The Madejski Stadium looking glorious. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

How the English Football Pyramid system works – step by step

From the bottom to the top, the English football league system explained
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The Madejski Stadium looking glorious. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

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The English Football Pyramid system is the structure of football divisions within the Football Associations remit and allows promotion and relegation from a County League right up to the Premier League.

It is known as the National League System (NLS), not to be confused with the National League which is a league within the NLS.

The system effectively covers at least 11 levels, more commonly referred to as ‘steps’ of which there are at least seven.

For example, the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League Premier Division North is at level 9 league but step 5 overall while the Thames Valley Premier League is a step 7 league.

Competitions like the East Berks Football League and Hellenic League Division Two divisions do not appear in this as they are not part of the pyramid system currently.

The pyramid system underwent a major adjustment in the summer of 2021 after a delay due to Covid-19 but now means the pyramid (NLS) structure follows a 1-2-4-8-16 formation of divisions.

The new divisions created in the summer included the Combined Counties League Premier Division North.

Currently, the system works as follows from the bottom to the top:

Level 1: FA Premier League

Level 2: EFL Championship

Level 3: EFL League One

Level 4: EFL League Two

Level 5, Step 1: National League

Level 6, Step 2: National League North, National League South

Level 7, Step 3:

  • Northern Premier League Premier Division
  • Southern League Premier Division Central
  • Southern League Premier Division South
  • Isthmian League Premier Division

Level 8, Step 4: (All divisions run in parallel)

  • Northern Premier League Division One East
  • Northern Premier League Division One West
  • Northern Premier League Division One Midlands (NEW)
  • Southern League Division One Central
  • Southern League Division One South
  • Isthmian League Division One North
  • Isthmian League Division One South Central
  • Isthmian League Division One East

Level 9, Step 5: (All divisions run in parallel)

  • Combined Counties League Premier Division North (NEW)
  • Combined Counties League Premier Division South
  • Eastern Counties League Premier Division
  • Essex Senior League
  • Hellenic League Premier Division
  • Midland Football League Premier Division
  • North West Counties League Premier Division
  • Northern Counties East League Premier Division
  • Northern League Division One
  • Southern Combination Football League Premier Division
  • Southern Counties East League Premier Division
  • Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division
  • United Counties League Premier Division
  • Wessex League Premier Division
  • Western League Premier Division

Level 10, Step 6: (All divisions run in parallel)

  • Combined Counties League Division One
  • East Midlands Counties League
  • Eastern Counties League Division One North
  • Eastern Counties League Division One South
  • Hellenic League Division One
  • Midland Football League Division One
  • North West Counties League First Division North
  • North West Counties League First Division South
  • Northern Counties East League Division One
  • Northern League Division Two
  • South West Peninsula League Premier Division East
  • South West Peninsula League Premier Division West
  • Southern Combination Football League Division One
  • Southern Counties East League Division One
  • Spartan South Midlands League Division One
  • United Counties League Division One
  • Wessex League Division One
  • West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division
  • Western League Division One

Level 11, Step 7: (All divisions run in parallel)

  • Anglian Combination Premier Division
  • Bedfordshire County Football League Premier Division
  • Cambridgeshire Football Association County League Premier Division
  • Central Midlands League North Division
  • Central Midlands League South Division
  • Cheshire Football League Premier Division
  • Dorset Premier League
  • Essex and Suffolk Border League Premier Division
  • Essex Olympian League Premier Division
  • Gloucestershire County League
  • Hampshire Premier League Senior Division
  • Hertfordshire Senior County League Premier Division
  • Humber Premier League Premier Division
  • Kent County League Premier Division
  • Leicestershire Senior League Premier Division
  • Lincolnshire League
  • Liverpool County Premier League Premier Division
  • Manchester League Premier Division
  • Middlesex County Football League Premier Division
  • Midland Football League Division Two
  • Northamptonshire Combination Football League Premier Division
  • Northern Football Alliance Premier Division
  • Nottinghamshire Senior League Senior Division
  • Oxfordshire Senior League Premier Division
  • Peterborough and District Football League Premier Division
  • Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior Football League Premier Division
  • Somerset County League Premier Division
  • South West Peninsula League Division One East
  • South West Peninsula League Division One West
  • Southern Combination Football League Division Two
  • Spartan South Midlands League Division Two
  • Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division
  • Suffolk and Ipswich League Senior Division
  • Surrey Elite Intermediate Football League Intermediate Division
  • North Riding Football League Premier Division
  • Thames Valley Premier Football League Premier Division
  • Wearside League
  • West Cheshire League Division One
  • West Lancashire Football League Premier Division
  • West Midlands (Regional) League Division One
  • West Riding County Amateur League Premier Division
  • West Yorkshire League Premier Division
  • Wiltshire League Premier Division
  • York League Premier Division
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