Thursday, 23 May 2024

The Tiers of English Football: A Comprehensive Guide

Football, known as soccer in many parts of the world, has its roots in the United Kingdom. It’s a sport that has captured the hearts of millions of people, and nowhere is this more evident than in England. From the grand stadiums of the Premier League to the humble grounds of county level teams, the passion for the game is palpable. In this article, we’ll explore the intricacies of the English football pyramid, providing you with a detailed guide to the tiers of English football.

How Many Professional English Soccer Leagues Are There?

English football has four professional leagues that form the backbone of the sport in the country. These leagues are:

  • The Premier League (top tier)
  • The Championship (second tier)
  • League One (third tier)
  • League Two (fourth tier)

Before the Premier League rebrand in 1992/93, the leagues were known as the First Division, Second Division, Third Division, and Fourth Division. The creation of the Championship in 2004 brought about the current structure. These leagues, along with the National League, make up the English Football League (EFL), which was founded in 1888 and consists of 72 fully professional teams.

It’s worth noting that even below League Two, there are professionalized teams. The National League, England’s fifth tier, has seen significant improvements in recent years in terms of football standards, investment, and overall professionalism. This has led to the rise of several professionalized clubs at this level, such as Wrexham, who have secured promotion to League Two.

The Premier League

At the pinnacle of the English football pyramid lies the Premier League. Here, the biggest and most affluent clubs, including Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur, compete for the coveted title. The Premier League is renowned for its extraordinary popularity, with matches broadcast in 212 countries and a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people.

Manchester United has been the most successful club in the Premier League era, winning an impressive 13 titles under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson. However, in recent years, Manchester City, managed by Pep Guardiola, has dominated the league, winning five of the last six titles.

Premier League

The Championship

The Championship is England’s second tier, just below the Premier League. While the standard of football is still incredibly high, there is a noticeable gap between the top two leagues. The Premier League provides parachute payments to relegated clubs in order to assist them financially during the transition.

Promotion from the Championship to the Premier League can be achieved by finishing in the top two positions at the end of the season or by winning the playoffs. The playoffs offer a chance for teams placed between 3rd and 6th to compete in a mini-knockout competition, with the victorious team gaining promotion.

Relegation works in the opposite way, as the bottom three clubs in the Championship are automatically relegated to League One, ensuring a fresh set of teams for each new season.


League One

League One, despite its name, is the third-highest division in English football. It is home to both historic and giant clubs such as Derby County, Bolton Wanderers, Portsmouth, and Blackpool. Promotion from League One to the Championship is achieved by securing one of the automatic promotion spots or by winning the playoffs.

Similarly to the Championship, four teams are automatically relegated from League One to League Two. This creates a competitive environment where strugglers face the constant threat of dropping down a tier.

League Two

League Two represents the fourth tier of the English Football League (EFL). While it is home to smaller clubs and minnows of the professional game, historic sides like Notts County, Bradford City, and AFC Wimbledon also compete at this level. League Two offers three automatic promotion spots and a playoff opportunity for teams finishing between 4th and 7th.

Promotion and relegation between League One and League Two ensure a balance of teams within the divisions. Only two teams are relegated from League Two to the non-league National League, minimizing the impact on clubs dropping out of the professionalized EFL.

League Two

The National League

The National League, below League Two, represents the highest level of English non-league football. Although it is classified as the fifth tier, many of the clubs in this division operate on a full-time basis and pay players and staff professional wages.

Promotion from the National League is a challenging task, with only one automatic promotion spot. Teams finishing 2nd and 3rd go straight to the play-off semi-finals, while teams placed 4th to 7th must navigate quarter-finals before reaching the final stages of the play-offs.

The English football league pyramid extends beyond the National League. Numerous divisions exist below this level, catering to the immense popularity and participation in the sport. From the regionalized leagues of National League North and National League South to the Isthmian League, Southern League, and Northern Premier League, England’s football network is extensive.

The complexity of the English football league pyramid is a testament to the country’s passion for the sport. It’s a system that allows clubs at all levels to compete, dream, and strive for success.

If you’re interested in exploring the significance of non-league football in England’s sporting identity, we recommend checking out the interview with football author Nige Tassell on our website Zerobertooficial. In his book “The Bottom Corner,” he delves into the world of non-league football, providing a captivating account of the sport across the country.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How many professional leagues are there in English football?

    • There are four professional leagues: the Premier League, the Championship, League One, and League Two.
  2. How does promotion and relegation work in English football?

    • The top two teams in the Championship are promoted to the Premier League, while the bottom three teams are relegated to League One. Additionally, promotion and relegation occur between League One and League Two, and League Two and the National League.
  3. Which league is the highest in English football?

    • The Premier League is the highest league in English football, featuring the biggest and most affluent clubs.
  4. How many teams are there in the English Football League (EFL)?

    • The EFL consists of 72 professional teams across the Championship, League One, and League Two.
  5. What is the National League?

    • The National League is the fifth tier of English football, below League Two. It features teams operating on a full-time basis and competing for promotion to the EFL.


The English football pyramid is a complex and fascinating system that encompasses various tiers of the sport. From the glitz and glamour of the Premier League to the resilience and ambition of non-league football, the passion for the game is evident at every level. Whether it’s cheering on your favorite Premier League team or supporting your local non-league club, English football offers a thrilling and diverse experience for fans and players alike.