The Scottish football league system is a series of generally connected leagues for Scottish football clubs.

The Scottish system is more complicated than many other national league systems, consisting of several completely separate systems or 'grades' of leagues and clubs. As well as senior football there is junior football, and also amateur football and welfare football.

In senior football in Scotland there is one national league, the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), which has four divisions. There are also several regional leagues (most notably the Highland Football League and since 2013 the Lowland Football League). From 2014–15, a promotion/relegation play-off between the two regional leagues and the SPFL national league was introduced for the first time.[1]

Two clubs based in England play in the senior Scottish system - Berwick Rangers in the Lowland League and Tweedmouth Rangers in the East of Scotland League. A small number of English amateur clubs in the lowest levels of the game, based on or around the Anglo-Scottish border, also compete in Border Amateur Football League for geographical and travel reasons.

Men's system

See also: History of Scottish football

Until 2013 Scottish football had no pyramid league system, and as a result it was impossible for clubs in regional leagues to progress into the national leagues, unless a vacancy opened in the Scottish Football League. The final example of this was ahead of the 2008–09 season, where Gretna's demise allowed Annan Athletic to take their place. Overall, the structure of men's football in Scotland was among the most fractured and multi-faceted in Europe, being unique in having a plurality of adult male governing bodies (with Seniors, Juniors, Amateurs and Welfarers - see below). It was not uncommon for a given town or county to have clubs in as many as three or four separate systems.

Moves towards creating a pyramid system began in 2008 under the tenure of Scottish Football Association (SFA) chief executive Gordon Smith, with discussions between the SFA and the regional and junior leagues.[2] On 7 May 2013 Scottish Premier League clubs unanimously agreed on the introduction of a pyramid structure to Scottish football along with the reintroduction of a single governing body for the 42 clubs competing at a national level, a revised financial distribution model, and the possibility of a promotion/relegation play-off between the top two divisions.[3]

Senior football

The current system has been in place since 2013–14, when the Scottish Professional Football League was formed by a merger of the Scottish Premier League (tier 1) and the Scottish Football League (tiers 2–4). At the same time, the Lowland Football League (tier 5) was founded, and from 2014 to 2021 the leagues below (tier 6) began to be incorporated as each joined the system. For each division, its official name, number of clubs, number of games, and promotion/relegation spots are given:

Tier Total Clubs (292) League(s) / Division(s)
42 Scottish Professional Football League
1 12

Scottish Premiership
12 clubs playing 38 games
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

2 10

Scottish Championship
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 3 promotion playoff spots
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

3 10

Scottish League One
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 3 promotion playoff spots
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

4 10

Scottish League Two
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 3 promotion playoff spots
↓ 1 relegation playoff spot

250 Non-League / Regional Leagues
5 37

Highland Football League
18 clubs playing 34 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation playoff spot

Lowland Football League
19 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation spot

6 90 Midlands Football League

19 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

North Caledonian League

13 clubs playing 24 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

North Region League Premier Division

14 clubs playing 26 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 2 relegation spots

East of Scotland Football League
Premier Division

16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 3 relegation spots

South of Scotland Football League

12 clubs playing 22 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

West of Scotland Football League
Premier Division

16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 3 relegation spots

7 48 North Region League Championship

16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 4 promotion spots

East of Scotland Football League
First Division

16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 3 promotion spots
↓ 3 relegation spots

West of Scotland Football League
First Division

16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 3 promotion spots
↓ 3 relegation spots

8 34 East of Scotland Football League
Second Division

18 clubs playing 34 games
↑ 3 promotion spots
↓ 4 relegation spots

West of Scotland Football League
Second Division

16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 3 promotion spots
↓ 3 relegation spots

9 29 East of Scotland Football League
Third Division

10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 2 promotion spots

West of Scotland Football League
Third Division

19 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 3 promotion spots
↓ 6 relegation spots

10 12 West of Scotland Football League
Fourth Division

12 clubs playing TBC games
↑ 3 promotion spots

  leagues run by regions of the Scottish Junior Football Association

The leagues below level four are classed as "non-league football", meaning they are outside the Scottish Professional Football League and are played on a regional not a national basis. The Lowland League was created in 2013–14 and runs in parallel with the Highland League to form level five on the pyramid. Since 2014–15 the two league winners have played off against each other, with the winner then playing the team finishing 10th in League Two in a promotion/relegation play-off for a place in the SPFL.

Below the Highland League is the Midlands League (19 clubs); North Caledonian Football League (13 teams, including two reserve teams); and the North Region League (30 clubs, 2 divisions). Below the Lowland League is the East of Scotland Football League (60 clubs, including one reserve team, 4 divisions); the South of Scotland Football League (12 clubs, including two reserve teams); and the West of Scotland Football League (79 clubs, 5 divisions). At end of season, round robin promotion play-offs take place between the winners of feeder leagues of the Highland and Lowland League respectively (subject to each club meeting licensing criteria) for promotion to tier 5.

