English Football League Pyramid System

The English Football League pyramid is one, if not the most watched sport across the globe.

The series of interconnected leagues is run in a hierarchical system with promotion and relegation in place across every division and It is that promotion/relegation aspect which provides most of the entertainment.

It also gives every side the incentive that one day they could potentially play in England’s top league – the Premier League.

Throughout this guide we take an in-depth look at the system, the English cup competitions and how the pyramid works.

Level 1: Premier League

No of Teams: 20

Teams: AFC Bournemouth, Arsenal, Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Cardiff City, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Huddersfield Town, Leicester City, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle Utd, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers

The team that finish top at the end of the season are crowned the Premier League champions, while the bottom three teams are relegated.

Interesting facts: Since its inception in 1992 only six teams have won the Premier League – Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Leicester City, Manchester United and Man City. You can see a full list of Premier League Winners here. 

Only three teams have been top of the Premier League table and been relegated in the same season – Hull City (2016/17), Bolton (2011/12) and Charlton (1998/99).

Gareth Barry is the player with the most Premier League appearances (653) having represented four clubs (Aston Villa, Man City, Everton, West Bromwich Albion) in the top flight.

Petr Cech (161) has kept the most clean sheets of any Premier League goalkeeper during his spells with Chelsea and Arsenal

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Level 2: English Football League Championship

No. of Teams: 24

Teams:  Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Brentford, Bristol City, Derby County, Hull City, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Middlesbrough, Millwall, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Preston North End, Queens Park Rangers, Reading, Rotherham United. Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic

The top two teams win promotion automatically, with the next four highest teams competing in play-offs with the winner gaining the third promotion spot. The final playoff match which decides who picks up the third promotion place is known as the richest fame in football because of the extra money gained from playing in England’s top league. The bottom three teams are relegated.

Interesting Facts: Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp has scored the most goals in English league football this century (220), surpassing Rickie Lambert (219).

The fastest sending off in British football is held by Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman who was sent off after just 13 seconds for handling a shot outside the area from Wolverhampton’s Temuri Ketsbaia on the opening weekend of the 2001-02 season.

Neil Warnock (10) holds the record for the Most Manager of the Month awards in the division.

Level 3: English Football League One

No of Teams: 24

Teams: AFC Wimbledon, Accrington Stanley, Barnsley, Blackpool, Bradford City, Bristol Rovers, Burton Albion, Charlton Athletic, Coventry City, Doncaster Rovers, Fleetwood Town, Gillingham, Luton Town, Oxford United, Peterborough United, Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth, Rochdale, Scunthorpe United, Shrewsbury Town, Southend United, Sunderland, Walsall, Wycombe Wanderers

The top two teams win promotion automatically, with the next four highest teams competing in play-offs with the winner gaining the third promotion spot. The bottom four teams are relegated.

Level 4: English Football League Two

No of Teams: 24

Teams: Bury, Cambridge United, Carlisle United, Cheltenham Town, Colchester United, Crawley Town, Crewe Alexandra, Exeter City, Forest Green Rovers, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City, MK Dons, Macclesfield Town, Mansfield Town, Newport County, Northampton Town, Notts County, Oldham Athletic, Port Vale, Stevenage, Swindon Town, Tranmere Rovers, Yeovil Town.

The top three team win promotion automatically, with the next four highest teams competing in the play-offs with the winner gaining the fourth promotion spot. The bottom two teams are relegated.

Level 5: National League

No of Teams: 24

Teams: AFC Fylde, Aldershot Town, Barnet, Barrow, Boreham Wood, Braintree Town, Bromley, Chesterfield, Dagenham & Redbridge, Dover Athletic, Eastleigh, Ebbsfleet United, Gateshead, FC Halifax Town, Harrogate Town, Havant & Waterlooville, Leyton Orient, Maidenhead United, Salford City, Solihull Moors, Sutton United, Wrexham AFC.

The champions are promoted with the next six teams competing in the play-offs with the winner gaining the second promotion spot. The bottom four are relegated to either North or South division as appropriate.

Step 6: National League South and North

No. of Teams: 24

Teams: South: Bath City, Billericay Town, Chelmsford City, Chippenham Town, Concord Rangers, Dartford, Dulwich Hamlet, East Thurrock United, Eastbourne Borough, Gloucester City, Hampton & Richmond, Hemel Hempstead Town, Hungerford Town, Oxford City, Slough Town, St Albans City, Torquay United, Truro City, Wealdstone, Welling United, Weston super-Mare, Woking.

North: Alfreton Town, Altrincham, Ashton United, Blyth Spartans, Boston United, Brackley, Bradford Park Avenue, Chester City, Chorley, Curzon Ashton, Darlington FC, FC United of Manchester, Guiseley AFC, Hereford FC, Kidderminster Harriers, Leamington Spa, Nuneaton Town, Southport, Spennymoor United, Stockport County, Telford United, York City.

The champions are promoted with the next six teams competing in the play-offs with the winner gaining the second promotion spot. The bottom three are relegated to either Northern, Southern or Isthmian Premier Division depending on their location.

Step 7 and below

We may have covered the top 160 teams in the English Football League pyramid, but there are still plenty more teams in the pyramid.

The next step below the National League South and North are the Northern Premier Division, Southern Football League Central Division, Southern Football League South Division and Isthmian Premier Division.

Currently there are 22 teams in each of those leagues with the champions automatically promoted, while the next four teams in each division compete in the play-offs. Those four winners are then paired off geographically for a further match to determine which two teams are promoted teams. The bottom three teams from each division are relegated to an appropriate level eight division.

Step eight follows a similar principle with seven leagues, where again the champions are promoted automatically and the next four teams in each division compete in the playoffs, with the five best play-off winners by points per game being promoted. The bottom two teams are relegated to a level nine division.

Cup Competitions

Members of leagues at a particular level makes you eligible to compete in a number of Cup competitions

The major one is the FA Cup, where every team from Level 1-10 is eligible and it is this competition which gets the most exposure of any, with the potential for non-league sides (Level 5 to 10) to cause upset against the league sides (Levels 1 to 4). Take a look at our giantkillings blog here.

The EFL Cup is solely for the top-92 sides (Levels 1 to 4) to compete in, while the EFL Trophy is for teams from Levels 3 and 4, though it also includes a number of Academy sides from teams in Levels 1 and 2 to enable youngsters at those clubs to get senior game experience.

The FA Trophy is a non-league competition with teams from Levels 5 to 8 taking part, while the FA Vase if for teams from Levels 9 to 11.

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