National League System

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The National League System comprises the seven levels of the English football league system immediately below the level of the Premier League and the English Football League. It contains 86 league competitions and more than 1,600 clubs. It comes under the jurisdiction of The Football Association. The National League System has a hierarchical format with promotion and relegation between leagues at different levels. For details of leagues above and below the National League System, see the English football league system.

The system underwent a rearrangement from 2004 to 2008 and will be rearranged in 2018. Phase one went into operation in 2004–05. At the start of the 2006–07 season, phase two was introduced, and a further phase three started from 2007–08 with the starting of a second Step 4 league in the north of England. Phase four takes effect in 2018–19.

Organisation

The areas covered by the National League North and South: Step 2 of the National League System.

At the top of the National League System pyramid is the National League. Its top division, also called the National League (currently called the Vanarama National League), is the only division in the System which is organised on a national rather than regional basis. Although the National League is the top level of the non-league pyramid, it is not the highest level of English football (it is actually the fifth overall division). The Premier League and the three divisions of the English Football League (EFL) comprise the top 92 clubs in the English game, and two teams from the National League are able to achieve promotion to the lowest division of the EFL each season.

Below the National League, the layers have progressively more leagues and cover ever smaller geographical areas. Some leagues have more than one division. At the lower levels the existence of leagues becomes intermittent, although in some areas there are as many as twenty layers.

All the leagues are 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, 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. In particular, clubs that hope to be promoted from Step 5 leagues to Step 4 must apply in advance to be assessed for whether they meet the grading requirements. The teams must then also finish in the top 3 in their league to be considered for promotion, which is not automatic. For instance, in the 2005–06 season 100 clubs applied to be considered for promotion, of which 51 met the grading requirements, and 29 of those finished in the top 3 in their leagues (with an additional division commencing at Step 4 in 2006–07, all 29 clubs had their promotions accepted).

Under the direction of The Football Association, the National League System evolved over many years. Today's pyramid can be said to be barely twenty years old. Leagues have formed and dissolved over the years and reorganisations have taken place every few years as a result. Beginning with the 2004–05 season, Phase One of the latest change was introduced with the formation of a Conference North and Conference South immediately below the Football Conference, renamed Conference Premier, dropping the top divisions of the Southern League, Isthmian League, and Northern Premier League down one level. The Conference North and South have since been renamed the National League North and South.

The system

This table includes the seven steps of the National League System (NLS). Above the NLS are the Premier League and the English Football League. Two teams from the National League can be promoted to EFL League Two at the end of each season. This structure was the result of changes made after the 2005–06 season.

The official name is given for all the leagues listed, and the sponsorship name is also provided for the leagues in the top four steps. All divisions in the top four steps have 22 or 24 clubs each. The FA's National League System Committee determine promotion and relegation between leagues shown, mainly based on location. The NLS Committee also has the power to transfer clubs between divisions and even leagues at the same level of the pyramid should this be deemed necessary to maintain geographically practical and numerically balanced divisions and leagues at every level.

All clubs in the NLS are eligible to compete in the FA Cup, but are seeded into it according to tier standing. Tiers 1 to 4 clubs are eligible for the FA Trophy and tiers 5 to 7 for the FA Vase, as well as their respective regional and county cups. With the arrival of the new sponsors for the Football Conference starting in the 2007–08 season, the administrators of the Conference announced the reintroduction of the short-lived Conference League Cup. This competition, as its predecessor, was open to clubs in tiers 1 and 2 of the NLS.

Source

Step League/Division
1 National League
(Vanarama National League)
Promoted to League Two of the English Football League: Champion and winner of 2nd–5th playoff.

Relegated to either National League North or National League South: 4 clubs.

