Scottish football league system

The Scottish football league system is a series of generally unconnected leagues for Scottish football clubs. The Scottish system is more complicated than many other national league systems, consisting of several completely separate systems or 'grades' of leagues and clubs, with Senior football, Junior football, and beneath these Amateur and Welfare football.

In senior football in Scotland there is one national league, the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), which has four divisions. There are also several regional leagues (most notably the Highland Football League and since 2013 the Lowland Football League). From 2014–15, a promotion/relegation play-off between the two regional leagues and the SPFL national league was introduced for the first time.[1]

Rangers are the current record holders with 54 titles. Two clubs based in England play in the senior Scottish system - Berwick Rangers in the Lowland League and Tweedmouth Rangers in the East of Scotland League. A small number of English amateur clubs in the lowest levels of the game, based on or around the Anglo-Scottish border, also compete in Scottish leagues for geographical and travel reasons.

Men's system

Overall, the structure of men's football in Scotland is among the most fractured and multi-faceted in Europe, being unique in having a plurality of adult male governing bodies (with Seniors, Juniors, Amateurs and Welfarers - see below). It is not uncommon for a given town or county to have clubs in as many as three or four separate systems.

Until recently Scottish football had no pyramid league system, and as a result it was impossible for clubs in regional leagues to progress into the national leagues, unless a vacancy opened in the Scottish Football League. The final example of this was ahead of the 2008–09 season, where Gretna's demise allowed Annan Athletic to take their place.

Moves towards creating a pyramid system began in 2008 under the tenure of Scottish Football Association (SFA) chief executive Gordon Smith, with discussions between the SFA and the regional and junior leagues,[2] and on 7 May 2013 Scottish Premier League clubs unanimously agreed on the introduction of a pyramid structure to Scottish football along with the reintroduction of a single governing body for all 42 senior clubs, a revised financial distribution model, and the possibility of a promotion/relegation play-off between the top two divisions.[3]

Senior football

The current system has been in place since 201314, when the Scottish Professional Football League was formed by a merger of the Scottish Premier League (tier 1) and the Scottish Football League (tiers 2–4). At the same time, the Lowland Football League (tier 5) was founded, and a year later the leagues below (tier 6) were incorporated into the system. For each division, its official name, sponsor name, number of clubs, number of games, and promotion/relegation spots are given:

Level

League(s)/Division(s)

1

Scottish Premiership
(Ladbrokes Premiership)
12 clubs playing 38 games
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

2

Scottish Championship
(Ladbrokes Championship)
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

3

Scottish League One
(Ladbrokes League One)
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation spot + 1 relegation playoff spot

4

Scottish League Two
(Ladbrokes League Two)
10 clubs playing 36 games
↑ 1 promotion spot + 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation playoff spot

5

Highland Football League
(Breedon Highland League)
17 clubs playing 32 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

Lowland Football League
16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation spot

6

East of Scotland Football League Premier Division
(Central Taxis EOS League)
16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 3 relegation spots

South of Scotland Football League
15 clubs playing 28 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

7

East of Scotland Football League First Division
(Central Taxis EOS League)
24 clubs (two conferences) playing 34 games
↑ 2 promotion spots
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

There remains one Senior league - the North Caledonian Football League - which has not yet been incorporated into the pyramid system. It is based in the north of Scotland, including a club from the island of Orkney, and currently contains 9 clubs playing 16 games.

The leagues below level four are classed as "non-league football", meaning they are outside the Scottish Professional Football League and are played on a regional not a national basis. The Lowland League is parallel to the Highland League. These divisions created level five on the pyramid and since season 2014–15, the two league winners have played off against each other, with the winner then playing the team finishing 10th in League Two in a promotion/relegation play-off.

Below the Lowland League is the East of Scotland Football League (40 clubs, which includes a reserve team, split into a 16-team Premier Division, and two First Division conferences each containing 12 teams) and the South of Scotland Football League (16 clubs in a single division) - with promotion (via a play-off) and relegation between the Lowland League.

As of 2019–20 this totals 139 teams across ten divisions. All clubs in tier 5 and above automatically enter the Scottish Cup, along with clubs in other divisions who are full members of the Scottish Football Association. Up to three non-SFA members can qualify for the Scottish Cup each season by winning the East or South leagues, or the East & South Cup-Winners Shield. There are a variety of cup tournaments, sometimes involving reserve teams fielded by the SPFL clubs, and some cups are played for by clubs from multiple leagues.

Junior football

Also outside of the national structure, overseen by the Scottish Junior Football Association, are the three junior regions, Scottish Junior Football Association, West Region of 63 clubs; Scottish Junior Football Association, East Region of 38 clubs; and the Scottish Junior Football Association, North Region of 32 clubs. As of 2019–20 this represents a total of 133 teams across 11 divisions. The term 'junior' refers not to the age of the players but the level of football played.

These clubs operate separately from the Scottish Football Association, except Girvan (who for historical reasons are a member of both the SFA and the SJFA), and Banks O' Dee (who joined the SFA in 2013). They participate in a number of their own cup competitions, as well as the Scottish Junior Cup.

Up to four non-SFA members can qualify for the Scottish Cup each season by winning one of the Superleagues or the Junior Cup. Banks O' Dee also enter Senior tournaments the Aberdeenshire Cup and Shield, and run an Under 20s team in the Senior development structure the Aberdeenshire & District League.

