots

3 League Division One

15 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Lothian & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association (Saturday)

49 clubs

1 Premier Division

11 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

2 Championship

12 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots + 1 promotion playoff spot

↓ 4 relegation spots

3 Division 1 (For 2022-23 season, the 2 regions will be merged)
West

13 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

↓ 5 relegation spots (to new Division 2)

East

13 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

↓ 5 relegation spots (to new Division 2)

Midlands Amateur Football Association

14 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

Perthshire Amateur Football Association

22 clubs

1 Division One

11 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Division Two

11 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Scottish Amateur Football League

21 clubs

1 Premier

10 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Division 1 Championship

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Stirling & District Amateur Football Association

18 clubs

1 Premier Division

9 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 First Division

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Dundee Saturday Morning Amateur Football League

39 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 1st Division

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

TBC relegation spots

3 2nd Division

15 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Glasgow & District Saturday Morning Amateur Football League

30 clubs

1 Premier Division

16 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 1st Division

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

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

39 clubs

1 Premier Division

13 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Championship A

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Championship B

8 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Championship C

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League

27 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 Division 1

13 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Saturday Leagues (Summer)[edit]

Leagues Divisions
Caithness Amateur Football Association

14 clubs

1 14 clubs
Inverness & District Amateur Football Association

28 clubs

1 Premier Division

9 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 1st Division

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 2nd Division

10 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Lewis & Harris Amateur League

9 clubs

1 9 clubs
North West Sutherland Amateur Football Association

12 clubs

1 12 clubs
Orkney Amateur Football Association

12 clubs

1 A League

8 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 B League

4 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Shetland Amateur Football Association

8 clubs

1 Premier League

8 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

16 clubs

1 16 clubs
Airdrie & Coatbridge Sunday Amateur Football League

30 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Championship

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division 1

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Ayrshire Sunday Amateur Football Association

12 clubs

1 Division 1

12 clubs

Dumfries Sunday Amateur Football League

14 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

Fife Sunday Amateur Football League

18 clubs

1 Premier Division

8 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 Championship

10 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Glasgow & District Sunday Championship Amateur Football League

44 clubs

1 Premiership

10 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Championship

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division 1

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

4 Division 2

10 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Lothians & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association (Sunday)

59 clubs

Mornings Afternoons
1 Premier Division

10 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

Premier Division

9 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Championship

10 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots, ↓ 2 relegation spots

Division 1

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

3 Division 1 (West)

10 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots + 1 promotion playoff spot

Division 1 (East)

9 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots + 1 promotion playoff spot

Sunday Central Amateur Football League

64 clubs

1 Division A

14 clubs

Division B

12 clubs

Division C

12 clubs

Division D

12 clubs

Lanarkshire Division

14 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 2021 or 2021–22 there are 84 teams in 8 geographic leagues. From a peak of over 500 clubs, there were 158 teams in membership in November 2012,[12] down from 238 teams in 2007.[13]

Leagues Divisions
Summer
Forres and Nairn District Welfare Association League

11 clubs

1 11 clubs
Forth & Endrick Football League

10 clubs

1 Division 1

10 clubs

Deeside Welfare Football Association

5 clubs

1 Mid-Deeside Summer League

5 clubs

Moray & District Welfare Football Association

10 clubs

1 Abbeyside League

10 clubs

North East Scotland Welfare Football Association

20 clubs

1 League 1

10 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 League 2

10 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Strathspey & Badenoch Welfare Football Association

4 clubs

1 4 clubs
Winter
Greenock & District Welfare League

15 clubs

1 15 clubs
Montrose and District Welfare League

9 clubs

1 9 clubs

Reserve and Youth football[edit]

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

Leagues Divisions
SFA Club Academy Scotland Elite League

9 clubs (CAS Elite Level)

Youth

(U13-18)

1 U13 U14 U15 U16 U18
9 clubs
SFA Club Academy Scotland Performance League

10 clubs (CAS Performance Level)

Youth

(U13-18)

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

6 clubs (Advanced Youth Programme)

Youth

(U16-18)

1 U16 U18
6 clubs
Aberdeenshire and District League

11 clubs (Aberdeenshire and District FA)

Youth

(U21)

1 11 clubs
North of Scotland FA U20 League

5 clubs

Youth

(U20)

1 5 clubs
Highland League U18

16 clubs

Youth

(U18)

