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English Football's Pyramids, Promotion & Relegation, How Deep Does It Go?

Nigel is a football (soccer) fan since his childhood days. He also plays football as a left-back and is a long time fan of Liverpool FC.

The United Kingdom League System

The Football League system in the UK

The Football League system in the UK

Football Pyramid as it is called, is a series of interconnected leagues for Football Clubs in England, Wales, Guernsey, Jersey and Isle Of Man. The Pyramid (also known as a System) has a hierarchical format where the best performing teams (Divisions 2-10) go through a promotion to a higher level league and the worst performing teams face relegation to a lower level league (All Divisions), based on results over the course of a season.

With this system, even the smallest clubs in the country, can theoretically rise to the very top league in the system. As of 2021, there are a total of 140 Individual Leagues which contains more than 480 divisions. However, in the current system, we will be looking at the top 10 levels of the league system.

A Short History Lesson

The 12 founding members of the Football League.

The 12 founding members of the Football League.

England is undoubtedly the home of the world's first Football League system, naming it, "The Football League", which was created in the year 1888, by then Aston Villa Club director, William McGregor which supported professionalism and reform to the English Football Clubs at that time.

There were twelve (12) teams who are founding members of the league, which were divided into 2 regions of teams, the Lancashire region, Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Bolton Wanderers, Everton and Preston North End, and the Midlands region, Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolves.

The Premier League (First Division)

The Premier League Logo

The Premier League Logo

As of today, the English Premier League is still the highest league in the English Football League System. But it was only known as the Premier League since 1992, which was the inaugural season with 22 Clubs in the League, up until the 1995-1996 season, which sees the 20 teams structure instead.

Basically from the start of the Premier League, only 3 of the bottom teams (teams placed 22,21 & 20 before 1995 and 20,19 & 18 after 1995) faced relegation to the Second Division. The thing that distinguishes this league with others, is that, there is no promotion to another league (for obvious reasons), instead, the top 4 teams in the league, will gain automatic qualification to the UEFA Champions League, while the teams placed 5th and 6th will play in the UEFA Europa League and as of 2021, the 7th placed team will play in the UEFA Europa Conference League.

The participants of the Premier League automatically participates in cup games such as, League Cup (3rd round onward) and the FA Cup (3rd round onward). The former being a Cup Tournament for teams in Division 1-4 and the latter being a Cup Tournament for teams throughout the United Kingdom.

The Championship (Second Division)

The EFL Championship logo

The EFL Championship logo

Why is it named "The Championship" you may ask? That's because, the Premier League and the Football League are two different entities. The Football League is fully run by the England Football Association, also known as the FA, which owns League 1 & League 2, which we will cover later. The top 4 levels of the United Kingdom are considered League football and anyone below level 4 is considered, non-league, which we will cover again later.

In The Championship, the top 2 teams are automatically promoted to the Premier League while the teams placed 3rd,4th,5th and 6th, will play a short tournament, where the 4 teams will go against each other and the winner will be promoted to the Premier League, this is called a "Play-Off".

While at the other end of the league table, the four worst performing teams, placed 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th in the league, will be relegated (demoted) to the League 1, also known as the Third Level of the Football League System.

League 1 & League 2 (Third & Fourth Division)

League 1 and League 2 logo

League 1 and League 2 logo

Both of these leagues have similar systems, therefore, i will be combining them for better understanding. League 1 & League 2 are the Third and Fourth division in the Football League system.

Both Leagues have Four promotion spots, the top 3 in both leagues, will be promoted and in both leagues, teams that finish in 4th,5th,6th and 7th will have a play-off and the winner of the play-off will be the fourth team promoted.

There's a little difference in the relegation in both Leagues, in League 1, the bottom 4 teams placed 21st, 22nd 23rd and 24th, are relegated to League 2, while in League 2, only 2 teams, placed 23rd and 24th get relegated to the 5th division.

Before we proceed, check out a video from COPA 90 on Non-League Football

National League (Fifth Division)

England's 5th Division, the National League.

England's 5th Division, the National League.

We're halfway there! Now, the bottom two teams of League two, will be relegated to non-league football where things start to get special. Non-league football is a mixture of both Professional Clubs and Semi-Professional clubs. It's also the lowest league division organized nationwide.

The winner of the National League, will play their Football in a professional league, automatically gaining promotion to the Football League division 4. While the next six teams, will compete in a Play-off and the winner will be the 2nd team to be promoted to the Football League. Four teams will be relegated from this league to two different leagues, depending on their region, now it gets confusing.

National League North & South (Sixth Division)

National League North & South Logo

National League North & South Logo

Division 6 sees two different leagues, where each league has 24 teams (as of 2021-22 season). Similar to the 5th division, the winner of both leagues will be automatically promoted to the National League, while the next 6 teams of both leagues, will qualify for a Play-Off, with the winner being the second team promoted from their respective leagues. So a total of 4 teams, will be promoted to the 5th Division.

The worst performing 2 teams of The National League North will be relegated to the Northern Premier League Premier Division or the Southern League Central Division, depending on their regions while the worst 2 teams of the National League South will be relegated to the Southern League South Division or the Isthmian League Premier Division, depending on their regions.

Northern Premier League, Southern League Central Division, Southern League South Division & Isthmian League Premier Division (Seventh Division)

Should i stop here or should i go on? because this is going to get confusing. Just a little summary, two teams are relegated from the National League North and two teams are relegated from the National League South.

To make it simple, 1-2 teams from the Northern Premier League and 1-2 teams from the Southern League Central Division, will be promoted to the National League North, while 1-2 teams from the Southern League South Division and 1-2 teams from the Isthmian League Premier Division, will be promoted to the National League South. So that's 4 teams in total, 2 promoted in each leagues.

Now, the relegation is a little simple, with all the leagues relegating their 3 worst performing teams each with the exception of the Southern League South Division, which only relegates two teams. Phew!

4 Northern Leagues & 4 Southern Leagues (Eighth Division)

Now, there are 8 leagues in total here, each of them divided by regions, for the Northern Premier League division 1, there are East, Midlands, West & Central. These 4 leagues have the champions of their respective leagues getting promotion to either the Northern Premier League Premier Division or the Southern League Central Division, depending on their regions.

Similarly, 4 of the respective league champions are promoted to the Southern League South Division or the Isthmian League Premier Division in the south side. In this division, it is a mix of the South and the Isthmian leagues where there are Southern League Division 1, Isthmian leagues from South, North and East.

Each of the 8 leagues will have 1-2 clubs relegated, at this point, some clubs may pull out from the league due to financial reasons, therefore, it is either 1 or 2 teams who will be relegated.

The Counties Leagues (Ninth & Tenth Division)

Its okay, we're at the finishing line as i will completely summarize this part of the article, as there are a total of 34 leagues in this level. The 9th and 10th division is officially the last two leagues of the official Football League system. These two divisions are the homes of Semi-Professional teams and at times, Amateur teams.

In levels 9th and 10th, the leagues is divided geographically with various systems, thus, clubs that are relegated from the 8th division will end up in the 9th division and it continues to the 10th division of the pyramid.

We have reached the end (Finally)

The love for Football (Soccer) is universal and its the same to say for the people of the United Kingdom. There are just that many teams in the country, which interests me to write this article about the league system, so that it will give everyone an insight of the leagues and that the Premier League isn't the only league in the United Kingdom, there are so many more. Hope you had an understanding on this topic, have a great day!

© 2021 Nigel Koay Talks Football

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