The English Football League (EFL) is a league competition featuring professional football clubs from England and Wales. Founded in 1888 as the Football League, the league is the oldest such competition in world football. It was the top-level football league in England from its foundation in the 19th century until 1992, when the top 22 clubs split away to form the Premier League.

The league has 72 clubs evenly divided into three divisions, which are known as the Championship, League One and League Two, with 24 clubs in each division. 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. Although primarily a competition for English clubs, clubs from Wales – currently Newport County and Cardiff City – also take part, while in the past Swansea City, Wrexham, Merthyr Town and Aberdare Athletic have been members.

The Football League has been associated with a title sponsor between 1983 and 2016. As this sponsor changed over the years the league too has been known by various names. Starting with the 2016–17 season, the league has moved away from having a title sponsor, rebranding itself as the English Football League (EFL), with a goal of having the EFL brand recognized in a similar way to the EPL brand of the English Premier League.[2]

The English Football League is also the name of the governing body of the league competition, and this body also organises two knock-out cup competitions, the EFL Cup and the EFL Trophy. The operations centre of the Football League is in Preston, while its commercial office is in London.[33] The commercial office was formerly based in Lytham St Annes, after its original spell in Preston.


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. It also organises two knockout cup competitions, the EFL Cup and EFL Trophy. The Football League was founded in 1888 by then Aston Villa director William McGregor, originally with 12 member clubs. Steady growth and the addition of more divisions meant that by 1950 the League had 92 clubs. Financial considerations led to a major shake-up in 1992 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 2007 as the Premier League.[36] The Football League therefore no longer includes the top 20 clubs who belong to this group, although promotion and relegation between the Football League and the Premier League continues. In total, 136 teams have played in the Football League[6] up to 2013 (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: the EFL Championship, EFL League One, and EFL League Two (previously the Football League First Division, Football League Second Division and Football League Third Division respectively; they were renamed for sponsorship reasons). 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.

DivisionPromoted directlyPromoted via playoffsRelegated
The ChampionshipTop 2 clubsOne from 3rd to 6th-place finishersBottom 3 clubs
League OneTop 2 clubsOne from 3rd to 6th-place finishersBottom 4 clubs
League TwoTop 3 clubsOne from 4th to 7th-place finishersBottom 2 clubs

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 2004–05 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 EFL Cup (formerly called the Capital One Cup for sponsorship reasons) and the EFL Trophy (called the Checkatrade Trophy for sponsorship reasons). The EFL Cup was established in 1960 and is open to all EFL and Premier League clubs, with the winner eligible to participate in the UEFA Europa League. The EFL Trophy is for clubs belonging to EFL League One and EFL League Two. The organisation celebrated its 100th birthday in 1988 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 1885. 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. As more and more clubs became professional the ad-hoc fixture list of FA Cup, inter-county, and ordinary matches was seen by many as an unreliable stream of revenue, and ways were considered of ensuring a consistent income.[7][36]

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.[7] On 22 March 1888, he wrote to the committee of his own club, Aston Villa, as well as to those of Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, Stoke and West Bromwich Albion; suggesting the creation of a league competition that would provide a number of guaranteed fixtures for its member clubs each season. 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 1887 which stated: "measures would be taken to form a new football league ... [consisting of] a schedule containing two championship games between every two colleges composing the league".

The first meeting was held at Anderton's Hotel in London on 23 March 1888 on the eve of the FA Cup Final. The Football League was formally created and named in Manchester at a further meeting on 17 April at the Royal Hotel. The name "Association Football Union" was proposed by McGregor but this was felt too close to "Rugby Football Union". Instead, "The Football League" was proposed by Major William Sudell, representing Preston, and quickly agreed upon.[7] Although the Royal Hotel is long gone, the site is marked with a commemorative red plaque on the Royal Buildings in Market Street. 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: Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke (renamed Stoke City in 1926), West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

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 1890 Stoke were not re-elected to the league, and were replaced for the 1890–91 season by Sunderland, who won it in their second, third and fifth year. Stoke were re-elected for the 1891–92 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.