At the start of the 2022–23 season, this totalled 292 teams across 20 divisions.

Cup competitions

All clubs in tier 5 and above automatically enter the Scottish Cup, along with clubs in other divisions who are full members of the Scottish Football Association. Up to three non-SFA members can qualify for the Scottish Cup each season by winning the East, South or West leagues, or the East, South and West Cup-Winners Shield. All 42 SPFL clubs compete in the Scottish League Cup, along with the Highland and Lowland champions, and one of the runners-up. The Scottish Challenge Cup features 30 SPFL clubs from outside the Premiership, Under 21s teams, and four from the Highland and Lowland leagues.

The SFA South Region Challenge Cup is for all 164 non-league clubs in the Lowland area (excluding reserve or B teams). The SFA North Region Challenge Cup existed between 2007 and 2009. There are also a variety of smaller cup tournaments at league and regional level.

Junior football

The Scottish Junior Football Association (SJFA) manages two regions: the SJFA East Region of 19 clubs; and the SJFA North Region of 34 clubs (4 clubs withdrew for 2022–23). This represents a total of 53 teams across 3 divisions. The term 'junior' refers not to the age of the players but the level of football played.[4][5][6] These two regions joined the pyramid system at tier 6 below the Highland League in 2021–22.[citation needed]

Members of the SJFA, consisting of 114 teams in total from the two regions as well as the East of Scotland League and West of Scotland League (5 teams are in abeyance for 2022–23), participate in the Scottish Junior Cup. Up to three non-SFA members can qualify for the Scottish Cup each season by winning the Midlands League, North Superleague, or the Junior Cup. Banks O' Dee also enter senior tournaments in the Aberdeenshire Cup and Shield, and run an Under-20s team in the Senior development structure (the Aberdeenshire & District League).

In 2020, as part of a long process to form an integrated footballing pyramid structure, all 63 West Region Junior clubs decided to depart and join the newly founded West of Scotland Football League, a feeder to the Lowland League. Between 2017 and 2020 more than half of the East Region clubs departed the junior ranks, joining the senior East of Scotland Football League which is also below the Lowland League. The remaining clubs in the East Premiership South made the same move to the East of Scotland League for season 2021–22, and the East Premiership North clubs formed the Midlands League at tier 6 below the Highland League. The North Region also joined the pyramid structure at the same level.[7] The northern leagues at that level entered the pyramid later in July.[8]

Amateur football

Again separate from the above, and generally agreed to lie 'below' the senior and junior levels, are the hundreds of clubs in membership of the Scottish Amateur Football Association which oversees 50 leagues[9][10][11] - although this includes Sunday League football and futsal competitions. Prestige centres around the historic Scottish Amateur Cup. A number of Senior and Junior clubs run reserve teams in Amateur football. Student and Police football is also affiliated to the SAFA.

As of 2022–23 there are 360 teams – in 12 geographic leagues containing a total of 31 league divisions – playing Saturday football under a regular August–May season. In addition there are 137 teams playing in four specialist Saturday Morning leagues (including one for Glasgow Colleges Amateur Football Association) in Dundee and Glasgow, plus 22 teams playing in Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League.

There are also 90 teams playing in the Summer Saturday leagues (season 2022), most of which are located in the Highland; 244 teams are in the Sunday League system.

Saturday Leagues (Winter)

Leagues Divisions
Aberdeenshire Amateur Football Association

60 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Division One (North)

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

Division One (East)

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division Two (North)

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Division Two (East)

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Ayrshire Amateur Football Association

37 clubs

1 Premier League

12 clubs
↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Division 1

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

↓ 2 relegation spots

3 Division 2

14 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Border Amateur Football League

28 clubs

1 A League

10 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots + 1 relegation playoff spot

2 B League

10 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots + 1 promotion playoff spot

↓ 3 relegation spots + 1 relegation playoff spot

3 C League

8 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots + 1 promotion playoff spot

Caledonian Amateur Football League

23 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs
↓ 3 relegation spots

2 First Division

9 clubs

↑ 3 promotion spots

Central Scottish Amateur Football League

25 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Championship

13 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur Football League

41 clubs

1 Division 1

12 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots + 1 relegation playoff spot

2 Division 2

12 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots + 1 promotion playoff spot

↓ 2 relegation spots + 1 relegation playoff spot

3 Division 3A

9 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spots+ 1 promotion playoff spot

Division 3B

8 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spots+ 1 promotion playoff spot

Kingdom of Fife Amateur Football Association

35 clubs

1 Premier League

12 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Championship

12 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

↓ 2 relegation spots

3 Division 1

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Lothian & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association (Saturday)

