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An English Football League Primer 
Posted on August 6, 2015 at 12:37 PM.
August is here, ushering in the dawn of another exciting season of English football. You've got your copy of FIFA or PES, know a thing or two about the Barclays Premier League, understand the concept of promotion/relegation. Or maybe you're a complete newcomer to the sport. Despite the wealth of knowledge we're given about the BPL these days, there's still much about the English football system that is totally foreign (no pun intended) to the average American sports fan. Where are the playoffs? Why is the second tier of English football called the Championship? If you want to expand your basic understanding of English football -- and your enjoyment of FIFA and PES by association -- here's your primer.

The top four leagues of English football
Due to the exhaustive amount of coverage over the past couple of seasons, most of us are familiar with the most popular football league in the world, the Barclays Premier League. There are actually four top leagues in the English football system, they are as follows (in order of ranking):

1st Division - Barclays Premier League (a.k.a. BPL, EPL)
2nd Division - Sky Bet Football Championship
3rd Division - Sky Bet Football League 1
4th Division - Sky Bet Football League 2

If these naming conventions sound unorganized it's because they've been shuffled around a bit, but more on that later. To further add to the confusion, some older fans still refer to the leagues by their respective divisions, so that "Sheffield United play in the 3rd Division" and "Sheffield United play in League 1" both mean the same thing. Not to fear, things get a lot easier once you have this committed to memory.

At the end of each season, the bottom teams from each league are relegated to the league below, while the top teams from each league are promoted to the league above. It is this league structure that makes the BPL season such a thrill to follow, as the struggle at the bottom of the table is every bit as exciting -- often more so -- as the race to the top.

The basic promotion/relegation structure is as follows:

Premier League = Bottom 3 teams relegated to Championship
Championship = Top 3 teams promoted to Premier League, bottom 3 relegated to League 1
League 1 = Top 3 teams promoted to Championship, bottom 4 relegated to League 2
League 2 = Top 4 teams promoted to League 1, bottom 2 relegated to National League

There are also playoffs that enter into the promotion race, but let's leave that alone for now..

What happens when a team is relegated from League 2?
Underneath the top four leagues lies a nearly endless spider-web of regional teams and divisions collectively known as non-league football. Teams relegated from League 2 go directly into the National League (formerly Football Conference), and once they are there -- due to the disparity in talent, wages and revenue -- it is very difficult to return to league football. In some cases -- Hereford United most recently -- these teams endure extreme financial hardship and cease to exist altogether.

What is a "Yo-Yo Team"?
A yo-yo team is a team that manages to bounce up and down within divisions in successive seasons. QPR is a prime example of a recent yo-yo team.

Why is the Football Championship not "The Championship"?
It may surprise you to know that the Premier League is a relatively new league, founded in 1992. Before that time, the Championship was the top tier in English football. So why add another tier on top of the top tier in the first place? The reasons are long and exhaustive, but let's just say it boils down to the almighty dollar (or in this case, pound).

Where are the end-of-season playoffs?
There is no Super Bowl in the BPL, no World Series. The team with the best regular season record wins the league, it's really that simple. However, there are plenty of other cup competitions (Champions League, Europa League, F.A. Cup, League Cup) running concurrent to the league schedule that have no bearing on league standings. This can be confusing for fans just getting into the sport. For example, imagine an NFL schedule where the Pittsburgh Steelers travel on a Tuesday to take on a local amateur football team, or a Thursday to play in Canada against a CFL team. These aren't totally accurate comparisons but they do give you some idea of what the various cup competitions are like.

And while there isn't a playoff to determine league champions, there is a playoff to determine the final promotion spot in each league. In most cases, the top two teams earn automatic promotion, while the four teams beneath them enter a playoff for the third and final promotion spot.

More info about the English league system can be found at Wikipedia:
# 1 bstvns72 @ Aug 6
Great write up! It never really crossed my mind what would happen to a team if they were relegated from League 2. So I learned something today, thanks!
# 2 poulka @ Aug 6
Turbo what track is that in your card pic?
# 3 Turbojugend @ Aug 6
@bstvns72: Cool, glad I could help.

@poulka: Irwindale.
# 4 dtlm6 @ Aug 6
I have really become a fan of the Premier League having watched last season on NBCSN. Still learning a lot and this primer was a big help. Looking forward to the new season starting this weekend.

Also enjoying MLS and becoming a soccer fan more and more everyday.
# 5 poulka @ Aug 7
Thanks Turbo this guide has been a great help especially what to teams that relegate into National League.
# 6 Turbojugend @ Aug 7
You're welcome! There's a lot of great English non-league football out there, as well as lower U.S. leagues such as USL and NASL. I hope you guys get a chance to see some of it.

I'm not a huge fan of the name change though. Why is the top tier of English non-league football now called National League? Football Conference made way more sense.
# 7 cepwin @ Aug 16
Very interesting. BTW, there is a very interesting documentary on Swansea about how they went from almost relegation out of league football to the Premier league in ~12 years. It's available on iTunes and perhaps elsewhere.
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