How Many Tiers are There in English Football? – Here is What You Should Know!

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Alex PT

English football has eleven tiers, from the Premier League at the top to the National League North and South at the bottom. The tiers are connected by promotion and relegation. The first 4 tiers are considered professional, which includes:

  • Premier League
  • Championship
  • League One
  • League Two

The History of English Football Tiers

History of English Football Tiers

The development of the Football League in England was an outcome of reforms introduced by the Football Association. In a bid to protect against match-fixing, racism, and hooliganism, English football’s governing body wanted to start regulating club competitions that would later develop into league structures. Therefore, the first-ever major competition for Football League teams dates back to 1872. 

Initially, a handful of clubs were included, but over time more were accepted until it became common practice to include the most recently successful club applicants in the top-flight tiers alongside well-established teams.

Despite being around for several years, the FA Cup struggled to become a professional league due to low attendance figures, which did not make for much interest or revenue among spectators, and minor revenue generated from broadcast rights.

The Football League was introduced in 1888. Two years later, the league formed 12 football clubs that became its founding members. Following this trend, less than twenty years later, in 1906, 12 rival football clubs established the “Football Alliance” – only to be renamed quickly three years later as “The Football League Division 2” with promotion and relegation being offered between the two leagues.

This marked the initial introduction of England’s present-day league system. Since that time, today, we see famous sports six-division Premiership in England along with Divisions 1 and 2 for Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, respectively.

Development of the Football League 

As professional football in the UK continued to expand, the formation of the Football League was a crucial step in this development. Following its inception and every subsequent season, more and more teams joined what would eventually become known as ‘The Football League.

With interest growing nationwide even outside the league, many existing amateur leagues began to model themselves on what was fast becoming ‘The Original League. They changed their old rules and format to broaden their appeal by taking measures to lure in new fans.

The EPL has experienced tremendous changes over the years. It’s been modified and adapted more than a few times. On the other hand, the basic structure has remained mainly constant: promotion, relegation, and a standard number of top-tier teams in the league.

The strongest teams always play at this level, while the weaker ones struggle in lower leagues.

The Barclays Premier League was created in 1992 as an alternative to England’s Football League, which had been the sole league structure since 1888. The newly formed Premier League began with a much more powerful league body than its predecessor and focused on improving the standards of stadiums throughout the nation.

As a result, attendance and viewership climbed considerably – making it one of the most successful sports leagues in the world today!

Different Football Leagues for Each Tier

Different Football Leagues for Each Tier

Tier 1

The Premier League is at the top of the food chain at tier 1. This league features all the major football clubs, stars, and big names in England and world football.

The Premier League mainly focuses on bringing the competition to a top world-class level and marketing the football sport. This league has 20 teams. The top team emerges the winner of the Barclays Premier League Cup, while the last 3 teams are relegated to the championship league.

Bonus Facts

  • Did you know that only 7 teams, including Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Leicester, and Chelsea, have worn the league since its inception in 1992?
  • Since the inception of the Barclays Premier League, only three teams, Hull City (2016/2017), Charlton (1998/1999), and Bolton (2011/2012), have been promoted to the league and then relegated immediately.

Tiers 2,3 and 4

The Football League Championship (League 1 and 2) belongs respectfully to Tiers 2, 3, and 4. All these leagues have 24 teams. In tier 2, the top two teams get direct promotion to the premier league, while the next four teams compete in playoffs, and the winner is promoted.

The bottom three teams in this tier are relegated to the lower level.

While the promotion trend in tier 3 is similar to tier 2, in this tier, 4 teams get relegated to the lower level.

On the other hand, in tier 4, the top 3 teams get automatic promotion to the upper level, while the next four teams compete for the fourth promotion spot through playoffs. The last two teams get relegated to the lower tier.

Tier 5 and 6

Conference National League belongs to Tier 5, while Tier 6 is split between Conference National’s South and North.

The latter consists of 24 football clubs, while the former has 44 football clubs, with 22 for each conference.

Tier 7

Tier 7 belongs to 3 semi-professional leagues: Isthmian League Premier Division, Northern Premier League Premier Division, and Isthmian League Premier Division.

Tier 8

Tier 8 is dedicated to 2 subdivisions for each league in tier 7.

Tier 9 and 10

Tier 9 is the top tier for all regional leagues around England, and the second tier within these local leagues is Tier 10.

Tier 11

Tier 11 is for county-based feeder teams, consisting of over 300+ football clubs scattered around England.

What is Promotion and Relegation in the English Football League

Promotion and relegation are two core concepts in the English Football League (EFL), and they function as mechanisms to maintain competitiveness and balance in the league.

  1. Understanding Promotion and Relegation

Promotion and relegation represent the vertical movement of clubs between the tiers of the football league system based on their performance level. The principle signifies the progression (promotion) of well-performing clubs to a superior tier and the demotion (relegation) of poorly-performing clubs to a lower-tier.

  1. The Structure of the English Football System

The English football system comprises five main levels:

  • The Premier League
  • The Championship
  • League One
  • League Two
  • The National League

Each of these levels represents a separate league. Clubs aim to move up through these levels via promotion or avoid dropping down through relegation.

  1. The Mechanics of Promotion

At the end of each football season, clubs that have performed exceptionally within their respective leagues are rewarded with promotion.

  • The Premier League: The top two teams of the Championship get automatically promoted to the Premier League. The teams finishing from third to sixth compete in playoffs for the final promotion spot.
  • The Championship, League One, and League Two: The top three teams get automatically promoted, and teams from fourth to seventh play the playoffs.
  • The National League: The champion gets automatically promoted, and teams from second to seventh play the playoffs.
  1. The Process of Relegation

Inversely, clubs that underperform in their respective league face the prospect of relegation.

  • The Premier League: The bottom three clubs are relegated to the Championship.
  • The Championship and League One: The bottom three clubs descend into the next league.
  • League Two: The bottom two clubs get relegated to the National League.
  1. Impact and Significance

Through this cycle of promotion and relegation, the English Football League ensures that the competition remains sharp and intriguing. It provides opportunities for clubs to rise through the ranks and challengetop-tier clubs. Additionally, it presents a powerful tool to maximize commercial revenue, fan engagement, and global recognition.

Therefore, promotion and relegation are integral components of the exciting dynamism and competitiveness inherent to English football.

Premier LeagueTop 2 from Championship + Playoff winnerBottom 3 to Championship
ChampionshipTop 3 from League One + Playoff winnerBottom 3 to League One
League OneTop 3 from League Two + Playoff winnerBottom 3 to League Two
League TwoTop 3 from National League + Playoff winnerBottom 2 to National League
National LeagueChampion + Playoff winnerN/A

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the oldest football team in England?

Sheffield FC, 100 years old, has the honor of maintaining the oldest football club that is not associated with a hospital or University. The club was founded in 1857 by Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest.

They made history after being granted permission to play games on their local sports fields as long as there was no charge for admission and the gate receipts were shared between them, including other nearby teams.

Which is the Lowest English Football League?

The lowest division in the English football league pyramid is organized nationwide, with those currently placed at the sixth tier of club football. It was previously known as the Football Conference before being renamed The National League.

Final Thoughts 

English football has an element of uniqueness and competitiveness. The exciting aspect of the tiers is that teams compete for trophies at every level. Top teams from the lower levels get promoted to higher tiers, while bottom teams get demoted to lower levels. Such competition has endeared English football to football lovers globally, as it attracts the best players who opt to showcase their skills in modern soccer stadiums, regardless of the tier.


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