Addition of the Second Division

Preston North End FC, the first champions in 1888

A new Second Division was formed in 1892 with the absorption of the rival Football Alliance. Alliance clubs Nottingham Forest, The Wednesday (later Sheffield Wednesday) and Newton Heath (later Manchester United) were added to the new First Division, and Darwen were reallocated to the new Second, bringing the First Division total to 16 clubs. With the addition of Northwich Victoria (from The Combination), Burslem Port Vale (later Port Vale, from the Midland League) and Sheffield United (from the Northern League), the Second Division started with 12 clubs, as Alliance club Birmingham St George's disbanded at that point. The bottom clubs of the lower division were subsequently required to apply for re-election to the League at the end of each season.

Accrington F.C. were relegated from Division 1, however chose to resign from the Football League rather than play in the 2nd division. Bootle were dissolved because of financial problems. The Second Division increased to 15 clubs for season 1893–94. Instead of three clubs expanding the division, five were added to make the number to fifteen. The additional clubs were Liverpool from the Lancashire League, Middlesbrough Ironopolis and Newcastle United from the Northern League, Rotherham Town from the Midland League, and Woolwich Arsenal (later Arsenal), who became the first team from the South of England to compete.

For the following season 1894–95, the third season of the division, there was a net increase to 16 with the addition of Bury from the Lancashire League, Leicester Fosse (later Leicester City) and Burton Wanderers (who later joined with existing Second Division club Burton Swifts to form Burton United) from the Midland League along with Lincoln City FC, while Northwich resigned and Middlesbrough Ironopolis disbanded.

Both Liverpool and Bury won the division at the first attempt.

In 1895 Loughborough replaced Walsall Town Swifts.[10] In 1896 Blackpool from the Lancashire League and Gainsborough Trinity from the Midland League replaced Burslem Port Vale and Crewe Alexandra.[11] In 1897 Luton Town from the United League replaced Burton Wanderers.[12]

Automatic promotion and relegation for two clubs was introduced in 1898 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. At this point both Divisions of the League expanded to eighteen, with the addition of Barnsley from the Midland and Yorkshire Leagues, Burslem Port Vale, Glossop from the Midland League, and New Brighton Tower from the Lancashire League to the Second Division.[13]

20th century

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 1900, Aston Villa (1899–1900, 1909–10), Liverpool (1900–01, 1905–06), Sunderland (1901–02, 1912–13), The Wednesday (1902–03, 1903–04), Newcastle United (1904–05, 1908–09), Manchester United (1907–08, 1910–11) and Blackburn Rovers (1911–12, 1913–14) 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, 1914–15.

It was not until the early years of the 20th century, and the expansion of both Leagues to 20 clubs (in 1905), that further southern clubs such as Chelsea and Clapton Orient (1905), Fulham (1907) and Tottenham Hotspur (1908) established themselves in the League. There would be a further wait until 1931 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 100 top-flight seasons, along with Aston Villa and Arsenal.

Post-First World War

The League was suspended for four seasons during the First World War and resumed in 1919 with the First and Second Divisions expanded to 22 clubs. On resumption West Bromwich Albion (1919–20) and Burnley (1920–21), both original 12 clubs, won their first-ever titles (in Albion's case their only title to date).

In 1920, leading clubs from the Southern League joined the League to form a new Third Division, which in 1921 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 1925, 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 1939.

Between 1923 and 1926, 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 1932 and 1935, during a period from 1930 to 1938 in which they won five titles out of eight.

Manchester City (1936–37) 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 1888–89.

Post-Second World War

The League was suspended once more in 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War, this time for seven seasons. The Third Divisions were expanded to 24 clubs each in 1950, bringing the total number of League clubs to 92, and in 1958 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 1974, when the number increased to three.

Clubs to win their first League titles in the quarter-century following the Second World War were Portsmouth (1948–49 and 1949–50), Tottenham Hotspur (1950–51 and 1960–61), founder members of the League Wolverhampton Wanderers (1953–54, 1957–58 and 1958–59), Chelsea (1954–55), Ipswich Town (1961–62) and Leeds United (1968–69).

