National League
Founded1979; 45 years ago (1979) (as Alliance Premier League)
CountryEngland (24 teams)
Number of teams24
Level on pyramid5
Step 1 (National League System)
Promotion toEFL League Two
Relegation to
Domestic cup(s)
League cup(s)Conference League Cup
(1979–2001, 2004–05, 2007–09)
International cup(s)
Current championsWrexham (1st title)
(2022–23)
Most championships
TV partners
WebsiteNational League
Current: 2023–24 National League

The National League, known as the Vanarama National League for sponsorship reasons, is the highest level of the National League System and fifth-highest of the overall English football league system. It is the highest league that is semi-professional in the English football league system (although as of the 2022–23 season, all but three clubs are fully professional). Notable former English Football League clubs that compete in the National League include: Chesterfield, Oldham Athletic, Rochdale, York City, Hartlepool United and Southend United. The National League is the lowest division in the English football pyramid organised on a nationwide basis. Formerly the Conference National, the league was renamed the National League from the 2015–16 season.[1]

The longest tenured team currently competing in the National League is Aldershot Town, who have been competing in the National League since 2013–14. As of the 2023–24 season, there is one former Premier League club competing in the National League: Oldham Athletic.

History

Main article: National League (English football) § History

The league was formed as the Alliance Premier League in 1979, coming into force for the 1979–80 season. The league drew its clubs from the Northern Premier League and the Southern League.

It greatly improved the quality of football at this lower level, as well as improving the financial status of the top clubs. This was reflected in 1986–87, when the Football League began accepting direct promotion and relegation between the Conference and the bottom division of the Football League, which at that time was known as the Football League Fourth Division and is now EFL League Two. The first team to be promoted by this method was Scarborough, and the first team relegated was Lincoln City, who regained their Football League status a year later as Conference champions.

Since 2002–03, the league has been granted a second promotion place, with a play-off deciding who joins the champions in League Two. Previously, no promotion from the Conference would occur if the winners did not have adequate stadium facilities. As of the start of the 2002–03 season, if a club achieves the automatic promotion or the play-off places but does not have an adequate stadium, their place will be re-allocated to the next highest placed club that has the required facilities.

In 2004–05, the Conference increased its size by adding two lower divisions, the Conference North and Conference South respectively, with the original division being renamed Conference National. For the 2006–07 season, the Conference National expanded from 22 to 24 teams by promoting four teams while relegating two teams and introduced a "four up and four down" system between itself and the Conference North and Conference South.

Sponsorship

The league's first sponsor was Gola during the 1984–85 and 1985–86 seasons. When Gola's sponsorship ceased, carmaker Vauxhall Motors—then the British subsidiary of General Motors—took over and sponsored the league until the end of the 1997–98 season.

The 1998–99 Conference campaign began without sponsors for the Conference, but just before the end of the season a sponsorship was agreed with Nationwide Building Society. This lasted until the end of the 2006–07 season, after which Blue Square took over. This would also prompt the leagues being renamed, with the Conference National becoming the Blue Square Premier, the Conference North becoming Blue Square North and the Conference South becoming Blue Square South.[2] In April 2010, Blue Square announced a further three-year sponsorship deal. From the start of the 2010–11 season the names were changed slightly, with "Blue Square" becoming "Blue Square Bet".

In July 2013 the Conference agreed another sponsorship deal with online payment firm Skrill.[3] This lasted for only one year and the following July the Conference announced a brand-new three-year deal with Vanarama,[4] later extended by two more years.

In 2015, the Football Conference was renamed the National League. The top division was also officially renamed the National League and the lower divisions renamed as National League North and National League South. In January 2019 the League signed a three-year deal with Motorama,[5] Vanarama's sister company. It was extended to three more years in March 2021.[6]

Media coverage

Coverage of this league began in the mid-1990s when cable channels Wire TV, and later L!VE TV, broadcast weekly highlights. However, the closure of L!VE TV in 1999 saw the cessation of coverage until the mid-2000s when in August 2006, Setanta Sports signed a five-year deal with the Conference and Setanta Sports began showing live matches in the 2007–08 season, with 79 live games each season. Included in the deal were the annual play-off matches as well as the Conference League Cup, a cup competition for the three Football Conference divisions.[7] Setanta showed two live matches a week, with one on Thursday evening and one at the weekend.[8] In Australia the Conference National was broadcast by Setanta Sports Australia. Setanta Sports suffered financial problems and ceased broadcasting in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2009.[9] Sky Sports broadcast the Conference play-off final 2010 at Wembley Stadium.

