The History of English Football

By Kevin McNamara
Jul. 31, 2017

Football in England is one of the oldest in the world and also the place where the game originated. First played in 1863, football has quickly grown into the national sport in England. There are more clubs in England than in any other country across the world. English football has a rich heritage in terms of being the oldest club (Notts County), oldest knockout competition (FA Cup), and oldest Football Association (English FA).

Today, English football is globally spearheaded by the Premier League, which is the richest domestic league in the world. There are more than 40,000 registered clubs in English football.

Popularity of English Football

The Premier League is easily the most popular component of English football, as it is followed by billions around the world. Even though it was only formed in 1992, it has sparked global following and today generates more TV money than any other league in the world. Besides from the television audience, English football also enjoys some of the highest average attendances across comparable divisions. It is estimated that a Premier League game has a viewership count of 12 million aside from the 40,000+ spectators inside the stadium.

There are multiple divisions within English football, and they are designed to fit into the hierarchy controlled by the English Football Association. The various divisions are:

1. Premier League

The Premier League was formed in 1992 as a breakaway league, and it consisted of some of the top clubs in England. Today, it is one of the most popular divisions in the world. It contains of 20 teams with one champion and three relegation spots.

There are no play-offs in the Premier League, but the top four places are of massive importance, as they provide a qualification to the Champions League. Each team plays against each other home and away for a total of 38 matches over the course of the campaign. Relegation from the Premier League leads a team into the Championship.

2. The Championship

The Championship was formerly known as the Division Two until the formation of the Premier League. It has ranked second in the hierarchy throughout its history. After the formation of the Premier League, the Championship now access the highest division of the football league system in England.

Two teams are promoted from the division into the Premier League automatically, while four teams will be competing against each other in the play-offs. Three teams are relegated from the division into the League One at the end of the season. The Championship is among the top 10 divisions in terms of attendances worldwide, while the same is also true of the television money.

3. League One

League One is presently the third division of English football league system, while it is the second tier of English football league. It previously was known as the third division until the formation of the Premier League. The division is highly competitive and it consists of 24 teams.

The winner and the runner-up are promoted to the Championship automatically, while the teams finishing from 3rd to 6th will be competing in a play-off to decide the third team to be promoted. Four teams will be relegated from the League One at the end of the season, and they drop down into the League Two.

4. League Two

League Two is considered as the lowest tier in terms of the English football league, while it occupies the fourth tier in terms of the English football league system. It was previously known as the fourth division before the arrival of the Premier League. There are 24 teams involved in this division.

Three teams make it to the League One automatically, while a fourth team will also go up depending on the outcome of the play-offs. Only two teams are relegated from the League Two out of the football league.

5. English FA Cup

The English FA Cup is the oldest knockout competition and it has been played since 1871. It is open to all the clubs up to level 10 in the football league system. As a result, the competition often accommodates more than 700 clubs across the length and breadth of England.

Even though this is a knockout competition, draws are settled by replays in the opening rounds of the competition. Winners of the English FA Cup qualify for the Europa League on merit, while they also take on the Premier League champions in the FA Community Shield.

6. English EFL Cup

The English EFL Cup is a knockout competition began in 1960. It is open to clubs in the English football league system, which comprises of four divisions. There are no replays in this competition while the semi-final is a two-legged affair. The final is played at the Wembley stadium.

7. English National League

The English National League comprises of three divisions just below the English football league system. The National League is the highest of the three, while the National League North and South are seen as divisions with equal stature. Majority of the clubs in the North and South divisions are semi-professional, while the National League clubs are predominantly professional.

8. English National League South

The English National League South was founded in 2002 and it comprises of 22 teams. It is similar in structure to the National League North. The winner of the table is promoted to the National League with four other teams competing in the play-offs. Three teams are relegated from the division.

9. English Central League

The English Central League was founded in 1911. It comprises of three divisions and it acts as the reserve team for the teams in the English football league. The participants in the English Central League reduced after the formation of the Premier Reserve League.

10. English Southern League Premier Division

Formed in 1894, the English Southern League Premier division comprises of 24 teams and it is the highest division in the Southern Football League. The relegation results in four teams going into the Division One Central and Division One South & West. One team is promoted automatically to the National League North or South. Four other teams compete for promotion through the play-offs.