2 National League North
(Vanarama North)
National League South
(Vanarama South)
Promoted to National League: Champions of each division;
the winners of a 2nd–5th playoff in each division will also be promoted
.
Relegated to Step 3 leagues: 3 clubs from each division.
3 Northern Premier League
(Evo-Stik League)
Premier Division
Southern League
(Evo-Stik League Southern)
Premier Division
Isthmian League
(Ryman League)
Premier Division
Promoted to National League North or South: Champion and winner of 2nd–5th playoff for each league.
Relegated to Step 4 leagues: 4 clubs from each league.
4 Northern Premier League
(Evo-Stik League)
Division One North
Northern Premier League
(Evo-Stik League)
Division One South
Southern Football League
(Evo-Stik League Southern)
Division One Central
Southern Football League
(Evo-Stik League Southern)
Division One South & West
Isthmian League
(Ryman League)
Division One South
Isthmian League
(Ryman League)
Division One North
Promoted to Step 3 leagues: Champion and winner of 2nd–5th playoff for each league.

Relegated to Step 5 leagues determined by NLS Committee: 2 clubs from Northern Premier Leagues and Southern Football Leagues, 3 clubs from Isthmian Leagues.

5
Promoted to Step 4 leagues determined by NLS Committee: Total of 14 League champions.

Relegated: Arranged according to separate agreements with Step 6 leagues.

6
Promotion and relegation: Arranged according to separate agreements with appropriate leagues.
7
Promotion and relegation: Arranged according to separate agreements with appropriate leagues.
Note: If Step 7 leagues have other divisions below this level, then only the division at Step 7 is considered part of the National League System.

History

For the 2012–13 season, the FA announced a re-structuring of the National League System's lowest level, Step 7. It was split into three sub-categories, which were full Step 7 divisions, Step 7A and Step 7B. The categorisation depended on the ground facilities of the particular league's clubs. The required percentage of clubs to meet ground grade requirements for each of the categorisations were as follows:

  • Step 7: 100%;
  • Step 7A: 75%; and
  • Step 7B: 60%.

Step 7 – is awarded to leagues where 100% of their clubs meet the Step 7 minimum ground grading requirements as of 31 March and the league complies with all other requirements for Step 7 status.

Step 7A – was awarded to leagues where 75% or more of their clubs met the Step 7 minimum ground grading requirements after 31 March and the league complied with all other requirements for Step 7 status. (It was noted that in Season 2011/12 these leagues had been referred to as provisional)

Step 7B – was awarded to leagues where 60% or more of their clubs met the ground grading requirements after 31 March and the league complied with all other requirements for Step 7 status.

The sub-categories were removed from the 2016–17 season.

Future

The areas covered by the 14 Step 5 leagues of the National League System.

The National League System is expected to continue to operate in a broadly similar manner to how it does currently. In 2012 the FA held meetings with clubs and leagues to consult them on future restructuring. The FA had hoped to reduce the number of Step 5 leagues to twelve by the 2013–14 season.[1] After the meetings the FA deemed the reduction in leagues at Step 5 as unworkable and the plans were dropped.[2]

A further possible future change is the increase of the NLS's remit to an eighth step.[citation needed]

The FA and Leagues introduced a licensing system for clubs at Steps 1 to 4 of the National League System from 2016–17.[3]

New Step 3 and 4 leagues

In April 2017, the United Counties League announced that they were interested in running a division at Step 4.[4] Under these plans, Steps 3 and 4 will each have an additional division. This plan would result in four divisions at Step 3 and seven divisions at Step 4 for implementation in the 2018–19 season. In May the FA chose the Southern League to manage and control a new Step 3 division, while the Isthmian League will do the same for a new Step 4 division. All Step 3 divisions contract to 22 teams and all Step 4 divisions also contract to 20 teams; 26 teams from Step 5 are promoted.[5]

See also

References

  1. ^ The FA – National League System – Step 5/6 Review Accessed 24 January 2012[dead link]
  2. ^ The FA – National League System – Step 5 Review Accessed 24 April 2013[dead link]
  3. ^ Promotion criteria for Step 5 to Step 4 for 2016–17 season
  4. ^ United Counties League front bid for new Step 4 division as part of FA restructure thenonleaguefootballpaper.com
  5. ^ The big shake up of non-League football confirmed pitchero.com

External links

  • National League System homepage at TheFA.com
  • thePyramid.info: Tom Willis's football Pyramid site
  • FA announcement of 2006–07 structure
  • National League System at DMOZ
  • Club allocations for steps 1–4 for the 2014/2015 season
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