On 19 August 2010, Premier Sports announced that it bought the live and exclusive UK television rights to 30 matches per season from the Conference Premier for a total of three seasons.[10] The 30 matches selected for broadcast included all five Conference Premier play-offs.[11] The deal with the Football Conference was a revenue sharing arrangement whereby clubs received 50% of revenue from subscriptions, on top of the normal rights fee paid by the broadcaster, once the costs of production were met. The Conference also earned 50% from all internet revenue associated with the deal, which allowed them to retain advertising rights allied to those adverts shown with their matches. During the 2010–11 season, Premier Sports failed to attract enough viewers to its Conference football broadcasts to share any revenue with the clubs beyond the £5,000 broadcast fee paid to home clubs and £1,000 to away clubs.

In July 2013, BT Sport announced a two-year deal to broadcast 30 live games per season including all five play-off matches.[12] In 2015 the National League announced that it renewed a three-year deal with BT Sport.[1]

Current membership

The following 24 clubs compete in the National League during the 2023–24 season.

Club Finishing position last season Location Stadium Capacity
AFC Fylde 1st in National League North (promoted) Wesham Mill Farm 6,000
Aldershot Town 18th Aldershot Recreation Ground 7,200
Altrincham 17th Altrincham Moss Lane 7,700
Barnet 5th London (Edgware) The Hive Stadium 6,418
Boreham Wood 6th Borehamwood Meadow Park 4,502
Bromley 7th London (Bromley) Hayes Lane 5,300
Chesterfield 3rd Chesterfield Proact Stadium 10,504
Dagenham & Redbridge 10th London (Dagenham) Victoria Road 6,078
Dorking Wanderers 16th Dorking Meadowbank 3,000
Eastleigh 9th Eastleigh Ten Acres 5,250
Ebbsfleet United 1st in National League South (promoted) Northfleet Stonebridge Road 4,800
FC Halifax Town 11th Halifax The Shay 10,401
Gateshead 14th Gateshead Gateshead International Stadium 11,800
Hartlepool United 23rd in EFL League Two (relegated) Hartlepool Victoria Park 7,856
Kidderminster Harriers 6th in National League North (promoted) Kidderminster Aggborough 6,238
Maidenhead United 20th Maidenhead York Road 4,000
Oldham Athletic 12th Oldham Boundary Park 13,513
Oxford City 3rd in National League South (promoted) Oxford (Marston) Court Place Farm 2,000
Rochdale 24th in EFL League Two (relegated) Rochdale Spotland Stadium 10,000
Solihull Moors 15th Solihull Damson Park 3,050
Southend United 8th Southend-on-Sea Roots Hall 12,392
Wealdstone 13th London (Ruislip) Grosvenor Vale 4,085
Woking 4th Woking Kingfield Stadium 6,036
York City 19th York York Community Stadium 8,500

Past winners

Numbers in parentheses indicate wins up to that date.

Season Winner Playoff Winner
1979–80 Altrincham1
1980–81 Altrincham1 (2)
1981–82 Runcorn1
1982–83 Enfield1
1983–84 Maidstone United1
1984–85 Wealdstone1
1985–86 Enfield1 (2)
1986–87 Scarborough
1987–88 Lincoln City
1988–89 Maidstone United (2)
1989–90 Darlington
1990–91 Barnet
1991–92 Colchester United
1992–93 Wycombe Wanderers
1993–94 Kidderminster Harriers2
1994–95 Macclesfield Town2
1995–96 Stevenage Borough2
1996–97 Macclesfield Town (2)
1997–98 Halifax Town
1998–99 Cheltenham Town
1999–2000 Kidderminster Harriers (2)
2000–01 Rushden & Diamonds
2001–02 Boston United3
2002–03 Yeovil Town Doncaster Rovers
2003–04 Chester City Shrewsbury Town
2004–05 Barnet (2) Carlisle United
2005–06 Accrington Stanley Hereford United
2006–07 Dagenham & Redbridge Morecambe
2007–08 Aldershot Town Exeter City
2008–09 Burton Albion Torquay United
2009–10 Stevenage Borough (2) Oxford United
2010–11 Crawley Town AFC Wimbledon
2011–12 Fleetwood Town York City
2012–13 Mansfield Town Newport County
2013–14 Luton Town Cambridge United
2014–15 Barnet (3) Bristol Rovers
2015–16 Cheltenham Town (2) Grimsby Town
2016–17 Lincoln City (2) Forest Green Rovers
2017–18 Macclesfield Town (3) Tranmere Rovers
2018–19 Leyton Orient Salford City
2019–204 Barrow Harrogate Town
2020–21 Sutton United Hartlepool United
2021–22 Stockport County Grimsby Town
2022–23 Wrexham Notts County

