The National League System contains 91 league competitions and over 1,600 teams, it contains the seven levels of the English football league system instantly beneath the levels of the Premier and Football League and comes within the jurisdiction of The Football Association. The leagues underneath are categorised as part of the non-league football pyramid, meaning they happen to be outside the Football League structure.
The highest tier of non-League football relates to The Football Conference. Its top level is the Conference Premier, and this includes 24 teams and it’s the sole division within the System which is set up on a national as opposed to regional basis. Even though the Conference Premier is considered the top level of the non-league football, it’s not the highest standard of English football, in reality it’s the fifth overall division and within the National League System referred to as Level 5.
The top 92 teams in English football all make up Premier League and The Football League, and due to the National League System hierarchical structure two sides out of the Conference have the ability to achieve promotion into the lowest division (League Two) of The Football League every year.
Beneath the Conference Premier, the levels have progressively more leagues and start to cover smaller sized regional zones. Several leagues contain more than a single division. The existence of leagues becomes intermittent within the lower levels, although in certain areas you will find anywhere up to twenty tiers.
At Level 6 there’s two divisions. The Conference North covers the north and the Conference South covers south, with 22 teams playing in each. Beneath the Conference a number of the stronger teams are semi-professional football clubs, but carrying on down the tiers you soon find every one of the teams become amateur football sides.
Down from the Football Conference are the three regional leagues, each one related in someway to different geographical locations, however some overlap can occur. These regional leagues are the Isthmian League, which covers the south east of England, the Southern Football League, which covers the Midlands, south and southwest of England, and south Wales and the Northern Premier League which covers the north of England and north Wales.
Each of the leagues have a Premier Division made up of 24 sides (Level 7). Beneath these, and split by region, the Isthmian League has two parallel level 8 divisions of 24 sides each and the Southern Football League and Northern Premier League each have two parallel divisions made up of 22 sides (Level 8).
Level 9 provides the top divisions of a big selection of fourteen sub-regional leagues. Each one of these leagues features a different divisional set up, nevertheless they all have one important thing in common, you will find yet more leagues beneath them addressing smaller in size geographical levels.
Promotion and Relegation:
Every one of the leagues are tied as a whole through the concept of relegation and promotion at numerous levels. teams which have been successful within their league will be able to rise higher within the pyramid, whilst the ones that finish at the bottom will find themselves dropping further down. On paper it’s possible for a humble local side to rise towards the pinnacle of English football and become Premier League champions. Of course this might be unlikely in reality, however there certainly can be considerable movement up and down the pyramid.
The amount of sides promoted among divisions differs from league to league, and promotion is normally contingent on meeting requirements set out by the higher league, particularly with regards to suitable ground facilities. Notably, teams that wish to be promoted from Step 5 into Step 4 must apply beforehand to be evaluated for whether or not they satisfy the grading criteria.
Level 5: The Conference Premier champions are promoted with the next four sides competing in the play-offs, with the winner taking the second promotion place. The bottom four sides are relegated to either the North or South division.
Level 6: Champions of the Conference North and South divisions are both automatically promoted, next four sides from each division compete in the divisions end of season play-offs, with the winner from each division taking the other promotion place. The bottom three sides from each division are relegated to either Isthmian League, Northern Premier League or Southern League.
Level 7: Northern Premier League Premier Division, Isthmian League Premier Division and the Southern Football League Premier Division champions are all immediately promoted into level 6, the next four sides within these divisions then compete for their divisions second promotion place in the playoffs. The bottom four sides from all three divisions are relegated down to a level 8 division.
Level 8: Is made up of Isthmian League Division One North, Isthmian League Division One South, Northern Premier League Division One North, Northern Premier League Division One South and Southern Football League Division One Central, Southern Football League Division One South & West divisions. Again the champions from these divisions promoted, with each division having a play-offs for next four sides, with each winner getting the second promotion place. The bottom two sides from each level 8 Southern Football League and Northern Premier League and the bottom three sides in the two level 8 Isthmian League divisions are all relegated to level 9.
Being members of a league at a certain level can also affect the eligibility for various Cup competitions. The main three for non-league sides are:
FA Cup: Levels 1 to 10 (and very occasionally 11)
FA Trophy: Levels 5 to 8
FA Vase: Levels 9 to 11
Below Level 11 the pyramid leagues and cups become more regional accordingly. Further down the pyramid is divided using a county structure, counties have their very own cups accordingly. This excludes various tournaments labeled “Senior Cups”, which often are tournaments involving sides representing the top teams within a given region.