11. English Premier League Cup

The focus on youth football is provided by the English Premier League Cup which was created in 2013. It is an under 21 competition that is similar to the FA Youth Cup – a competition for the under 18s. Three years after its formation, the cup was transformed into an U23 tournament.

12. English Premier League 2 (Division 2)

The English Premier League 2 (Division 2) comprises of the under 23 teams from the Premier League. It is the second division of the reserve league. There are no relegation spots from this division, but one team is promoted automatically to the Premier League 2 (Division 1). A second team also is promoted through the play-offs.

13. English Premier League 2 (Division 1)

The English Premier League 2 (Division 1) is the highest division of under 23 football for the Premier League teams. There are no promotion spots just like in the Premier League. The team with the highest points is awarded the championship, while two teams are relegated to the Division 2.

14. English Northern League Premier Division

The English Northern League Premier division is one of the two tiers of Northern Premier League, which was founded in 1968. It comprises of 24 teams with relegation down into the Division One North or Division One South. It occupies the seventh level in the English football pyramid.

15. English Non League Division One

The Non-League Division One of English football comprises of six divisions. It is the eighth tier of English football. The Isthmian North and South divisions comprise of 24 teams each, while the remaining four divisions each have 22 teams. The promotion from the division is into the Premier Division.

16. Leicestershire and Rutland Challenge Cup

The Leicestershire and Rutland Challenge Cup was formed in 1887. It is a County cup that is meant for clubs in the Leicestershire and Rutland County Football Association. The teams usually come from the sixth and seventh tiers of the National League system. The competition is a single legged affair through to the final with the extra time and penalties used to determined draws.

17. English National League North

The English National League North was formerly known as the Conference North. It comprises of 22 teams, which is sit in the sixth tier of the English football pyramid. Two teams are promoted from this division into the National League, while three teams will be promoted down into the Northern Premier League Premier Division and Southern League Premier Division.

18. English County Cup

The various counties in England hold competitions for clubs in and around the counties. It is a knockout style competition. It comprises of multiple competitions like the FA Challenge Cup, FA Minor Cup, FA Trophy Cup, FA Sunday Cup, and FA Youth Cup.

19. English Isthmian League Premier Division

The English Isthmian League Premier Division is the seventh tier of English football. It sits just below the National League North and National League South. It comprises of 24 clubs with two promotions and four relegations. Only one team is promoted automatically, while the second team has to compete in a play-off between four teams. There are no relegation play-offs and the bottom four teams from the table go down into the Isthmian League Division One North and South.

20. English FA WSL

The English FA WSL is the highest tier of the women’s game in English football. It was founded in 2010 and it comprises of two divisions – WSL 1 and WSL 2. This division has 10 teams each. The formation of the Super League replaced the Women’s Premier League as the top division for women’s football in the country.

21. FA Vase

The FA Vase is a competition for the clubs below the National League system’s 4th step. It comprises of more than 500 teams across multiple divisions. Teams have to go to two qualifying rounds in order to reach the competition proper. The competition was founded in 1974 with the final being played at the Wembley stadium.

22. English FA Trophy

The English FA Trophy was founded in 1969. It is a knockout competition for the semi-professional teams. The competition primarily caters to the needs of clubs that are unable to enter into the FA Amateur Cup. Since 2008, clubs that are part of the National League system can also enter into competition. The competition usually witnesses more than 250 teams competing for the prize each year.

23. FA Community Shield

The FA Community Shield is a game played between the winners of the FA Cup and the winners of the Premier League. It is the traditional curtain raiser of the English football campaign. In terms of ranking, it sits just below the FA Cup and the League Cup. In cases where the Premier League winner also won the FA Cup, the runner-up in the Premier League the previous campaign becomes the opponent.

24. English EFL Trophy

The English EFL trophy was founded in 1983 as a competition primarily for clubs in the League One and League Two. Furthermore, 16 of the under 21 teams from the Premier League and Championship also enter into the competition. The competition initially begins in a group format with the knockout stages usually beginning in the month of March.

25. English U23 Development League 2

The English U23 Development League 2 is a competition that was founded in 2012. The primary objective of this competition was to replace the reserve leagues for the Premier League teams in a bid to boost the under-23 player development. The league comprises of 20 teams that are split up into North and Southern divisions – each with 10 teams. The top two teams from the North and South divisions enter into the play-offs to determine the winner.