Play-off results

Season Play-offs eliminator[a] First semi-final Second semi-final Final Final venue
2002–03 N/A Dagenham & Redbridge 2–1 Morecambe

Morecambe 2–1 Dagenham & Redbridge
2–2 draw on aggregate

Dagenham won 3–2 on penalties

Doncaster Rovers 1–1 Chester City

Chester City 1–1 Doncaster Rovers
2–2 draw on aggregate

Doncaster won 4–3 on penalties

Doncaster Rovers 3–2 Dagenham & Redbridge
Doncaster won with a golden goal
(Match report)
Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
2003–04 Aldershot Town 1–1 Hereford United

Hereford United 0–0 Aldershot Town
1–1 draw on aggregate

Aldershot won 4–2 on penalties

Barnet 2–1 Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury Town 1–0 Barnet
2–2 draw on aggregate

Shrewsbury won 5–3 on penalties

Aldershot Town 1–1 Shrewsbury Town
Shrewsbury won 3–0 on penalties
(Match report)
2004–05 Aldershot Town 1–0 Carlisle United

Carlisle United 2–1 Aldershot Town
2–2 draw on aggregate

Carlisle won 5–4 on penalties

Stevenage Borough 1–1 Hereford United

Hereford United 0–1 Stevenage Borough

Stevenage Borough won 2–1 on aggregate

Carlisle United 1–0 Stevenage Borough

(Match report)

2005–06 Halifax Town 3–2 Grays Athletic

Grays Athletic 2–2 Halifax Town

Halifax Town won 5–4 on aggregate

Morecambe 1–1 Hereford United

Hereford United 3–2 Morecambe

Hereford United won 4–3 on aggregate

Hereford United 3–2 Halifax Town
after extra time
(Match report)
Walkers Stadium, Leicester
2006–07 Exeter City 0–1 Oxford United

Oxford United 1–2 Exeter City
2–2 draw on aggregate

Exeter won 4–3 on penalties

York City 0–0 Morecambe

Morecambe 2–1 York City

Morecambe won 2–1 on aggregate

Morecambe 2–1 Exeter City

(Match report)

Wembley Stadium, London
2007–08 Burton Albion 2–2 Cambridge United

Cambridge United 2–1 Burton Albion

Cambridge United won 4–3 on aggregate

Exeter City 1–2 Torquay United

Torquay United 1–4 Exeter City

Exeter City won 5–3 on aggregate

Cambridge United 0–1 Exeter City

(Match report)

2008–09 Stevenage Borough 3–1 Cambridge United

Cambridge United 3–0 Stevenage Borough

Cambridge United won 4–3 on aggregate

Torquay United 2–0 Histon

Histon 1–0 Torquay United

Torquay United won 2–1 on aggregate

Cambridge United 0–2 Torquay United

(Match report)

2009–10 Luton Town 0–1 York City

York City 1–0 Luton Town

York City won 2–0 on aggregate

Oxford United 2–0 Rushden & Diamonds

Rushden & Diamonds 1–1 Oxford United

Oxford United won 3–1 on aggregate

Oxford United 3–1 York City

(Match report)

2010–11 Fleetwood Town 0–2 AFC Wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon 6–1 Fleetwood Town

AFC Wimbledon won 8–1 on aggregate

Wrexham 0–3 Luton Town

Luton Town 2–1 Wrexham

Luton Town won 5–1 on aggregate

AFC Wimbledon 0–0 Luton Town
AFC Wimbledon won 4–3 on penalties
(Match report)
City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester
2011–12 Luton Town 2–0 Wrexham

Wrexham 2–1 Luton Town

Luton Town won 3–2 on aggregate

York City 1–1 Mansfield Town

Mansfield Town 0–1 York City

York City won 2–1 on aggregate

Luton Town 1–2 York City

(Match report)

