Are you new to non-league? Confused about how the system works? Don’t worry, this should help to explain things.
First of all, the top division in non-league is the Conference. This is the division directly below League Two, and comprises twenty four teams, and is a national league. At the end of the season, two teams win promotion to the Football League, and four are relegated to the regional divisions, Conference North and Conference South. The two regional divisions comprise twenty two teams each, and represent Tier 6 of the football ladder.
If the relegations from the Conference end up geographically unbalancing the North and South Divisions, then a team, or teams, from the Midlands region will be required to switch leagues to even things out, as happened to Worcester City in 2008.
From Tier 7 down, things start to get very region specific. Northern Premier League, Southern League and Isthmian League make up the seventh level of the game. Promotion from these leagues gets you into the Conference North or South, relegation sends you down into the regional divisions of the NPL, Southern or Isthmian leagues. After that, the further down you go, the more the counties and regions are split up. This, of course, is to make games more intense, as there are more local derbies every week, and to reduce travelling costs for away teams. As you can imagine, the crowds can dip well below the triple figures mark as you go down the ladder.
The Northern Premier League did, at one time, promote teams directly into the Conference Premier, but since non-league football was restructured in 2005, this is no longer the case. Usually, the promoted teams are entered into the following season’s Conference North, although just like in the level above, it is possible for teams to play in the Conference South if required. The same can be said of the Southern League. However, the Isthmian League is based in London and South East England, and so only feeds the Conference South.
There you have it. I hope that helps explain things a little better, and that you understand how non-league football works. It really is a vibrant world, full of good, honest players and some fantastic entertainment. If you don’t already, make sure you go and check out your local non-league team. I can guarantee you’ll go back again and again!