About England National League
The Vanarama National League, also known as the National League for sponsorship purposes, represents the highest tier of the National League System and the fifth highest level of the English football league system. While the majority of its clubs are now fully professional, the National League remains the highest semi-professional league in English football. The league includes several former English Football League clubs, such as Notts County, Torquay United, Scunthorpe United, Chesterfield, Oldham Athletic, and Wrexham.
The National League is the lowest division in the English football pyramid that operates on a nationwide basis. Previously known as the Conference National, the league was rebranded as the National League for the 2015-16 season. Wrexham is currently the longest-tenured team competing in the league, and as of the 2022-23 season, one former Premier League club, Oldham Athletic, is also participating.
The Alliance Premier League was formed in 1979, and it came into effect for the 1979-80 season. The league consisted of clubs from the Northern Premier League and the Southern League, and it improved the quality of football at the lower level and enhanced the financial status of top clubs. In 1986-87, direct promotion and relegation between the Conference and the fourth division of the Football League (now EFL League Two) was introduced, allowing teams to move up and down the league system. Scarborough was the first team to be promoted through this method, while Lincoln City was the first team to be relegated. However, Lincoln City regained their Football League status the following year as Conference champions.
From 2002-03 onwards, the National League has been granted two promotion places, with a playoff deciding who joins the champions in League Two. Prior to this, there was no promotion from the Conference if the winners did not have adequate stadium facilities. However, since the start of the 2002-03 season, if a club achieves automatic promotion or reaches the playoff places but does not have a suitable stadium, their place will be given to the next highest-placed club that meets the requirements.
In 2004-05, the league expanded by introducing two lower divisions: the Conference North and Conference South, respectively. The original division was renamed Conference National, and for the 2006-07 season, the league further expanded to 24 teams by promoting four and relegating two. Additionally, a “four up and four down” system was introduced between the Conference National and the Conference North and South divisions.
The National League, formerly known as the Football Conference, has seen many sponsors over the years. Gola was the league’s first sponsor during the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons, followed by Vauxhall Motors, the British subsidiary of General Motors, who sponsored the league until the end of the 1997-98 season. The Conference campaign in 1998-99 began without a sponsor, but a sponsorship was agreed with Nationwide Building Society just before the end of the season. Blue Square took over sponsorship after Nationwide and continued until the end of the 2012-13 season. The league was then renamed the Vanarama National League after agreeing to a sponsorship deal with Vanarama in 2014, which was later extended by two more years.
Media coverage of the league has also evolved over the years. In August 2006, Setanta Sports signed a five-year deal with the Conference, showing 79 live matches each season. The deal also included the annual play-off matches and the Conference League Cup, a cup competition for the three Football Conference divisions. Setanta Sports showed two live matches a week, with one on Thursday evening and one at the weekend. However, Setanta Sports suffered financial problems and ceased broadcasting in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2009. Sky Sports then broadcasted the Conference play-off final 2010 at Wembley Stadium.
Premier Sports bought the live and exclusive UK television rights to 30 matches per season from the Conference Premier for a total of three seasons in August 2010. The deal included all five Conference Premier play-offs, and the revenue was shared with the clubs. However, during the 2010-11 season, Premier Sports failed to attract enough viewers 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. The National League renewed its three-year deal with BT Sport in 2015.