Tottenham Hotspur became the first club in the 20th century to win the League and F.A. Cup 'Double' in 1960–61, a season after Wolverhampton Wanderers had come within a whisker of achieving the feat themselves (Wolves won the 1959–60 F.A. 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 1951 and the first floodlit game (played between Portsmouth and Newcastle United) in 1956, 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 1960–61 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 1970s 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 1965, and for any reason the next year.


Beginning with the 1976–77 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, 1988–89, 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 2011–12 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 1970s: founder members of the League Derby County (1971–72 and 1974–75) and Nottingham Forest (1977–78), both clubs managed by Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. Nottingham Forest's title in 1977–78 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 1992. The next first time League champion would be Leicester City in the 2015–16 season, the first during the Premier League era.


Another important change was made in 1981, 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 1994 cup after the perceived dominance of defensive play at Italia 90.)

The early 1980s 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 1985 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 1986–87 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 20. 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 1988–89 season to include just the four clubs who had missed out on automatic promotion in the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions. 1986–87 was indeed the first season of the decade where Football League attendances increased, helped by improved economic conditions and falling unemployment nationally.

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 1991–92 season, which increased competitiveness in the 1990–91 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 1994–95 to comply with the Taylor Report that followed the death of 96 Liverpool fans as a result of the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989.

The League also expanded to 93 clubs for the 1991–92 season and planned to raise the number again to 94 clubs for 1992–93, but after Aldershot and Maidstone United both went out of business within a few months of each other in mid-1992, this plan was abandoned. The issues creating the uncertainty in the game all centred on money.

The increasing influence of money in English football was evident with such events as the first £1m transfer in the game, that of Trevor Francis from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in February 1979. The first £2million player transferred between English clubs was Tony Cottee, who moved from West Ham United to Everton in July 1988 – although several players had already been sold by English clubs to foreign clubs for even higher fees.

Before the formation of the FA Premier League, the highest transfer fee paid was £2.9million for the transfer of Dean Saunders from Derby County to Liverpool during the 1991 close season. The first £3million player was Alan Shearer, who moved from Southampton to Blackburn Rovers in July 1992, the summer before the first Premier League season. At the close of the 1991 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 1991 by the game's top-flight clubs, established the basic principles for setting up the FA Premier League.[21] The newly formed top division would have commercial independence from the Football Association and the Football League, giving the FA Premier League licence to negotiate its own broadcast and sponsorship agreements. The argument given at the time was that the extra income would allow English clubs to compete with teams across Europe.[9]

1992: Foundation of the Premier League

During the 1991–92 season, the First Division clubs resigned from the Football League en masse and on 20 February 1992, the Premier League was formed as a limited company working out of an office at the Football Association's then headquarters in Lancaster Gate. This meant a break-up of the 104-year-old Football League that had operated until then with four divisions; the Premier League would operate with a single division and the Football League with three. 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 1991–92 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. Colchester United, the GM Vauxhall Conference champions, were promoted to the new Division Three as the 71st members of the reorganised Football League. However, this number would soon drop to 70 due to the closure of Maidstone United at the beginning of the 1992–93 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.

1992–2004: Three divisions

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 1995–96 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 2002–03 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 1997–98 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 1993 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 1992 and 2004, many Football League clubs did run into financial problems during this time, although none of them were forced out of business. These include Oxford United, Luton Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Portsmouth, Bradford City and Leicester City. 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 2002.[2]

Just after the end of the 2001–02 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 2003, 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 2004.

2004 Football League rebranding

2004–05 was the first season to feature the rebranded Football League. The First Division, Second Division and Third Division were renamed the Football League Championship, Football League One and Football League Two respectively. Coca-Cola replaced the Nationwide Building Society as title sponsor.

The Football League's collection of historic materials is held by the National Football Museum.

2016 rebranding

On 12 November 2015, The Football League announced that it would be officially renamed the English Football League, with the abbreviation EFL to be emphasised, effective from the beginning of the 2016–17 season. The rebranding would include a new logo consisting of a circle composed of three swathes of 24 smaller circles each. The three swathes are to represent the three divisions and the 24 circles in each swathe (making a total of 72 circles) represent the 72 clubs in the league system. Each club is to be presented with its own bespoke version of the logo. Football League Chief Executive Shaun Harvey said:[2]


League sponsorship

Since 1983 the League has accepted lucrative sponsorships for its main competition. Below is a list of sponsors and the League's name under their sponsorship:

1983–1986CanonCanon League
1986–1987Today newspaperToday League
1987–1993BarclaysBarclays LeagueA
1993–1996EndsleighEndsleigh League
1996–2004NationwideNationwide Football League
2004–2010Coca-ColaCoca-Cola Football League[2]
2010–2013npowernpower Football League[2]
2013–2016Sky BetSky Bet Football League[2]
2016–2019Sky Bet EFL
  • A Upon the breakaway of the First Division in 1992 to form the Premier League, Barclays became a secondary sponsor in the newly formed top division, becoming the primary sponsor from 2001 until 2016.

After the formation of the Premier League the newly slimmed-down football League (70 clubs until 1995 and 72 clubs since) renamed its divisions to reflect the changes. The old Second Division became the new First Division, the Third Division became the Second Division, and the Fourth Division became the Third Division. The financial health of its clubs had become perhaps the highest League priority due to the limited resources available. However, there were some promising signs for the future, as the League planned to announce new initiatives beginning with the 2004–05 season, coinciding with the start of a new sponsorship agreement with Coca-Cola. The first of these changes was a rebranding of the League with the renaming of the First Division as The Championship, the Second Division as League One and the Third Division as League Two. The League's cup competitions have had different sponsors. The current sponsor Sky Bet commissioned a suite of trophies for the league from silversmith Thomas Lyte.[2]

Media rights

United Kingdom and Ireland

Matches broadcast in the United Kingdom and Ireland

The other major source of revenue is television. The 1980s saw competition between terrestrial broadcasters for the rights to show League matches, but the arrival on the scene of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting (Sky TV), eagerly searching for attractive programming to build its customer base and willing to pay huge sums, changed the picture entirely. The League's top tier clubs had been agitating for several years to be able to keep more of the League's revenue for themselves, threatening to break away and form their own league if necessary. In 1992 the threat was realised as the First Division clubs left to establish the FA Premier League and signed a contract for exclusive live coverage of their games with Sky TV. The FA Premier League agreed to maintain the promotion and relegation of three clubs with The Football League, but The League was now in a far weaker position – without its best clubs and without the clout to negotiate high-revenue TV deals. This problem was exacerbated with the collapse in 2002 of ITV Digital, holder of TV rights for The Football League, which cost League clubs millions of pounds in revenue.

In 2001 the league signed a £315 million deal with ITV Digital, but in March 2002 the channel was put into administration by its parent companies when the league refused to accept a £130 million reduction in the deal. In November 2007 the league announced a new domestic rights deal worth £264 million with Sky and the BBC for the three seasons from 2009 to 2012. It covers Football League, League Cup and Football League Trophy matches and the full range of media: terrestrial and pay television, broadband internet, video-on-demand and mobile services. The deal represents a 135% increase on the previous deal and works out at an average of over £1.2 million per club per season, though some clubs will receive more than others. Sky will provide the majority of the coverage and the BBC broadcast 10 exclusively live matches from the Championship per season and the semi-finals and finals of the League Cup.[2] In 2012, Sky Sports signed a new exclusive deal to broadcast all matches after the BBC pulled out of the deal owing the financial cuts that the BBC Sport department was going through. However the BBC signed a new deal to still broadcast The Football League Show highlights programme.

In May 2017, it was announced that Talksport had secured exclusive national radio rights to the English Football League.[2] It gave them the ability to broadcast up to up 110 EFL fixtures a season. Many Football League matches are also broadcast to local audiences via BBC Local Radio stations or by commercial stations.

On 18 September 2008, the Football League unveiled a new Coca-Cola Football League podcast, hosted by BBC Radio 5 Live's Mark Clemmit to be released every Thursday.[2] In the 2012–13 season the Podcast was renamed the npower football league show but still hosted by Mark Clemmit. Mark Clemmit continued to host the show as TradePoint came on board in the 2013–14 season to be the title sponsor of the newly re-branded 'Football League Radio'. The programme is now produced by digital production studio, Engage Sports Media.


