English Soccer

A Guide to the Leagues of English Football

Mickey Allen's image for:
"A Guide to the Leagues of English Football"
Image by: 

“English Football League” commonly refers to the lower three tiers of the four professional divisions of English football. In general terms, however, the league is composed of these three divisions alongside the English Premier League which stands independently as the top division.

The rules and points system across the English leagues are the same for all clubs, whereby, three points are awarded for a win, one point for a draw and no points for a team who suffers a defeat.

Teams with the same amount of points are separated by goal difference; the ratio between goals scored and goals conceded.

The Premier League

The Premier League is an independently owned elite league of twenty football clubs. It also has a seasonal sponsorship deal, whereby, the company supplying the sponsorship are included and referred to in all official Premier League branding and reporting.

Formed in 1992, as a breakaway to the traditional four divisions of the professional game in England, The Premier League was founded as a platform for the top teams to benefit from the huge financial rewards on offer for the sale of T.V. rights. The profitability of this platform has propelled English football’s top flight into the richest and most widely viewed professional league in the world.

Each participating club, regardless of league position, can expect to claim at least £60m from domestic and international T.V. rights in addition to prize money awarded on a place-by-place basis.

During the football season, which runs annually between August and May, teams play each other twice; once at home and once away. At the end of each season, the team which finishes in first place will be referred to as the league champions, over the course of the subsequent season.

The teams that occupy the top four positions qualify for the world-renowned UEFA Champions League; an intercontinental competition of European football’s elite clubs. The fifth placed team qualify for the UEFA Europa League tournament; a second European competition of lesser repute.

In terms of relegation, teams that end the season within the bottom three league positions are relegated, or demoted, to the second tier of English football – The Championship.

The Championship

The lower three divisions of the English league are known, collectively, as “The Football League”.

Standing independently from The Premier League, The Football League has its own branding, sponsorships, and T.V. rights deals. The top division of this league set-up is The Championship.

With a total of twenty four clubs competing in this division, a fixture list of 46 matches is generated, per club, each season.

While suffering a hugely diminished difference to The Premier League, in terms of financial profit, The Championship is widely acknowledged as one of the most competitive league divisions within the professional game. This is due to the relatively small difference in quality between the competing teams. The style of football is somewhat more physical than that of The Premier League, resulting in unpredictable outcomes to many league seasons. This has come to form the opinion of many football purists to regard The Championship as the most entertaining of all the English divisions.

The winners of this division take the title of “The Football League Champions” and are promoted to The Premier League in the forthcoming season. The runners-up, too, are awarded with a place in the top flight.

Teams finishing in third, fourth, fifth, and sixth places, respectively, enter the play-offs; the winners of which, clinch the final promotion place into The Premier League. The play-offs consist of two semi-finals, played over two legs (home and away). The winners of these two ties contest the play-off final at Wembley Stadium; the home of the English national team. This match is widely considered as a golden ticket due to the financial riches offered by a place in The Premier League.

The teams that occupy the bottom three positions in The Championship, at the end of the football season, are relegated to League one; the third tier of the English league.

Leagues One and Two

The lowest two tiers of the four-divisional make-up of the English league are known as League one and League two.

While being fully professional outfits, many of these teams are of a smaller scale in comparison to the clubs in higher divisions. With many loyal supporters who have remained as fans over many generations, the smaller English teams are true grass-roots clubs who remain at the heart of their local communities. Numerous top-flight players began their careers in the lower divisions before working their way up to the top. The transfer fees generated by sales of star players to the bigger clubs are often the only way for some teams at this level to continue as a financially viable business.

League one, like The Championship, contains twenty four clubs, of which, three gain promotion; two by finishing first or second, with a third place being awarded for winning the play-off tournament. The only difference of League one is that the bottom four clubs are relegated at the end of the season.

With four teams dropping into League two, it stands to reason that the top three clubs of League two, alongside the play-off winners, are promoted to League one at the season’s end.

As the lowest professional division, League two is home to many of the smallest clubs. With two teams being relegated to the, often semi-professional, football conference leagues, staying in this division is sometimes paramount to survival.

All other teams from leagues and divisions lower than these four divisions of English league football are widely referred to as “non-league clubs”, and as such, are found to be amateur or semi-professional. Hence, the importance of retaining league status is vital to the long-term survival of many football clubs; some of which have been operating for longer than a century.


More about this author: Mickey Allen