1 East

5 clubs

North

11 clubs

Lowlands Development League

85 clubs

Youth

(U20)

1 Conference A

15 clubs (SPFL, Lowland league, WoS League)

Conference B

14 clubs (EoS League)

Conference C

14 clubs (EoS League)

Conference D

14 clubs (WoS League, SoS League)

Conference E

14 clubs (WoS League)

Conference F

14 clubs (WoS League)

Strathclyde Saturday Morning Amateur Football League Development Section

8 clubs

Youth 1 8 clubs
Midlands Amateur Football Association Alliance League

12 clubs

Reserve 1 12 clubs
Orkney Amateur Football Association Reserve League

8 clubs

Reserve 1 8 clubs
Shetland Amateur Football Association Reserve League

12 clubs

Reserve 1 12 clubs

Women's system[edit]

Senior football[edit]

Senior leagues of women's football in Scotland are structured as follows:

Level League(s)/Division(s)
National Leagues
1

Scottish Women's Premier League 1
10 clubs playing 27 games
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

2

Scottish Women's Premier League 2
7 clubs playing 18 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot

3 Scottish Women's Championship

Championship North
10 clubs playing 27 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 4/5 relegation spots (to new League One)

Championship South
17 clubs playing 23/24 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 10/11 relegation spots (to new League One)

Regional Leagues
Scottish Women's League Scottish Women's Highland and Island League

9 clubs playing 8 games

SWFL Central/South East

11 clubs playing 20 games

SWFL West/South West

12 clubs playing 22 games

SWFL North/East

9 clubs playing 27 games

Youth football[edit]

Scottish Women's Football National Performance League
U19 U16
West East 8 clubs
8 clubs 8 clubs
Scottish Women's Football Youth Regional League
U17 U15 U13
Central Cross Region

Emma Mitchell League 8 clubs

Jen Beattie League 9 clubs

Fiona Brown League 7 clubs

Lee Alexander League 8 clubs

Fiona Brown League 8 clubs

Martha Thomas League 8 clubs

Nicola Docherty League 7 clubs

Sam Kerr League 9 clubs

West Chloe Arthur League 6 clubs

Leanne Crichton League 8 clubs

Chloe Arthur League 10 clubs

Jane Ross League 7 clubs

Jen Beattie League 9 clubs

South East South

Jenna Fife League 6 clubs

Kirsty Smith League 6 clubs

Frankie Brown League 8 clubs

Joelle Murray League 9 clubs

Lizzie Arnot League 9 clubs

Hayley Lauder League (9-a-side) 6 clubs

Jenna Fife League (9-a-side) 7 clubs

Frankie Brown League 8 clubs

Joelle Murray League 7 clubs

Lizzie Arnot League 8 clubs

South West Christie Murray League 7 clubs

Jo Love League 7 clubs

Christie Murray League 9 clubs

Erin Cuthbert League 9 clubs

Lee Alexander League 9 clubs

East Kirsty Smith League 9 clubs Caroline Weir League 7 clubs

Abbi Grant League (9-a-side) 11 clubs

Lisa Evans League 8 clubs

Lucy Graham League 6 clubs

Caroline Weir League 7 clubs

Lana Clelland League 7 clubs

North Kim Little League 10 clubs Claire Emslie League 13 clubs

Rachel McLauchlan League 4 clubs

Claire Emslie League 12 clubs

Kim Little League 14 clubs

Rachel McLauchlan League 4 clubs

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. ^ Law, Danny. "Relegation play-offs look set to be introduced to the Highland League from next season". Press and Journal. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  5. ^ The dutiful game: Welcome to the world of junior football in Scotland, The Scotsman, 23 May 2010
  6. ^ The Rise of the Juniors, Craig Anderson, In Bed With Maradona, 2 November 2010
  7. ^ Why Junior football should never grow up, Scott Fleming, Nutmeg Magazine, 1 December 2016
  8. ^ Durent, Jamie. "Talk of north junior football clubs being ready for Highland League promotion plan 'premature'". Press and Journal. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  9. ^ "SAFA Winter Saturday".
  10. ^ "SAFA Winter Sunday".
  11. ^ "SAFA Summer/Highlands".
  12. ^ "Scottish Welfare FA Club Directory". 2012-11-12.
  13. ^ "Scottish Amateur League - An Ongoing Resume".