Highlights programmeDurationBroadcaster
Football League Extra1994–95 to 2003–04ITV
The Championship*2004–05 to 2008–09
The Football League Show2009–10 to 2014–15BBC One
Football League Tonight2015–16 toChannel 5

*Between January 2008 to May 2008, the programme was renamed Championship Goals.

Governance and management


The Football League Board meets monthly and consists of two independent directors, three directors representing the Championship, two representing League One, and one representing League Two. Current members are:

  • Ian Lenagan – Chairman
  • Shaun Harvey – Chief Executive
  • Debbie Jevans CBE – independent director
  • Richard Bowker – independent director
  • Paul Barber (chief executive) Brighton & Hove Albion
  • Keith Lamb (executive) Middlesbrough
  • Jez Moxey (MD) Wolverhampton Wanderers
  • Andy Ambler (Chief Executive) Millwall
  • James Rodwell (CEO) Scunthorpe United

Senior Management

  • Andy Williamson OBE – chief operating officer

Former presidents

Current member clubs

Below are listed the member clubs of The English Football League for the 2017–18 season. Since 1888 in total there have been 142 Football League members. Originally the bottom club(s) of the bottom division(s) had to apply for re-election each year, which was voted by all the other members. Walsall holds the record for the most reapplications for the Football League. Former Football League clubs include all 20 of the current members of the Premier League along with various relegated, removed or defunct clubs.

Past League winners

NB: League and FA Cup double winners are highlighted in bold.


When the Football League was first established, all 12 clubs played in just one division.

11888–89Preston North End
21889–90Preston North End


In 1892 the Football League absorbed 11 of the 12 clubs in the rival Football Alliance after it folded, meaning the League now had enough clubs to form another division. The existing division was renamed the First Division and the new division was called the Second Division.

No.SeasonFirst Division championsSecond Division champions
51892–93SunderlandSmall Heath
61893–94Aston VillaLiverpool
81895–96Aston VillaLiverpool
91896–97Aston VillaNotts County
101897–98Sheffield UnitedBurnley
111898–99Aston VillaManchester City
121899–1900Aston VillaThe Wednesday
131900–01LiverpoolGrimsby Town
141901–02SunderlandWest Bromwich Albion
151902–03The WednesdayManchester City
161903–04The WednesdayPreston North End
171904–05Newcastle UnitedLiverpool
181905–06LiverpoolBristol City
191906–07Newcastle UnitedNottingham Forest
201907–08Manchester UnitedBradford City
211908–09Newcastle UnitedBolton Wanderers
221909–10Aston VillaManchester City
231910–11Manchester UnitedWest Bromwich Albion
241911–12Blackburn RoversDerby County
251912–13SunderlandPreston North End
261913–14Blackburn RoversNotts County
271914–15EvertonDerby County
1915–19League suspended due to World War I
281919–20West Bromwich AlbionTottenham Hotspur


In 1920 the Football League admitted the clubs from the first division of the Southern League (the Southern League continued with its remaining clubs) and Grimsby Town, who had failed to be re-elected to the Second Division the season before and been replaced by Cardiff City (of the Southern League). The clubs were placed in the new Third Division:

No.SeasonFirst Division championsSecond Division championsThird Division champions
291920–21BurnleyBirminghamCrystal Palace


After just one season under the old format, the League expanded again. This time it admitted a number of clubs from the north of England to balance things out, as the last expansion brought mainly clubs from the south. The existing Third Division was renamed the Third Division South, and the new division was named the Third Division North. Grimsby Town transferred to the new northern division. Both divisions ran in parallel, with clubs from both Third Divisions being promoted to the national Second Division at the end of each season:

