National League (division)

National League
National League (division).jpg
Country   England
Other club(s) from   Wales
Founded 1979
(as Alliance Premier League)
Number of teams 24
Level on pyramid 5
Step 1 ( National League System)
Promotion to League Two
Relegation to National League North
National League South
Domestic cup(s) FA Cup
FA Trophy
International cup(s) Europa League
(via FA Cup)
Current champions Cheltenham Town
( 2015–16)
Most championships Barnet (3 titles)
TV partners BT Sport
NLTV
Website National League
2016–17 National League

The National League, formerly the Conference National (currently named the Vanarama National League for sponsorship reasons [1]), is the top division of the National League in England. It is the highest level of the National League System and fifth-highest of the overall English football league system. While all of the clubs in the top four tiers of English football are full-time professional, the National League has a mixture of full-time and semi-professional clubs. The National League is the lowest nationwide division in the English football pyramid. Beginning with the 2015–16 season, the league was renamed as the National League. [2]

History

The league was formed as the Alliance Premier League in 1979, coming into force for the 1979–80 season. It was the first attempt to create a fully national league underneath the Football League since the Football Alliance was absorbed as Football League Second Division in 1892, drawing its clubs from the Northern Premier League and the Southern League. It greatly improved the quality of football at this lower level, as well as improving the financial status of the top clubs. This was reflected in 1986–87, when the Football League began accepting direct promotion and relegation between the GM Vauxhall Conference (which the league had been rebranded for sponsorship purposes by then) and the bottom division of the Football League which at that time was known as the Football League Fourth Division and is now Football League Two. The first team to be promoted by this method was Scarborough and the first team relegated was Lincoln City, who regained their Football League status a year later as GM Vauxhall Conference champions.

Since 2002–03, the league has been granted a second promotion place, with a play-off deciding who joins the champions in the Football League. Previously, no promotion from the Conference would occur if the winners did not have adequate stadium facilities. As of the start of the 2002–03 season, if a club achieves the automatic promotion or the play-off places but does not have an adequate stadium, their place will be re-allocated to the next highest placed club that has the required facilities. In 2004–05, the Conference increased its size by adding two lower divisions, the Conference North and Conference South respectively, with the original division being renamed Conference National. For the 2006–07 season, the Conference National expanded from 22 to 24 teams by promoting four teams while relegating two teams and introduced a "four up and four down" system between itself and the Conference North and Conference South.

The league's first sponsors were Gola, who sponsored it during the 1984–85 and 1985–86 seasons. When Gola's sponsorship ceased, carmaker Vauxhall Motors — the British subsidiary of American combine General Motors — took over and sponsored the league until the end of the 1997–98 season. The 1998–99 Conference campaign began without sponsors for the Conference, but just before the end of the season a sponsorship was agreed with Nationwide Building Society. This lasted until the end of the 2006–07 season, after which Blue Square took over. This would also prompt their renaming leagues with the Conference National becoming the Blue Square Premier, the Conference North becoming Blue Square North and the Conference South becoming Blue Square South. [3] In April 2010, Blue Square announced a further three-year sponsorship deal. From the start of the 2010–11 season the divisions were renamed, with the addition of the word "Bet" after "Blue Square".

In July 2013 the Conference agreed a sponsorship deal with online payment firm Skrill. [4] This lasted for only one year and the following July the Conference announced a brand-new three-year deal with Vanarama. [1] In 2015, The Football Conference was renamed the National League. The top division was also officially renamed the National League and the lower divisions renamed as National League North and National League South. Because of the ongoing sponsorship, the three divisions are now currently known as the Vanarama National League, Vanarama League North and Vanarama League South.