49 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spot

2 Championship

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spot

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division 1

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spot

↓ TBC relegation spot

2 Division 2

13 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spot

Midlands Amateur Football Association

14 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

Perthshire Amateur Football Association

21 clubs

1 Division One

10 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Division Two

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Scottish Amateur Football League

16 clubs

1 Premier

16 clubs

Stirling & District Amateur Football Association

11 clubs

1 Premier Division

11 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

Dundee Saturday Morning Amateur Football League

39 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot + 2 relegation playoff spots

2 1st Division

12 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot + 2 promotion playoff spots

↓ 2 relegation spots + 1 relegation playoff spot

3 2nd Division

15 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot + 2 promotion playoff spots

Glasgow Colleges Amateur Football Association

34 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 Division One (A)

10 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Division One (B)

10 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Saturday Morning Amateur Football League

64 clubs

1 Premier Division

14 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Championship

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Division 1A

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Division 1B

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League

22 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 Division 1

10 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Saturday Leagues (Summer)

Leagues Divisions
Caithness Amateur Football Association

14 clubs

1 Division 1

8 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 Division 2

6 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Inverness & District Amateur Football Association

26 clubs

1 Premier Division

8 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 1st Division

8 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

↓ 1 relegation spot

3 2nd Division

10 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Lewis & Harris Amateur League

9 clubs

1 9 clubs
North West Sutherland Amateur Football League

8 clubs

1 8 clubs
Orkney Amateur Football Association

12 clubs

1 A League

7 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 B League

5 clubs

↑ 1 promotion spot

Shetland Amateur Football Association

8 clubs

1 Premier League

8 clubs

Skye & Lochalsh Amateur Football Association

7 clubs

1 7 clubs
Uist & Barra Amateur Football Association

6 clubs

1 6 clubs

Sunday Leagues

Leagues Divisions
Aberdeen Sunday Football Association

17 clubs

1 Premier Division

8 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 First Division

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Airdrie & Coatbridge Sunday Amateur Football League

40 clubs

1 Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Championship Division

13 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 First Division

15 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Ayrshire Sunday Amateur Football Association

11 clubs

1 Division 1

11 clubs

Dumfries Sunday Amateur Football League

14 clubs

1 Premier Division

15 clubs

Fife Sunday Amateur Football League

16 clubs

1 Premier Division

6 clubs

↓ 1 relegation spot

2 Championship

10 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Glasgow & District Sunday Championship Amateur Football League

43 clubs

1 Premiership

10 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Championship

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division 1

11 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

4 Division 2

10 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

Lothians & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association (Sunday)

49 clubs

Mornings Afternoons
1 Premier Division

10 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

Premier Division

14 clubs

2 Championship

11 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 Division 1

14 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Football Central Amateur Football League

54 clubs

Lanarkshire
1 Premier Division

10 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

Premier Division

12 clubs

↓ TBC relegation spots

2 Championship

9 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

Championship

12 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots

↓ TBC relegation spots

3 First Division

11 clubs

↑ TBC promotion spots


Welfare football

Roughly concurrent with the Scottish Amateur Football Association is the Scottish Welfare Football Association, which has a very low profile nationally. The SWFA was established in the aftermath of World War I, and oversees leagues mainly operating Sunday and summer or midweek football, predominantly in the north of Scotland.

From a peak of over 500 clubs, there were 158 teams in membership in November 2012,[12] down from 238 teams in 2007.[13]

As of Season 2022 (Summer) and 2022–23 (Winter) there are 100 teams in 8 geographic leagues, plus 13 clubs playing in Warriors Premier League.

Leagues Divisions
Summer
Forres and Nairn District Welfare Association League

10 clubs

1 West Conference

5 clubs

East Conference

5 clubs

Forth & Endrick Football League

10 clubs

1 10 clubs
Deeside Welfare Football Association

8 clubs

1 Mid-Deeside Summer League

8 clubs

Moray & District Welfare Football Association

6 clubs

1 6 clubs
North East Scotland Welfare Football Association

20 clubs

1 League 1

9 clubs

↓ 2 relegation spots

2 League 2

11 clubs

↑ 2 promotion spots

Strathspey & Badenoch Welfare Football Association

6 clubs

1 6 clubs
Winter
Greenock & District Welfare League

16 clubs

1 16 clubs
Montrose and District Welfare League

11 clubs

1 11 clubs
Warriors Premier League

13 clubs

1 13 clubs

Reserve and Youth football

The reserve and youth leagues are mostly governed by the relevant adult leagues.