No.SeasonFirst Division championsSecond Division championsThird Division (North) championsThird Division (South) champions
301921–22LiverpoolNottingham ForestStockport CountySouthampton
311922–23LiverpoolNotts CountyNelsonBristol City
321923–24Huddersfield TownLeeds UnitedWolverhampton WanderersPortsmouth
331924–25Huddersfield TownLeicester CityDarlingtonSwansea Town
341925–26Huddersfield TownThe WednesdayGrimsby TownReading
351926–27Newcastle UnitedMiddlesbroughStoke CityBristol City
361927–28EvertonManchester CityBradford Park AvenueMillwall
371928–29The WednesdayMiddlesbroughBradford CityCharlton Athletic
381929–30Sheffield WednesdayBlackpoolPort ValePlymouth Argyle
391930–31ArsenalEvertonChesterfieldNotts County
401931–32EvertonWolverhampton WanderersLincoln CityFulham
411932–33ArsenalStoke CityHull CityBrentford
421933–34ArsenalGrimsby TownBarnsleyNorwich City
431934–35ArsenalBrentfordDoncaster RoversCharlton Athletic
441935–36SunderlandManchester UnitedChesterfieldCoventry City
451936–37Manchester CityLeicester CityStockport CountyLuton Town
461937–38ArsenalAston VillaTranmere RoversMillwall
471938–39EvertonBlackburn RoversBarnsleyNewport County
481939–40League aborted due to World War II
1940–46League suspended due to World War II
491946–47LiverpoolManchester CityDoncaster RoversCardiff City
501947–48ArsenalBirmingham CityLincoln CityQueens Park Rangers
511948–49PortsmouthFulhamHull CitySwansea Town
521949–50PortsmouthTottenham HotspurDoncaster RoversNotts County
531950–51Tottenham HotspurPreston North EndRotherham UnitedNottingham Forest
541951–52Manchester UnitedSheffield WednesdayLincoln CityPlymouth Argyle
551952–53ArsenalSheffield UnitedOldham AthleticBristol Rovers
561953–54Wolverhampton WanderersLeicester CityPort ValeIpswich Town
571954–55ChelseaBirmingham CityBarnsleyBristol City
581955–56Manchester UnitedSheffield WednesdayGrimsby TownLeyton Orient
591956–57Manchester UnitedLeicester CityDerby CountyIpswich Town
601957–58Wolverhampton WanderersWest Ham UnitedScunthorpe UnitedBrighton & Hove Albion


For the beginning of the 1958–59 season, national Third and Fourth Divisions were introduced to replace the regional Third Division North and Third Division South:

No.SeasonFirst Division championsSecond Division championsThird Division championsFourth Division champions
611958–59Wolverhampton WanderersSheffield WednesdayPlymouth ArgylePort Vale
621959–60BurnleyAston VillaSouthamptonWalsall
631960–61Tottenham HotspurIpswich TownBuryPeterborough United
641961–62Ipswich TownLiverpoolPortsmouthMillwall
651962–63EvertonStoke CityNorthampton TownBrentford
661963–64LiverpoolLeeds UnitedCoventry CityGillingham
671964–65Manchester UnitedNewcastle UnitedCarlisle UnitedBrighton & Hove Albion
681965–66LiverpoolManchester CityHull CityDoncaster Rovers
691966–67Manchester UnitedCoventry CityQueens Park RangersStockport County
701967–68Manchester CityIpswich TownOxford UnitedLuton Town
711968–69Leeds UnitedDerby CountyWatfordDoncaster Rovers
721969–70EvertonHuddersfield TownLeyton OrientChesterfield
731970–71ArsenalLeicester CityPreston North EndNotts County
741971–72Derby CountyNorwich CityAston VillaGrimsby Town
751972–73LiverpoolBurnleyBolton WanderersSouthport
761973–74Leeds UnitedMiddlesbroughOldham AthleticPeterborough United
771974–75Derby CountyManchester UnitedBlackburn RoversMansfield Town
781975–76LiverpoolSunderlandHereford UnitedLincoln City
791976–77LiverpoolWolverhampton WanderersMansfield TownCambridge United
801977–78Nottingham ForestBolton WanderersWrexhamWatford
811978–79LiverpoolCrystal PalaceShrewsbury TownReading
821979–80LiverpoolLeicester CityGrimsby TownHuddersfield Town
831980–81Aston VillaWest Ham UnitedRotherham UnitedSouthend United
841981–82LiverpoolLuton TownBurnleySheffield United
851982–83LiverpoolQueens Park RangersPortsmouthWimbledon
861983–84LiverpoolChelseaOxford UnitedYork City
871984–85EvertonOxford UnitedBradford CityChesterfield
881985–86LiverpoolNorwich CityReadingSwindon Town
891986–87EvertonDerby CountyAFC BournemouthNorthampton Town
901987–88LiverpoolMillwallSunderlandWolverhampton Wanderers
911988–89ArsenalChelseaWolverhampton WanderersRotherham United
921989–90LiverpoolLeeds UnitedBristol RoversExeter City
931990–91ArsenalOldham AthleticCambridge UnitedDarlington
941991–92Leeds UnitedIpswich TownBrentfordBurnley