Wembley Stadium, London
2012–13 Wrexham 2–1 Kidderminster Harriers

Kidderminster Harriers 1–3 Wrexham

Wrexham won 5–2 on aggregate

Grimsby Town 0–1 Newport County

Newport County 1–0 Grimsby Town

Newport County won 2–0 on aggregate

Wrexham 0–2 Newport County

(Match report)

2013–14 FC Halifax Town 1–0 Cambridge United

Cambridge United 2–0 FC Halifax Town

Cambridge United won 2–1 on aggregate

Grimsby Town 1–1 Gateshead

Gateshead 3–1 Grimsby Town

Gateshead won 4–2 on aggregate

Cambridge United 2–1 Gateshead

(Match report)

2014–15 Forest Green Rovers 0–1 Bristol Rovers

Bristol Rovers 2–0 Forest Green Rovers Bristol Rovers won 3–0 on aggregate

Eastleigh 1–2 Grimsby Town

Grimsby Town 3–0 Eastleigh Grimsby Town won 5–1 on aggregate

Bristol Rovers 1–1 Grimsby Town
Bristol Rovers won 5–3 on penalties
(Match report)
2015–16 Dover Athletic 0–1 Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers 1–1 Dover Athletic Forest Green Rovers won 2–1 on aggregate

Grimsby Town 0–1 Braintree Town

Braintree Town 0–2 Grimsby Town

Grimsby Town won 2–1 on aggregate

Forest Green Rovers 1–3 Grimsby Town

(Match report)

2016–17 Aldershot Town 0–3 Tranmere Rovers

Tranmere Rovers 2–2 Aldershot Town Tranmere Rovers won 5–2 on aggregate

Dagenham & Redbridge 1–1 Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers 2–0 Dagenham & Redbridge Forest Green Rovers won 3–1 on aggregate

Tranmere Rovers 1–3 Forest Green Rovers

(Match report)

2017–18 Aldershot Town 1–1 Ebbsfleet United (Ebbsfleet United won 5–4 on penalties)

Boreham Wood 2–1 AFC Fylde

Tranmere Rovers 4–2 (a.e.t) Ebbsfleet United Sutton United 2–3 Boreham Wood Tranmere Rovers 2–1 Boreham Wood

(Match report)

2018–19 AFC Fylde 3–1 Harrogate Town

Wrexham 0–1 (a.e.t) Eastleigh

Solihull Moors 0–1 AFC Fylde Eastleigh 1–1 Salford City
Salford City won 4–3 on penalties
AFC Fylde 0–3 Salford City

(Match report)

2019–20 Boreham Wood 2–1 FC Halifax Town

Yeovil Town 0–2 Barnet

Harrogate Town 1–0 Boreham Wood Notts County 2–0 Barnet Harrogate Town 3–1 Notts County

(Match report)

2020–21 Notts County 3–2 Chesterfield

Hartlepool United 3–2 Bromley

Torquay United 4–2 (a.e.t) Notts County Stockport County 0–1 Hartlepool United Torquay United 1–1 Hartlepool United

Hartlepool United won 5–4 on penalties
(Match report)

Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol
2021–22 Notts County 1–2 (a.e.t) Grimsby Town

FC Halifax Town 1–2 Chesterfield

Wrexham 4–5 (a.e.t) Grimsby Town Solihull Moors 3–1 Chesterfield Grimsby Town 2–1 (a.e.t) Solihull Moors

(Match report)

London Stadium, London
2022–23 Barnet 1-2 Boreham Wood

Woking 1–2 Bromley

Notts County 3–2 (a.e.t) Boreham Wood Chesterfield 3–2 (a.e.t) Bromley Notts County 2–2 Chesterfield

Notts County won 4–3 on penalties
(Match report)

Wembley Stadium, London
  1. ^ Play-offs eliminator round was first introduced for 2017–18 season

Attendances

The highest average league attendance was in the 2022–23 season, when 1.7 million fans attended National League matches, at an average of 3,378 per game. The lowest average league attendance came in the 2014–15 season, when 1 million spectators watched at an average of 1,853 per game. The highest seasonal average for a club was 9,973 for Wrexham in the 2022–23 season.[13]