Leagues Divisions
SPFL Reserve League

10 clubs (SPFL Premiership, Championship)

Reserve 1 10 clubs
Lowlands Development League

95 clubs

Youth

(U20)

1 Conference A

13 clubs (SPFL League One, League Two, Lowland League)

Conference B

14 clubs (Lowland League, EoS League)

Conference C

14 clubs (EoS League)

Conference D

13 clubs (EoS League, WoS League)

Conference E

13 clubs (WoS League)

Conference F

14 clubs (WoS League)

Conference G

14 clubs (WoS League)

Aberdeenshire and District League

11 clubs (Aberdeenshire and District FA)

Youth

(U21)

1 11 clubs
North of Scotland FA U20 League

4 clubs

Youth

(U20)

1 4 clubs
Highland League U18

19 clubs

Youth

(U18)

1 East

8 clubs

North

11 clubs

SFA Club Academy Scotland Elite League

9 clubs (CAS Elite Level)

Youth

(U11-18)

1 U11 U13 U14 U15 U16 U18
9 clubs
SFA Club Academy Scotland Performance League

10 clubs (CAS Performance Level)

Youth

(U11-18)

1 U11 U13 U14 U15 U16 U18
10 clubs
SFA Advanced Youth League

6 clubs (Advanced Youth Programme)

Youth

(U16-18)

1 U16 U18
6 clubs
Saturday Morning Amateur Football League Development Section

15 clubs

Youth 1 15 clubs
Midlands Amateur Football Association Alliance League

12 clubs

Reserve 1 Championship

12 clubs

Orkney Amateur Football Association Reserve League

8 clubs

Reserve 1 8 clubs
Shetland Amateur Football Association Reserve League

11 clubs

Reserve 1 11 clubs

Women's system

Senior football

Senior leagues of women's football in Scotland are structured as follows:

Level League(s) / Division(s)
National Leagues
1

Scottish Women's Premier League 1
12 clubs playing 27 games
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

2

Scottish Women's Premier League 2
8 clubs playing 28 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

3 Scottish Women's Championship

8 clubs playing 28 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot

4 Scottish Women's League One

12 clubs playing 27 games
↑ 2 promotion spots

Regional Leagues (Summer)
Scottish Women's Football League Highlands and Islands League

9 clubs playing 16 games

SWFL Central/South East

13 clubs playing 24 games

SWFL West/South West

11 clubs playing 20 games

SWFL North/East

10 clubs playing 27 games

Youth football

Scottish Women's Football National Performance League
U19 U16
13 clubs 8 clubs
Scottish Women's Football Youth Regional League (Summer)
U18 U16 U14
Central Cross Region

Emma Mitchell League 11 clubs

Sam Kerr League 11 clubs Fiona Brown League 7 clubs

Lee Alexander League 8 clubs

Nicola Docherty League 7 clubs

West Leanne Crichton League 13 clubs Chloe Arthur League 8 clubs

Jen Beattie League 13 clubs

South West Erin Cuthbert League 11 clubs Erin Cuthbert League 10 clubs

Lee Alexander League 11 clubs

South East Cross Region

Jenna Fife League 6 clubs

Kirsty Smith League 8 clubs

Joelle Murray League 9 clubs

Lizzie Arnot League 10 clubs

Frankie Brown League 12 clubs

Joelle Murray League 10 clubs

Lizzie Arnot League 10 clubs

East Caroline Weir League 11 clubs

Abbi Grant League 8 clubs

Lucy Graham League 9 clubs

Caroline Weir League 9 clubs

Lana Clelland League 5 clubs

North Kim Little League 8 clubs Kim Little League 13 clubs Rachel Corsie League 7 clubs

Christy Grimshaw League 7 clubs

Rachel McLauchlan League 6 clubs

See also

References

  1. ^ "The Rules of the SPFL" (PDF). Scottish Professional Football League. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  2. ^ "Smith wants pyramid system". sportinglife.com. 2008-06-04. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  3. ^ "SPL clubs agree league reform package for next season". BBC Sport. 2013-05-07. Archived from the original on 2013-05-09. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
  4. ^ The dutiful game: Welcome to the world of junior football in Scotland, The Scotsman, 23 May 2010
  5. ^ The Rise of the Juniors, Craig Anderson, In Bed with Maradona, 2 November 2010
  6. ^ Why Junior football should never grow up, Scott Fleming, Nutmeg Magazine, 1 December 2016
  7. ^ Durent, Jamie. "Talk of north junior football clubs being ready for Highland League promotion plan 'premature'". Press and Journal. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  8. ^ "North Region Joins Pyramid At Tier 6". The North Region Junior Football Association. 6 July 2021.
  9. ^ "SAFA Winter Saturday".
  10. ^ "SAFA Winter Sunday".
  11. ^ "SAFA Summer/Highlands".
  12. ^ "Scottish Welfare FA Club Directory". 2012-11-12.
  13. ^ "Scottish Amateur League - An Ongoing Resume".