Following the breakaway of the 22 clubs in the First Division to form the FA Premier League, the Football League no longer included the top division in England, and the Football League champions were no longer the national champions of England. Therefore, the Second Division became the First Division, the Third Division became the Second Division and the Fourth Division became the Third Division.

No.SeasonFirst Division championsSecond Division championsThird Division champions
951992–93Newcastle UnitedStoke CityCardiff City
961993–94Crystal PalaceReadingShrewsbury Town
971994–95MiddlesbroughBirmingham CityCarlisle United
981995–96SunderlandSwindon TownPreston North End
991996–97Bolton WanderersBuryWigan Athletic
1001997–98Nottingham ForestWatfordNotts County
1021999–2000Charlton AthleticPreston North EndSwansea City
1032000–01FulhamMillwallBrighton & Hove Albion
1042001–02Manchester CityBrighton & Hove AlbionPlymouth Argyle
1052002–03PortsmouthWigan AthleticRushden & Diamonds
1062003–04Norwich CityPlymouth ArgyleDoncaster Rovers


In 2004, the Football League renamed its divisions: the First Division became the Football League Championship, the Second Division became Football League One and the Third Division became Football League Two.

No.SeasonChampionship championsLeague One championsLeague Two champions
1072004–05SunderlandLuton TownYeovil Town
1082005–06ReadingSouthend UnitedCarlisle United
1092006–07SunderlandScunthorpe UnitedWalsall
1102007–08West Bromwich AlbionSwansea CityMilton Keynes Dons
1112008–09Wolverhampton WanderersLeicester CityBrentford
1122009–10Newcastle UnitedNorwich CityNotts County
1132010–11Queens Park RangersBrighton & Hove AlbionChesterfield
1142011–12ReadingCharlton AthleticSwindon Town
1152012–13Cardiff CityDoncaster RoversGillingham
1162013–14Leicester CityWolverhampton WanderersChesterfield
1172014–15AFC BournemouthBristol CityBurton Albion
1182015–16BurnleyWigan AthleticNorthampton Town
1192016–17Newcastle UnitedSheffield UnitedPortsmouth

At the end of the 2005–06 season, Reading finished with a record 106 points, beating the previous record of 105 held by Sunderland.

Titles by club

Due to the breakaway of the Premier League in 1992, winning the Football League title no longer makes a team the top tier champions of English football.

ClubTop flight titlesFootball League titles
Premier League titles
Football League titles
Manchester United207130
Aston Villa7700
Manchester City4221
Newcastle United4404
Sheffield Wednesday4400
Wolverhampton Wanderers3301
Huddersfield Town3300
Leeds United3300
Blackburn Rovers3210
Derby County2200
Preston North End2200
Tottenham Hotspur2200
Leicester City1011
Nottingham Forest1101
West Bromwich Albion1101
Ipswich Town1100
Sheffield United1100
AFC Bournemouth0001
Bolton Wanderers0001
Cardiff City0001
Charlton Athletic0001
Crystal Palace0001
Norwich City0001
Queens Park Rangers0001

Football League titles

Includes Premier League titles.