Season League average attendance Highest average
Club Attendance
2010–11 2,146 Unknown
2011–12 2,034 Unknown
2012–13 1,885 Luton Town 5,882[14]
2013–14 1,864 Luton Town 7,387[15]
2014–15 1,853 Bristol Rovers 8,402[16]
2015–16 1,901 Tranmere Rovers 5,229[17]
2016–17 1,872 Tranmere Rovers 5,741[18]
2017–18 2,045 Tranmere Rovers 5,293[19]
2018–19 1,971 Leyton Orient 5,444[20]
2019–20 1,971 Notts County 5,210[21]
2020–21 No attendances due to pandemic
2021–22 3,084 Wrexham 8,692[22]
2022–23 3,378 Wrexham 9,973[23]

Records

Most wins in a season 34 Wrexham (2022–23)
Fewest defeats in a season 3
Most consecutive wins 12
Longest unbeaten run in a season 30 Crawley Town (2010–11)
Most goals in a season 117 Notts County (2022-23)
Fewest goals conceded in a season 24
Highest goal difference 75 Notts County (2022–23)
Most points in a season 111 Wrexham (2022–23)
Fewest points in a season 1 Dover Athletic (2021–22)[a]
Smallest points gap between champions and 2nd place 0 Colchester United (1991-92) (94 points) over Wycombe Wanderers by +9 goal difference
Largest points gap between champions and 2nd place 19 Luton Town (2013–14) (101 points) over Cambridge United (82 points)
Largest points gap between 2nd and 3rd place 23 Notts County (2022–23) (107 points) over Chesterfield (84 points)
Biggest win 9–0
Record attendance (play-offs) 47,029 Bristol Rovers vs Grimsby Town at Wembley Stadium (play-off final, 17 May 2015)[24]
Record attendance (league game) 16,511 Notts County vs Yeovil Town at Meadow Lane (19 November 2022)[25]
  1. ^ Dover Athletic accumulated thirteen points across the 2021–22 season however they started the season with a 12-point deduction due to failure to complete fixtures the previous season. The previous record lowest points tally accumulated was 10 points by Hyde United in the 2013–14 season.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "Football Conference to be renamed as National League", BBC Sport, 6 April 2015
  2. ^ "Conference announces new sponsors". BBC News. 11 April 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
  3. ^ "Skrill is the new title sponsor for the Football Conference Leagues". Archived from the original on 13 January 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
  4. ^ "Vanarama announced as new Football Conference sponsor". Non-League Bets. 30 July 2014. Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  5. ^ "The National League is to be rebranded from next season". Chester Live. 29 January 2019.
  6. ^ "Vanarama extends National League title sponsorship for three years in multi-million-pound deal". CarDealer. 11 March 2021. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  7. ^ Banham, Mark (29 August 2006). "Setanta signs five-year deal for Conference games". Benchmark Capital. Archived from the original on 21 September 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
  8. ^ "Conference Signs TV Deal". Benchmark Capital. 29 August 2006. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
  9. ^ Setanta goes off air in Great Britain Digital Spy, 23 June 2009
  10. ^ "Premier Sports Secure Conference TV Rights". Vital Football. 19 August 2010.
  11. ^ "Football Conference Signs Unique TV Deal". Blue Square Bet Premier. 20 August 2010. Archived from the original on 21 August 2010. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  12. ^ "BT Sport will show live football conference matches". BT. 3 July 2013.
  13. ^ "National League 2021/2022 - Attendance". worldfootball.net. Retrieved 18 December 2022.
  14. ^ "Blue Square Bet Premier | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2012-2013 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  15. ^ "Skrill Premier | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2013-2014 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  16. ^ "Vanarama Conference | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2014-2015 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  17. ^ "National League | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2015-2016 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  18. ^ "National League | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2016-2017 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  19. ^ "National League | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2017-2018 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  20. ^ "National League | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2018-2019 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  21. ^ "Vanarama National League | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2019-2020 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  22. ^ "Vanarama National League | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2021-2022 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  23. ^ "Vanarama National League | Average Attendances | Home Matches | 2022-2023 | Football Web Pages". www.footballwebpages.co.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  24. ^ "Bristol Rovers 1–1 Grimsby". 17 May 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  25. ^ "Notts County 0–0 Yeovil Town: Record non-league crowd of 16,511 watch Magpies stalemate". BBC Sport. 19 November 2022. Retrieved 20 November 2022.