The English football league system, also known as the football pyramid, is a series of interconnected leagues for club football in England (although for historical, economic and financial reasons six Welsh clubs also compete). The system has a hierarchical format with promotion and relegation between leagues at different levels, allowing even the smallest club the possibility of ultimately rising to the very top of the system. There are more than 140 leagues, containing more than 480 divisions. The exact number of clubs varies from year to year as clubs join and leave leagues or fold altogether, but an estimated average of 15 clubs per division implies that more than 7,000 clubs are members of a league in the English football league system.

About the systemEdit

The system consists of a hierarchy of leagues, bound together by the principle of promotion and relegation. Clubs that are successful in their league can rise higher in the pyramid, whilst those that finish at the bottom can find themselves sinking further down. In theory it is possible for a lowly local amateur club to rise to the pinnacle of the English game and become champions of the Premier League. While this may be unlikely in practice (at the very least, in the short run), there certainly is significant movement within the pyramid. The number of teams promoted between leagues or divisions varies, and promotion is usually contingent on meeting criteria set by the higher league, especially concerning appropriate facilities and finances.

The top five levels contain one division each. Below this, the levels have progressively more parallel leagues, which each cover progressively smaller geographic areas. Many leagues have more than one division. At the lower levels the existence of leagues becomes intermittent, although in some of the more densely populated areas there are as many as twenty layers. There are also leagues in various parts of the country which are not officially part of the system as they do not have formal agreements with other leagues, but are recognised at various levels by county football associations. Clubs from these leagues may, if they feel they meet the appropriate standard of play and have suitable facilities, apply to join a league which does form part of the systems.

The seven levels immediately below the Premier League and Football League are known as the National League System and come under the jurisdiction of The Football Association. Under the direction of The Football Association, the National League System evolved over many years. In a recent re-organisation, a Conference North and Conference South immediately below the Football Conference (renamed Conference National) were formed, forcing the top divisions of the Southern League, Isthmian League and Northern Premier League down one level.

The English football league system does not include the amateur version of the game often called Sunday league football. These leagues are independent entities with no promotion or relegation involving the football pyramid. However, some Sunday League clubs have been known to join pyramid leagues if they desire to progress higher.


At the top is the single division of the Premier League (which is sometimes referred to as Level 1 of the league 'pyramid'), containing 20 clubs. Below the Premier League is The Football League, which is divided into three divisions of 24 clubs each: The Championship (Level 2), League One (Level 3) and League Two (Level 4). The 92 clubs in the Premier League and Football League are all full-time professional clubs. They are often referred to as 'League' clubs because, before the establishment of the Premier League in 1992, the Football League included all 92 clubs, in four divisions. Clubs outside this group are referred to as 'non-League' clubs, although they too play most of their football in league-type competitions.

The top tier of non-League football is the Football Conference, which contains a national division of 24 clubs (Level 5), followed by two divisions at Level 6, covering the north (Conference North) and south (Conference South), with 22 clubs each. Some of these clubs are full-time professional and the others are semi-professional. Below the Conference some of the stronger clubs are semi-professional, but continuing down the tiers, soon all the clubs are amateur.

Next down from the Football Conference are three regional leagues, each associated with different geographical areas, although some overlap exists. They are the Northern Premier League (which covers the north of England and north Wales), Southern Football League (which covers southern England, the Midlands and south Wales) and the Isthmian League (which covers the south east). All of the leagues have a Premier Division (Level 7) with two parallel divisions below (Level 8).

Level 9 contains the top divisions of a large group of sub-regional leagues. Each of these leagues has a different divisional set up, but they all have one thing in common: there are yet more leagues below them, each covering smaller and smaller geographical levels.

Promotion and relegation rules for the top few levelsEdit

For example, here are the promotion and relegation rules for the top few levels of the English football league system:

  1. Premier League (level 1, 20 teams): No promotion. Bottom three teams are relegated.
  2. Football League Championship (level 2, 24 teams): Top two automatically promoted; next four compete in the playoffs, with the winner gaining the third promotion spot. Bottom three are relegated.
  3. Football League One (level 3, 24 teams): Top two are automatically promoted; next four compete in playoffs, with the winner gaining the third promotion spot. Bottom four are relegated.
  4. Football League Two (level 4, 24 teams): Top three teams are automatically promoted; next four compete in playoffs, with the winner gaining the fourth promotion spot. Bottom two are relegated.
  5. Conference National (level 5, 24 teams): The champions are promoted; next four compete in playoffs, with the winner gaining the second promotion spot. Bottom four are relegated, to either North or South division as appropriate.
  6. Conference North and Conference South (level 6, 22 teams each, running in parallel): The champions in each division are automatically promoted; next four teams in each division compete in playoffs, with the playoff winner in each division getting the second promotion spot. Bottom three teams in each division relegated, to either Northern Premier League, Southern League, or Isthmian League as appropriate. If, after promotion and relegation, the number of teams in the North and South divisions are not equal, one or more teams are transferred between the two divisions to even them up again.

Cup eligibilityEdit

Being members of a league at a particular level also affects eligibility for Cup, or single-elimination, competitions.

Below Level 11 the pyramid becomes regional and the cups become accordingly regional. Further down the pyramid is split on a county basis, counties having their own cups accordingly.

The systemEdit

For details of the changes made for the 2006-07 season, see History of the English football league system.

The table below shows the current structure of the system. For each division, its official name, sponsorship name (which differs from its historic name) and number of clubs is given. At levels 1-8, each division promotes to the division(s) that lie directly above it and relegates to the division(s) that lie directly below it. Below that level, individual league articles detail promotion and relegation arrangements.

The leagues at levels five to eleven comprise the National League System (NLS), and come under the direct jurisdiction of The Football Association. The top level (level 5) of the NLS is known as "Step 1" by the FA, the next (level 6) as "step 2", and so on.

Level 1Edit

Level 2Edit

Level 3Edit

Level 4Edit

Level 5Edit

Level 6Edit

Level 7Edit

Level 8Edit

Level 9Edit

Level 10Edit

Level 11Edit

Level 12Edit

Level 13Edit

Level 14Edit

Level 15Edit

Level 16Edit

Level 17Edit

Level 18Edit

Level 19Edit

Level 20Edit

Level 21Edit

Level 22Edit

Level 23Edit

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


Template:League systems
Football in England

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League competitions The FA Cup competitions
Premier League England (B) (C) FA Cup
The Football League (U-21) (U-20) Football League Cup
(Champ, 1, 2) (U-19) (U-18) FA Community Shield
Football Conference (U-17) (U-16) Football League Trophy
(Prem, N, S) List of clubs FA Trophy
Northern Premier List of stadiums Conference League Cup Template:Small
(Prem, 1N, 1S) (by capacity) FA Vase
Southern League List of leagues
(Prem, 1Mid, 1S&W) Records
Isthmian League
(Prem, 1N, 1S)

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