TeamFirst tierSecond tierThird tierFourth tierTotal Titles
Manchester United20222
Aston Villa72110
Manchester City4711
Sheffield Wednesday459
Newcastle United448
Wolverhampton Wanderers333110
Leeds United336
Blackburn Rovers3115
Huddersfield Town3115
Derby County2417
Preston North End23218
Tottenham Hotspur224
Leicester City1719
Ipswich Town1326
Nottingham Forest1315
West Bromwich Albion134
Sheffield United11114
Birmingham City516
Notts County3238
Norwich City325
Bolton Wanderers314
Grimsby Town2316
Stoke City224
Crystal Palace213
West Ham United22
Bristol City156
Charlton Athletic134
Bradford City123
Coventry City123
Oldham Athletic123
Oxford United123
Queens Park Rangers224
Cardiff City1113
Luton Town1113
AFC Bournemouth112
Doncaster Rovers437
Plymouth Argyle415
Lincoln City314
Hull City33
Brighton & Hove Albion325
Port Vale213
Rotherham United213
Stockport County213
Swansea City213
Wigan Athletic213
Bristol Rovers22
Leyton Orient22
Carlisle United123
Northampton Town123
Swindon Town123
Cambridge United112
Mansfield Town112
Shrewsbury Town112
Southend United112
Bradford Park Avenue11
Hereford United11
Newport County11
Scunthorpe United11
Tranmere Rovers11
Peterborough United22
Burton Albion11
Exeter City11
Milton Keynes Dons11
Rushden & Diamonds11
Yeovil Town11
York City11


The Football League Play-offs are used as a means of determining the final promotion place from each of the league's three divisions. This is a way of keeping the possibility of promotion open for more clubs towards the end of the season.

The format was first introduced in 1987, after the decision was made to reduce the top flight from 22 to 20 clubs over the next two seasons; initially, the play-offs involved the team finishing immediately above the relegation places in a given division and the three teams who finished immediately below the promotion places in the division below – essentially one team was fighting to keep their place in the higher division while the other three teams were attempting to take it from them. In 1989, this was changed—instead of teams from different divisions playing each other, the four teams below the automatic promotion places contested the play-offs. The first season of this arrangement saw the final being contested in home and away legs. The four teams play-off in two semi-finals and a final, with the team winning the final being promoted. Originally the semi-finals and the final were all two-legged home-and-away affairs, but from 1990 onwards the final is a one-off match. It is in this format that the play-offs continue today. A proposal to have six teams rather than four competing for the final place was defeated at the league's AGM in 2003.[2]

Play-off winners

SeasonSecond DivisionThird DivisionFourth Division
1986–87Charlton AthleticSwindon TownAldershot
1987–88MiddlesbroughWalsallSwansea City
1988–89Crystal PalacePort ValeLeyton Orient
1989–90Swindon Town1Notts CountyCambridge United
1990–91Notts CountyTranmere RoversTorquay United
1991–92Blackburn RoversPeterborough UnitedBlackpool
SeasonFirst DivisionSecond DivisionThird Division
1992–93Swindon TownWest Bromwich AlbionYork City
1993–94Leicester CityBurnleyWycombe Wanderers
1994–95Bolton WanderersHuddersfield TownChesterfield
1995–96Leicester CityBradford CityPlymouth Argyle
1996–97Crystal PalaceCrewe AlexandraNorthampton Town
1997–98Charlton AthleticGrimsby TownColchester United
1998–99WatfordManchester CityScunthorpe United
1999-00Ipswich TownGillinghamPeterborough United
2000–01Bolton WanderersWalsallBlackpool
2001–02Birmingham CityStoke CityCheltenham Town
2002–03Wolverhampton WanderersCardiff CityAFC Bournemouth
2003–04Crystal PalaceBrighton & Hove AlbionHuddersfield Town
SeasonChampionshipLeague OneLeague Two
2004–05West Ham UnitedSheffield WednesdaySouthend United
2005–06WatfordBarnsleyCheltenham Town
2006–07Derby CountyBlackpoolBristol Rovers
2007–08Hull CityDoncaster RoversStockport County
2008–09BurnleyScunthorpe UnitedGillingham
2009–10BlackpoolMillwallDagenham & Redbridge
2010–11Swansea CityPeterborough UnitedStevenage
2011–12West Ham UnitedHuddersfield TownCrewe Alexandra
2012–13Crystal PalaceYeovil TownBradford City
2013–14Queens Park RangersRotherham UnitedFleetwood Town
2014–15Norwich CityPreston North EndSouthend United
2015–16Hull CityBarnsleyAFC Wimbledon
2016–17Huddersfield TownMillwallBlackpool
1: Due to financial irregularities, Swindon were prevented from taking their place in the First Division, which was awarded to the losing finalists, Sunderland.

See also


  1. League One and Two clubs only
  2. FA Cup or League Cup winners