The league was formed as the Alliance Premier League in 1979, coming into force for the
. It was the first attempt to create a fully national league underneath
since the Football Alliance was absorbed as
in 1892, drawing its clubs from the
Northern Premier League and the
. 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
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
and is now
. 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.
, 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
, 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
, 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
seasons. When Gola's sponsorship ceased, carmaker
Vauxhall Motors — the
British subsidiary of
General Motors — took over and sponsored the league until the end of the
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
, 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.
 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
 This lasted for only one year and the following July the Conference announced a brand-new three-year deal with Vanarama.
 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.