Southern Football League

Southern Football League
Southern League.png
Founded 1894
Country England
Other club(s) from Wales
Confederation The Football Association
Divisions South Premier
South East
South West [1]
Number of teams 68
Premier Division: 24
Division One East: 22
Division One West: 22
Level on pyramid Level 7 and Level 8
Promotion to National League South,
National League North
Relegation to Combined Counties League
Hellenic League
Midland Football League
Spartan South Midlands League
United Counties League
Wessex League
Western League
Domestic cup(s) Southern League Cup
Current champions Chippenham Town (Premier Division)
Hereford (D1 South & West)
Royston Town (D1 Central)
( 2016–17)
Website Official website
2017–18

The Southern League, currently known as the Evo-Stik League South under the terms of a sponsorship agreement with Bostik Ltd, [2] is a men's football competition featuring semi-professional and amateur clubs from the South West, 'South Central' and Midlands of England and South Wales. Together with the Isthmian League and the Northern Premier League it forms levels seven and eight of the English football league system.

The structure of the Southern League has changed several times since its formation in 1894, and currently there are 68 clubs which are divided into three divisions. The Premier Division is at step 3 of the National League System (NLS), and is a feeder division, mainly to the National League South but also to the National League North. Feeding the Premier Division are two regional divisions, Division One East and Division One West, [2] which are at step 4 of the NLS. [3] These divisions are in turn fed by various regional leagues.

History

Football in the south of England

Professional football (and professional sport in general) developed more slowly in Southern England than in Northern England. Professionalism was sanctioned by The Football Association as early as 1885, but when The Football League was founded in 1888 it was based entirely in the north and midlands with the County Football Associations in the South being firmly opposed to professionalism.

Woolwich Arsenal (nowadays simply Arsenal) were the first club in London to turn professional in 1891 and were one of the prime motivators behind an attempt to set up a Southern League to mirror the existing Northern and Midlands based Football League. However, this venture failed in the face of opposition from the London Football Association and Woolwich Arsenal instead joined the Football League as its only representative south of Birmingham in 1893. Additionally, an amateur league, the Southern Alliance was founded in 1892, with seven clubs from the region, but that folded after one incomplete season.

Formation of the Southern League

Nonetheless, another attempt was made to form the Southern League, and this time it was successful. A competition for both professional and amateur clubs was founded in 1894 under the initiative of Millwall Athletic (now simply Millwall). Initially only one division was envisaged, but such was the enthusiasm, that eventually two divisions were formed. The sixteen founder members were: [4]

Division One
Chatham
Clapton
Ilford
Luton Town
Millwall Athletic
Reading
Royal Ordnance Factories
2nd Scots Guards
Swindon Town
Division Two
Bromley
Chesham
Maidenhead
New Brompton
Old St Stephen's
Sheppey United
Uxbridge

2nd Scots Guards withdrew before the first season started and were replaced by Southampton St Mary's. Woolwich Arsenal attempted to add their reserve side to the second division but this application was refused.

Success of the Southern League

The Southern League soon became the dominant competition below The Football League in Southern and Central England. By the turn of the century a few of the Southern League sides began to rival the Football League in the FA Cup but overall it was still regarded as the equivalent to the third level of English. [5][ not in citation given]

Two Southern League clubs, Southampton (in 1900 and 1902) and Tottenham Hotspur (in 1901) reached the final of the FA Cup around the turn of the century. Tottenham Hotspur are the only club from below the 2nd level of English football to have won the FA Cup.

Several of the best players in England moved from the Football League to the Southern League around this time, due to the restrictions on their freedom of movement and wages implemented by the Football League between 1893 and 1901, and the failed efforts of the Association Footballers' Union (the AFU) to relax the restrictions.

The champions of the two leagues during this period met in the annual Charity Shield. Out of the six meetings the respective league champions had in the Shield, however, only one was won by the Southern League champions – Brighton & Hove Albion, in 1910, and this remains their only top level national honour.

In 1907, it accepted Bradford Park Avenue, a northern club, as a member, reflecting its senior position at the time.

In 1920, virtually the entire top division of the Southern League was absorbed by the Football League to become that league's new Third Division. A year later the Third Division was expanded and regionalised. The Third Division clubs from the previous season became the Third Division South, with the addition of the Third Division North.

Of the original founder members, six – Gillingham (formerly New Brompton), Luton Town, Millwall, Reading, Southampton and Swindon Town – are now Premier or Football League clubs.

A feeder league

For the next six decades, the Football League and Southern League would exchange a limited number of clubs as a result of the older league's re-election process. From 1920 onward, the Southern League's status as a semi-professional league was firmly established.

With its clubs seeking a more regular means of advancing to the Football League, in 1979 the Southern League became a feeder to the new Alliance Premier League along with the Isthmian League and the Northern Premier League, and the top Southern clubs of the day joined the new league. In turn, the APL (renamed Football Conference in 1986 and National League in 2015) would eventually succeed in becoming a feeder to the Football League. The league lost more of its top clubs in 2004 when the Conference added two regional divisions below the existing National League, the Conference South and Conference North.

In May 2017, the FA chose the Southern League to add an additional Step 3 division as part of another restructuring in the NLS and contract it and the existing Premier Division to 22 clubs. The new division starts play in the 2018–19 season. [6]

Sponsorship

The first sponsor of the Southern League was Beazer Homes who sponsored the league from 1987–96. The sponsors after Beazer Homes to the present day are: Dr Martens (1996–2004), British Gas (2006–2009), Zamaretto (2009–2011), Evo-Stik (2011–2013), [7] Calor Gas (2013–2014), and Evo-Stik (2014–date).