SJFA RegionNumber of DivisionsNumber of teams (2019–20)
Scottish Junior Football Association, East Region438
Scottish Junior Football Association, North Region332
Scottish Junior Football Association, West Region463
Level Divisions
1 West Premiership
16 clubs playing 30 games
↓ 3 relegation spots
East Super League North
10 clubs playing 27 games
↓ 2 relegation spots
East Super League South
10 clubs playing 27 games
↓ 2 relegation spots
North Super League
14 clubs playing 26 games
↓ 2 relegation spots
2 West Championship
16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 3 promotion spots + ↓ 3 relegation spots
East Premier League North
8 clubs playing 28 games
↑ 2 promotion spots
East Premier League South
10 clubs playing 27 games
↑ 2 promotion spots
North Division One
9 clubs playing 24 games
↑ 2 promotion spots + ↓ 2 relegation spots
3 West League One
16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 3 promotion spots + ↓ 3 relegation spots
North Division Two
9 clubs playing 24 games
↑ 2 promotion spots
4 West League Two
15 clubs playing 28 games
↑ 3 promotion spots

Amateur football

Again separate from the above, and generally agreed to lie 'below' the senior and junior levels, are the over 1,000 clubs in membership of the Scottish Amateur Football Association which oversees 50 different leagues[4][5][6] - although this includes a number of Sunday League football and Futsal competitions. Prestige centres around the historic Scottish Amateur Cup. For historical reasons Glasgow University are a member of both the SFA and the SAFA and enter the Scottish Cup and South Challenge Cup. A number of Senior and Junior clubs run reserve teams in Amateur football.

As of 2019–20 there are 424 teams – in 12 geographic leagues containing a total of 37 divisions – playing Saturday football under a regular August–May season. In addition there are 123 teams playing in four specialist Saturday Morning leagues (including one for Colleges) in Dundee and Glasgow, plus 31 clubs playing in Churches leagues. Student and Police football is also affiliated to the SAFA.

Saturday Amateur LeaguesDivisionsTeams (2019–20)
Aberdeenshire Amateur Football Association568
Ayrshire Amateur Football Association443
Border Amateur Football League333
Caledonian Amateur Football League229
Central Scottish Amateur Football League330
Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur Football League338
Kingdom of Fife Amateur Football Association333
Lothian & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association550
Midlands Amateur Football Association225
Perthshire Amateur Football Association226
Scottish Amateur Football League329
Stirling & District Amateur Football Association221
Dundee Saturday Morning Amateur Football League335
Glasgow & District Saturday Morning Amateur Football League228
Glasgow Colleges Amateur Football Association329
Strathclyde Saturday Morning Amateur Football League340
Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League331
Total51587
Sunday Amateur LeaguesDivisionsTeams (2018–19)
Aberdeen Sunday Football Association115
Airdrie & Coatbridge Sunday Amateur Football League333
Ayrshire Sunday Amateur Football Association114
Dumfries Sunday Amateur Football League115
Fife Sunday Amateur Football League222
Forth Valley Amateur Football Association110
Glasgow & District Sunday Championship Amateur Football League221
Lothians & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association440
Sunday Central Amateur Football League445
West Lothian Sunday Amateur Football League222
Total21237
Summer Amateur LeaguesDivisionsTeams (2018)
Caithness Amateur Football Association217
Inverness & District Amateur Football Association329
Lewis & Harris Amateur Football Association18
North West Sutherland Amateur Football Association111
Orkney Amateur Football Association215
Shetland Amateur Football Association215
Shetland Works Amateur Football Association18
Skye & Lochalsh Amateur Football Association19
Stewartry Sunday Amateur Football League17
Uist & Barra Amateur Football Association16
Total15125

Welfare football

Roughly concurrent with the Scottish Amateur Football Association is the Scottish Welfare Football Association, which has a very low profile nationally. The SWFA was established in the aftermath of World War I, and oversees leagues mainly operating Sunday and summer or midweek football, predominantly in the north of Scotland. From a peak of over 500 clubs, there were 158 teams in membership in November 2012,[7] down from 238 teams in 2007.[8]

LeaguesDivisionsTeams
Forres and Nairn District Welfare Association League110
Forth & Endrick Football League19
Greenock & District Welfare League113
Mid-Deeside Summer Football League17
Montrose and District Welfare League111
Moray & District Welfare Football League19
North East Scotland Welfare Football League218
Strathspey & Badenoch Welfare Football League14
Total881

Reserve & Youth football

The reserve & youth leagues are mostly governed by the relevant adult leagues.

LeaguesDivisionsTeams
SPFL Reserve League219
Club Academy Scotland U18 Elite119
Aberdeenshire and District League (U21)110
North of Scotland FA U20 League16
Highland League U17 League (East & North)121
Lowlands U20 Development League (Conference A & B)131

Women's system

The four levels of women's football in Scotland are structured as follows:

Level

League(s)/Division(s)

1

Scottish Women's Premier League
(Scottish Building Society)
8 clubs playing 21 games - 1 relegation

2

Scottish Women's Premier League 2
(Scottish Building Society)
8 clubs playing 21 games - 1 promotion, 2 relegations

3

SWFL Division 1 – North
10 clubs playing 18 games - 1 promotion

SWFL Division 1 – South
11 clubs playing 20 games - 1 promotion

4

SWFL Division 2 – North
7 clubs playing 18 games

SWFL Division 2 – West
11 clubs playing 20 games

SWFL Division 2 – Central
12 clubs playing 22 games

SWFL Division 2 – East
10 clubs playing 18 games

The last change was made in 2017 when SWFL 2 split into four regions.

See also

References


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