Promotion and relegation between these divisions is a central feature of the League and is further extended to allow the top Championship clubs to exchange places with the lowest-placed clubs in the Premier League, and the bottom clubs of League Two to switch with the top clubs of the National League , thus integrating the League into the English football league system.
The Football League has been associated with a title sponsor between and As this sponsor changed over the years the league too has been known by various names. The operations centre of the Football League is in Preston , while its commercial office is in London. The Football League consists of 70 professional association football clubs in England and 2 in Wales. It runs the oldest professional football league competition in the world. Steady growth and the addition of more divisions meant that by the League had 92 clubs.
Financial considerations led to a major shake-up in when, in a step to maximise their revenue, the leading members of the Football League broke away to form their own competition, the FA Premier League, which was renamed in as the Premier League.
In total, teams have played in the Football League  up to including those in the Premier League, since clubs must pass through the Football League before reaching the former.
The EFL's 72 member clubs are grouped into three divisions: Each division has 24 clubs, and in any given season a club plays each of the others in the same division twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents. This makes for a total of 46 games played each season. Clubs gain three points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a defeat.
At the end of the season, clubs at the top of their division may win promotion to the next higher division, while those at the bottom may be relegated to the next lower one.
At the top end of the competition, three Championship clubs win promotion from the Football League to the Premier League, with the bottom three Premier League clubs taking their places. At the lower end, two League Two clubs lose their Football League status with relegation to the National division of the National League , while two teams from that division join League Two of The Football League in their stead.
Promotion and relegation are determined by final league positions, but to sustain interest for more clubs over the length of the season one promotion place from each division is decided according to a playoff between four clubs, which takes place at the end of the season. It is therefore possible for a team finishing sixth in the Championship or League One, or seventh in League Two, to be promoted rather than the clubs finishing immediately above them in the standings.
Since the —05 season, penalties have existed for clubs entering financial administration during the season. If a club enters administration before 31 March of any given season, they will immediately be deducted 12 points; entering administration from 1 April onward will see the points deduction either held over until the end of the season if the club finishes outside the relegation places , or applied the following season if the club was relegated anyway.
It is also required that a club exiting administration agree a Creditor's Voluntary Agreement, and pay in full any other footballing creditors. Failure to do either of these will result in a second, potentially unlimited though in practise usually between 15 and 20 points deduction. The other main situation in which is a club may lose points is by fielding an improperly registered or otherwise ineligible player. If a club is found to have done this, then any points earned from any match that player participated in will be deducted; the opposing club s do not earn any points from this, however.
The EFL organises two knock-out cup competitions: The organisation celebrated its th birthday in with a Centenary Tournament at Wembley between 16 of its member clubs. After four years of debate, the Football Association finally permitted professionalism on 20 July Before that date many clubs made payments to "professional" players to boost the competitiveness of their teams, breaking FA rules and arousing the contempt of those clubs abiding by the laws of the amateur Football Association code.
A director of Birmingham-based Aston Villa, William McGregor, was the first to set out to bring some order to a chaotic world where clubs arranged their own fixtures, along with various cup competitions. His idea may have been based upon a description of a proposal for an early American college football league, publicised in the English media in which stated: The first season of the Football League began a few months later on 8 September with 12 member clubs from the Midlands and North of England: Each club played the other twice, once at home and once away, and two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw.
This points system was not agreed upon until after the season had started; the alternative proposal was one point for a win only. Preston won the first league title without losing a game, and completed the first league—cup double by also taking the FA Cup.
In Stoke were not re-elected to the league, and were replaced for the —91 season by Sunderland , who won it in their second, third and fifth year. Stoke were re-elected for the —92 season, along with Darwen , to take the league to 14 clubs.
Preston North End, Aston Villa and Sunderland dominated the early years of the game; in the first fourteen seasons the only other clubs to win single league titles were Everton, Sheffield United and Liverpool. A new Second Division was formed in with the absorption of the rival Football Alliance. The bottom clubs of the lower division were subsequently required to apply for re-election to the League at the end of each season.
Bootle were dissolved because of financial problems. The Second Division increased to 15 clubs for season — Instead of three clubs expanding the division, five were added to make the number to fifteen. In Loughborough replaced Walsall Town Swifts. Automatic promotion and relegation for two clubs was introduced in when the previous system of test matches between the bottom two clubs of the First Division and the top two clubs of the Second Division was brought into disrepute when Stoke and Burnley colluded in the final match to ensure they were both in the First Division the next season.
After a few years other northern clubs began to catch up, with the likes of Newcastle United and Manchester United joining the League and having success. From , Aston Villa —, —10 , Liverpool —01, —06 , Sunderland —02, —13 , The Wednesday —03, —04 , Newcastle United —05, —09 , Manchester United —08, —11 and Blackburn Rovers —12, —14 all won two titles prior to the outbreak of the First World War , while Everton added a second title to their much earlier success in the last season, — It was not until the early years of the 20th century, and the expansion of both Leagues to 20 clubs in , that further southern clubs such as Chelsea and Clapton Orient , Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur established themselves in the League.
There would be a further wait until before a southern club, Arsenal, would win the League for the first time. Unlike in most other Leagues in Europe, no single English club managed to remain an ever-present in the division during the one hundred and four years of its existence as the top division in the country. Everton come closest, missing just four seasons through relegation, and remain one of only three clubs in England to have played over top-flight seasons, along with Aston Villa and Arsenal.
The League was suspended for four seasons during the First World War and resumed in with the First and Second Divisions expanded to 22 clubs. On resumption West Bromwich Albion —20 and Burnley —21 , both original 12 clubs, won their first-ever titles in Albion's case their only title to date. In , leading clubs from the Southern League joined the League to form a new Third Division, which in was renamed the Third Division South upon the further addition of more clubs in a new Third Division North.
One club from each of these divisions would gain promotion to the Second Division, with the two relegated clubs being assigned to the more appropriate Third Division. To accommodate potential difficulties in this arrangement, clubs in the Midlands such as Mansfield Town or Walsall would sometimes be moved from one Third Division to the other.
Following this burst of post-war growth, the League entered a prolonged period of relative stability with few changes in the membership, although there were changes on the pitch.
In , a new offside law reduced the number of opponents between the player and the goal from three to two, leading to a large increase in goals, and numbers on shirts were introduced in Between and , Huddersfield Town were the first team to win three consecutive league titles and never won another one, though they finished as runners-up for the following two years.
This was equalled by Arsenal between and , during a period from to in which they won five titles out of eight. Manchester City —37 became the only other club to be added to the list of Football League winners prior to the outbreak of the Second World War , the fourteenth club to achieve the feat since — The League was suspended once more in with the outbreak of the Second World War, this time for seven seasons.
The Third Divisions were expanded to 24 clubs each in , bringing the total number of League clubs to 92, and in the decision was made to end the regionalisation of the Third Divisions and reorganise the clubs into a new nationwide Third Division and Fourth Division. To accomplish this, the clubs in the top half of both the Third Division North and South joined together to form the new Third Division, and those in the bottom half made up the Fourth Division.
Four clubs were promoted and relegated between these two lower divisions, while two clubs exchanged places in the upper divisions until , when the number increased to three. Clubs to win their first League titles in the quarter-century following the Second World War were Portsmouth —49 and —50 , Tottenham Hotspur —51 and —61 , founder members of the League Wolverhampton Wanderers —54, —58 and —59 , Chelsea —55 , Ipswich Town —62 and Leeds United — Tottenham Hotspur became the first club in the 20th century to win the League and F.
Cup 'Double' in —61, a season after Wolverhampton Wanderers had come within a whisker of achieving the feat themselves Wolves won the —60 F. Cup and were runners-up to Burnley in the League by a single point. Post-Second World War changes in league football included the use of white balls in and the first floodlit game played between Portsmouth and Newcastle United in , opening up the possibility of midweek evening matches.
By far the biggest change for league clubs during this era was a new cup competition open to all the members of the League, the Football League Cup, which was held for the first time in —61 to provide clubs with a new source of income. Aston Villa won the inaugural League Cup and, despite an initial lack of enthusiasm on the part of some other big clubs, the competition became firmly established in the footballing calendar, although it was not until the dawn of the s that all 92 Football League clubs regularly participated in the competition season after season.
Substitutes 1 per team per match were first allowed for injured players in , and for any reason the next year. The first ever Sunday top flight game was between Chelsea and Stoke a week later. Beginning with the —77 season, the clubs finishing level on points began to be separated according to goal difference the difference between goals scored and goals conceded rather than goal average goals scored divided by goals conceded.
This was an effort to prevent unduly defensive play encouraged by the greater advantage in limiting goals allowed. In the event that clubs had equal points and equal goal differences, priority was given to the club that had scored the most goals. There has been only one season, —89, when this level of differentiation was necessary to determine the League champion, and this was the occasion of one of the most dramatic nights in League history, when Arsenal beat Liverpool 2—0 at Anfield in the last game of the season to win the League on this tiebreaker — by a single Michael Thomas goal in the final minute of the final game of the season.
Both teams would finish with the same amount the goal difference, but Arsenal scored more goals during the season. In the Premier League era, the —12 season also had the winner being determined by a tiebreaker; Manchester City finished with a better goal difference than Manchester United. Two clubs won their first League titles during the s: Nottingham Forest's title in —78 turned out to be the last time a first time champion won the First Division title during The Football League era before the First Division clubs formed the Premier League in The next first time League champion would be Leicester City in the —16 season, the first during the Premier League era.
Another important change was made in , when it was decided to award three points for a win instead of two, a further effort to increase attacking football. This scoring rule was not added by FIFA to the World Cups until the cup after the perceived dominance of defensive play at Italia The early s also saw a significant decline in league attendances as a result of the recession and the ongoing problem of hooliganism.
This did no favours for the financial position and league standing of numerous clubs, and several — including Wolverhampton Wanderers, Swansea City and Middlesbrough — were almost forced out of business as a result. The fortunes of the First Division clubs suffered a fresh blow in when all English clubs were banned from European competitions as a result of the Heysel disaster , where rioting involving Liverpool fans at the European Cup final in Belgium resulted in 39 spectator deaths.
In a similar vein, playoffs to determine promotion places were introduced for the —87 season so that more clubs remained eligible for promotion closer to the end of the season, and at the same time to aid in the reduction over two years of the number of clubs in the First Division from 22 to For the first two seasons, the playoffs were contested between the lowest placed team to avoid automatic relegation and three highest placed teams to miss out on automatic promotion in the division below, before it was altered from the —89 season to include just the four clubs who had missed out on automatic promotion in the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions.
At the same time, automatic promotion and relegation between the Fourth Division and the Football Conference was introduced for one club, replacing the annual application for re-election to the League of the bottom four clubs and linking the League to the developing National League System pyramid. Emblematic of the confusion that was beginning to envelop the game, the number of clubs at the top of the league would return to 22 for the —92 season, which increased competitiveness in the —91 season as four teams would be promoted from the Second and Third Divisions instead of the normal three with seventh place being the minimum position for the playoffs , while in the Fourth Division an unprecedented five promotion places were up for grabs, with eighth place being high enough for the playoffs.
The end of the ban on English clubs in Europe also helped boost interest in English football. However, the economy was now in another recession , and added to that the clubs in the top two English divisions were faced with the requirement of having all-seater stadiums by —95 to comply with the Taylor Report that followed the death of 96 Liverpool fans as a result of the Hillsborough disaster in April The League also expanded to 93 clubs for the —92 season and planned to raise the number again to 94 clubs for —93, but after Aldershot and Maidstone United both went out of business within a few months of each other in mid, this plan was abandoned.
The issues creating the uncertainty in the game all centred on money. At the close of the season, a proposal for the establishment of a new league was tabled that would bring more money into the game overall. The Founder Members Agreement, signed on 17 July by the game's top-flight clubs, established the basic principles for setting up the FA Premier League.
The argument given at the time was that the extra income would allow English clubs to compete with teams across Europe. During the —92 season, the First Division clubs resigned from the Football League en masse and on 20 February , the Premier League was formed as a limited company working out of an office at the Football Association's then headquarters in Lancaster Gate. There was no change in competition format; the same number of teams competed in the top flight, and promotion and relegation between the Premier League and the new First Division remained on the same terms as between the old First and Second Divisions.
The —92 season had ended with 92 clubs in the Football League, with the 93rd club, Aldershot, having been declared bankrupt and forced to resign from the Fourth Division a few weeks before the end of the season. However, this number would soon drop to 70 due to the closure of Maidstone United at the beginning of the —93 season, and the Football League abandoned its expansion plan.
This meant that there would once again be 92 clubs in the highest four divisions of English football. There were few major changes to the structure Football League in the 12 seasons which followed the breakaway that created the FA Premier League, perhaps the only notable changes being an expansion to 72 clubs from 70 for the —96 season after the Premier League was streamlined to 20 clubs from 22, and the introduction of a second relegation place to the Football Conference from the end of the —03 season.
However, following the formation of the Premier League, it became increasingly difficult for newly promoted clubs to establish themselves in the top flight. Whereas newly promoted teams had once normally survived for at least a few seasons in the old First Division, it was now the norm for at least one newly promoted club to be relegated straight back from the Premier League to Division One. In the nine seasons that followed the formation of the Premier League, at least one newly promoted club suffered this fate — and in the —98 season it happened to all three newly promoted teams.
There were exceptions, however; including Blackburn Rovers, who were promoted to the Premier League on its formation and were champions three years later, and Newcastle United, who were promoted in and finished in the top six for the next four seasons, finishing Premier League runners-up twice.
The trend of relegated clubs to win an instant promotion back to the top flight continued, however. In the 12 seasons following the formation of the Premier League, there were just three seasons where none of the newly relegated sides failed to win an instant return to the Premier League. The widening gulf between the top two divisions of English football can largely be put down to the increased wealth of the Premier League clubs, and the wealth gained by these clubs — combined with parachute payments following relegation — has also made it easier for many of them to quickly win promotion back to the top flight.
In spite of the economic prosperity between and , many Football League clubs did run into financial problems during this time, although none of them were forced out of business. Some of these clubs were faced with financial problems as a result of the lost revenue resulting from Premier League relegation and a failure to return to this level, as well as the collapse of ITV Digital in Just after the end of the —02 season, South London based Wimbledon were given permission to move to Milton Keynes , some 70 miles from their traditional home.
A relocation on this scale was unprecedented in English football, and led to the majority of the club's fans switching their support to a new fan-formed club, AFC Wimbledon , who joined the Combined Counties League. The club's move to Milton Keynes was completed in September , when they became tenants of the National Hockey Stadium until a new permanent home was completed four years later, and the club's name changed to Milton Keynes Dons in June Coca-Cola replaced the Nationwide Building Society as title sponsor.
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