National League (English football)

National League
National League logo.png
Founded 1979 (National League)
2004 (North & South)
Country   England (67 Clubs)
Other club(s) from   Wales (1 Club)
Divisions National League
National League North and South
Number of teams 24 National League
22 North & 22 South
Level on pyramid 5–6
Promotion to EFL League Two
Relegation to Northern Premier League Premier Division
Isthmian League Premier Division
Southern League Premier Division
Domestic cup(s) FA Cup
FA Trophy
Conference League Cup (defunct)
Current champions Lincoln City (National League)
AFC Fylde (North)
Maidenhead United (South)
( 2016–17)
TV partners BT Sport [1]
NLTV (2015–present)
Website National League
2017–18 National League

The National League is an association football league in England consisting of three divisions, the National League, National League North and National League South. It was called the Alliance Premier League from 1979 until 1986. Between 1986 and 2015, the league was known as the Football Conference. [2] As part of a sponsorship deal with car leasing company Vanarama, the league is known as the Vanarama National League.

Most of the National League clubs are fully professional, while most National League North and National League South clubs are semi-professional. The professional clubs are usually clubs which have been in the English Football League (EFL) in the past, as opposed to those who have always been non-League. The National League is the lowest of the five nationwide football divisions in England, below the Premier League and the three divisions of the EFL, and is the top tier of the National League System of non-League football. The National League North and National League South form the sixth tier of English football. The National League consisted of only one division until 2004, but expanded as part of an extensive restructuring of the National League System which took effect beginning with the 2004–05 season.


The National League stands at the top of the National League System (NLS), a comprehensive structure linking together over 50 different leagues under the auspices of The Football Association (FA). The National League is at Step 1 of the NLS, and National League North and National League South make up Step 2. Above the National League are the 92 clubs which together make up the highest levels of English football, the Premier League and the EFL; below the National League are the Step 3 and lower leagues of the NLS.

The National League has 24 clubs and the North and South divisions have 22 clubs each. Each club plays the others in its division twice during a season, once at home and once away. Clubs earn three points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a defeat.

At the end of each season two clubs are promoted from National League to EFL League Two and two teams from League Two are relegated to National League to take their place. The two promotion places are awarded to the National League champions and to the winners of the National League Promotion Final from home and away semi finals between those clubs finishing second to fifth in the standings.

At the other end of the table, the bottom four clubs in National League are relegated to either National League North or National League South. The decision as to which division the relegated club joins is made by the FA's NLS Committee, but is largely determined by geography. The four relegated teams are replaced by four promoted teams, two from National League North and two from National League South. For each of these two leagues this will be the champions and the winners of their respective Promotion Finals between their second to fifth place clubs in those divisions.

At the bottom of National League North and National League South, three clubs from each division are relegated and these six clubs are divided among the Step 3 leagues of the NLS, the Northern Premier League, the Southern League, and the Isthmian League. Each of these Step 3 leagues promotes their respective champions and second to fifth place playoff winners. The NLS Committee determines which Step 3 leagues the relegated clubs will join, and whether the promoted clubs will join National League North or National League South.

The clubs relegated from the national division are not always geographically balanced. Thus should it be deemed necessary, the NLS Committee will order one or more clubs from northern counties bordering the south and vice versa or from South Wales in the sixth tier to switch divisions (to move "horizontally" between the leagues, so to speak) so as to maintain numerical balance between North and South.

Due to financial constraints at this level of football, some clubs have escaped relegation despite finishing in a relegation position, due to the misfortune of others. For promotion to proceed, whether from the National League to the EFL, within the National League, or between the various leagues of the NLS, certain conditions concerning finances and facilities must be met. Failure to meet the requirements of the league concerned will prevent the eligible club from being promoted.

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