English National League North and South

The Conference North and South, recently renamed to the Vanarama National League North and South owing to their sponsorship by Vanarama are non-league football competitions in England at the same level on the FA’s league pyramid. They are part of the new ‘National League’ system and sit one rung below the National League proper, which is in turn one division below League Two, the lowest full time professional division in England.

Formation

Vanarama National LeagueUntil 2004, the Conference was a single division sitting below League Two and the lowest nationwide league in English football. It was decided to expand the Conference by adding two regional divisions one step below it in the promotion and relegation system to increase its exposure and strengthen the brand. At the time of the formation of the Conference North and Conference South, the teams which comprised the divisions were drawn from the Northern Premier League, the Southern League, and the Isthmian Premier League, which sat just below the Conference in the football pyramid.

The leagues are split into regions based on what English county they play in, with the Conference North covering a much larger geographical area due to the lower population density in the north of the country. Between the two regions, there are border counties from which teams may play in the Conference North or South dependent upon the current spread of teams, so as to even out the numbers in both.

Teams in the Conference North and South are generally at the lower end of the semi-professional spectrum, and players generally get paid between £100 and £200 per week, but are free to take up other jobs as long as they don’t interfere with footballing commitments.

Format

Both leagues have 22 teams and over the course of the season which runs from August to May, each team plays all other teams twice, once at home and once away for a total of 42 games. As is standard in English football, three points are awarded for a win, with one for a draw and none for a loss. Should two or more teams finish on equal points at the end of the season, their finishing position is determined first by goal difference (goals scored – goals allowed) and if this doesn’t break the tie, then by total goals scored.

At the end of the season, the winners of each league are promoted to the Conference National. As well as the automatic promotion, both leagues hold playoffs for the teams that finish from second to fifth. The playoff semi-finals, where second plays fifth and third plays fourth are two-legged ties where the away goals rule applies. The final is decided over a single match where extra time and penalties are used if necessary. The playoff champions are both promoted to the Conference National and the promoted teams are replaced by four relegated teams.

At the bottom end of the Conference North and South, three teams are relegated from each and are assigned to either the Northern Premier League, the Southern League, or the Isthmian Premier League depending on geographical location and balancing of these three leagues.

Typical stadia in the Conference North and South hold about 3,000 people. By far the largest stadium of the two leagues is owned by Halifax Town; ‘The Shay’ holds 14,000 people. Halifax were a League Two team in at the start of the century, but tax problems meant the club had to fold and re-open in 2008 under a new name and they re-joined the football pyramid at the North Premier League Division 1 North level. They won promotion in both 2010 and 2011 and were knocked out of contention for a spot in the Conference National in the playoffs in 2012.

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