Northern Premier League: General Information

The Northern Premier League, unlike the Southern and Isthmian Leagues, is a relatively recent formation. It came into existence in 1968 with the intention of unifying the top professional clubs of the North-East and the North-West, which until then had been accommodated in a number of separate regional leagues.

Of the original 20 entrants, seven came from the Cheshire County League and five from the Lancashire Combination - these two leagues were later to merge to form the North-West Counties League. The remainder were from the Midland League (4), the North Regional League (3) and the West Midlands (Regional) League (1).

From its inception the Northern Premier League was regarded as the equal of the Southern League when it came time to hold the end-of-season elections to the Football League, although the only NPL team to gain election to the Football League was Wigan Athletic in 1978. Only one season later the formation of the Alliance Premier League, including the top seven clubs from the NPL, put an end to direct promotion from the NPL to the Football League. Instead the NPL champion is promoted to the APL (currently the Vauxhall Conference), subject to ground grading and financial criteria. If the champion is unacceptable the runner-up will be considered. One or more teams may be relegated annually from the APL.

For 19 years the Northern Premier League comprised between 20 and 24 teams. In 1987 an additional division was added, formed from the North-West Counties League (14 teams) and the Northern Counties East League (5).

More recently the introduction of a new national competition in Wales and the instructions that all Welsh teams should participate in it unless they play at a very high level, has deprived the NPL of some excellent teams, including Rhyl, Bangor City and Caenarfon Town. The FA of Wales's recent relaxation of their stance, though, has allowed Colwyn Bay to return to their Welsh ground. Another NPL team, Gretna, is based in Scotland.

The foundation of the Northern Premier League is seen by many in retrospect to have been a forerunner of the Pyramid system which now unifies the majority of leagues at senior level. Whether or not such grand ambitions were put forward at the time, it is undeniable that the Northern Premier arm of the Pyramid has advanced farther than the others along the route of automatic promotion between feeder leagues. Thus, since the foundation of the North-West Counties League and the Northern Counties East League, it has been standard practice for the champions of these two leagues to be promoted to the Northern Premier. The same applies to the (formerly amateur) Northern League since 1991-92.

There are even formal relationships between leagues lower down the ladder, as the Northern League normally accepts the champions of the Northern Alliance and of the Wearside League. The various regional and county leagues which feed into the NW and NE are more loosely tied in to the Pyramid.

There is more history in the archive index.

Maintained by Russell Gerrard: