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, 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, regular promotion or relegation 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. One senior club based in England (Berwick Rangers) plays in the Scottish system in the Scottish League Two. 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 the Scottish system 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 near impossible for clubs at the bottom of the system to progress to the top, or for weak clubs to be relegated down the leagues. Progress 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 2013–14, 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 was founded. 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)
18 clubs playing 34 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

Lowland Football League
(Ferrari Packaging Lowland League)
16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot
↓ 1 relegation spot

6

East of Scotland Football League
(Central Taxis EOS League)
39 clubs (3 conferences) playing 24 games
↑ 1 promotion playoff spot

South of Scotland Football League
16 clubs playing 30 games
↑ 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 and relegation play-off. Below the Lowland League is the East of Scotland Football League (39 clubs, which includes a reserve team, playing across three 13-team conferences) 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 2018–19 this totals 139 teams across nine divisions. All clubs in tier 5 and above automatically enter the Scottish Cup, along with clubs in tier 6 who are also 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 64 clubs; Scottish Junior Football Association, East Region of 36 clubs; and the Scottish Junior Football Association, North Region of 32 clubs. As of 2018–19 this represented a total of 131 teams across 10 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 Region Number of Divisions Number of teams (2018–19)
Scottish Junior Football Association, East Region 3 36
Scottish Junior Football Association, North Region 3 32
Scottish Junior Football Association, West Region 4 63
Level Divisions
1 West Premiership
16 clubs
East Super League
12 clubs
North Premier League
14 clubs
2 West Championship
16 clubs
East Premier League North
12 clubs
East Premier League South
12 clubs
North Division One
9 clubs
3 West League One
16 clubs
North Division Two
9 clubs
4 West League Two
15 clubs

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 2018–19 there are 640 teams – in 16 geographic leagues containing a total of 55 divisions – playing Saturday football under a regular August–May season. This is exclusive of approaching 150 teams playing in four specialist Saturday Morning leagues (including one for Colleges) in Dundee and Glasgow, and about 50 clubs playing in two Churches leagues. Student and Police football is also affiliated to the SAFA.

Saturday Amateur Leagues Number of Divisions Number of teams (2018–19)
Aberdeenshire Amateur Football Association 5 71
Ayrshire Amateur Football Association 4 44
Border Amateur Football League 3 33
Caledonian Amateur Football League 3 32
Central Scottish Amateur Football League 3 36
Dundee Saturday Morning Amateur Football League 3 34
Glasgow & District Saturday Morning Amateur Football League 2 19
Glasgow Colleges Amateur Football Association 3 29
Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur Football League 3 34
Kingdom of Fife AFA 3 35
Lothian & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association 5 58
Midlands Amateur Football Association 2 25
Perthshire Amateur Football Association 2 26
Scottish Amateur Football League 3 34
Stirling & District Amateur Football Association 2 26
Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League 3 30
Strathclyde Saturday Morning Amateur Football League 4 47
Sunday Amateur Leagues Number of Divisions Number of teams (2017–18)
Aberdeen Sunday Football Association 1 15
Airdrie & Coatbridge Sunday Amateur Football League 3 33
Ayrshire Sunday Amateur Football Association 1 14
Dumfries Sunday Amateur Football League 2 18
Fife Sunday Amateur Football League 2 26
Forth Valley Amateur Football Association 1 10
Glasgow & District Sunday Championship Amateur Football League
Lothians & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association 5 47
Sunday Central Amateur Football League 5 55
West Lothian Sunday Amateur Football League 2 22
Summer Amateur Leagues Number of Divisions Number of teams (2018)
Caithness Amateur Football Association 2 17
Inverness & District Amateur Football Association 3 29
Lewis & Harris Amateur Football Association 1 8
North West Sutherland Amateur Football Association 1 11
Orkney Amateur Football Association 2 15
Shetland Amateur Football Association 2 15
Shetland Works Amateur Football Association 1 8
Skye & Lochalsh Amateur Football Association 1 9
Stewartry Sunday Amateur Football League 1 7
Uist & Barra Amateur Football Association 1 6
Total 15 125

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]

As of 2017–18 there were only four teams - the tiny Central Scottish Welfare League[9] - playing Saturday football under a regular season.

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[]

  1. ^ "The Rules of the SPFL" (PDF). Scottish Professional Football League. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  2. ^ "Smith wants pyramid system". sportinglife.com. 2008-06-04. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  3. ^ "SPL clubs agree league reform package for next season". BBC Sport. 2013-05-07. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
  4. ^ "SAFA Winter Saturday".
  5. ^ "SAFA Winter Sunday".
  6. ^ "SAFA Summer/Highlands".
  7. ^ "Scottish Welfare FA Club Directory". 2012-11-12.
  8. ^ "Scottish Amateur League - An Ongoing Resume".
  9. ^ "Central Scottish Welfare FA table". CSWFA.