2022/23 Non-League Promotion and Relegation – A guide

Action from Ascot United vs Reading City. Photo: Rob Mack.
Action from Ascot United vs Reading City. Photo: Rob Mack.

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Now that New Year’s is well behind us, football fans can start to look ahead to the final few months of the season.

Your side may be flying high at the top of the table, propping up the rest of the division, or anywhere in between, but where exactly do they need to finish in order to be playing a level higher next season or to avoid the drop, and how does promotion and relegation work at each Step?

Well, Football in Berkshire is here with a guide to promotion and relegation in men’s non-league football.

If you’d like to know a bit more about the Berkshire sides vying for promotion, Tom Canning has written that here. And if you’d like more on how the English Football Pyramid works, that’s here.

Steps 1-4 including Vanarama National League, Southern League, Isthmian League and Northern League

Step 1 – Vanarama National League

The promotion and relegation in the top levels of the non-league pyramid follow a similar format.

Starting at the top of the non-league pyramid, there will be two sides promoted from Step 1, the National League, to replace the two sides that will be relegated from EFL League 2. The National League champions will go up automatically and the next six teams in the table will qualify for the playoffs.

The teams that finish between 4th and 7th will play off to reach the semi-finals where they will face the teams who finished 2nd and 3rd. All ties are one-off matches and they will all be played at the home ground of the highest-ranked side in the tie, except for the final which will be played at Wembley.

At the other end, the bottom four sides will be relegated.

Step 2 – Vanarama National League North & South

It is a similar situation in Step 2. The champions of the National League North and South, will go up automatically and they will be joined by the playoff winner from each division. As with Step 1, each playoff consists of 6 teams and follows the same format, with the only difference being that all games, including the final are played at the ground of the highest-ranked side in the tie.

Four sides will be relegated from each division, meaning eight teams will go down to Step 3.

Step 3 – Southern League Premier Division’s Central & South, Isthmian League Premier Division and Northern League Premier Division

At Step 3 two teams from each of the four divisions will go up to Step 2. The four champions are promoted automatically and they are joined by a playoff winner from each division. At this level each playoff only features four teams, the sides that finished in 2nd to 5th in each division, but like the higher levels, all ties are one off and the matches will be played at the home ground of the ground of the highest ranked side in the tie, including the final.

Again four sides will be relegated from each division, meaning sixteen sides will go down to Step 4.

Step 4 – Southern League Division One’s Central & South, Isthmian League Division One’s North, South Central and South East and Northern League Division One’s East, West and Midlands

The divisions at Step 4 follow exactly the same promotion format as Step 3, so the eight champions and playoff winners will go up, with the playoffs following the same format as the level above.

Step 4 to Step 5

This is where things get interesting, or confusing depending on how clearly I can describe the situation.

The bottom two clubs from each of the eight Step 4 divisions are relegated and they are replaced by the champions of each of the sixteen Step 5 divisions (EG Combined Counties League Premier Division’s North and South), who are promoted automatically.

On top of that we have an inter-Step playoff between the sides that finished 3rd and 4th bottom at Step 4 and the sides that finished 2nd at Step 5. The sixteen fixtures will each feature one side from Step 4 and one from Step 5 and will be decided on a geographical basis to avoid large amounts of travel. Each tie is a one-off fixture and will be played at the home ground of the Step 4 side.

The winner plays Step 4 football the following season and the loser plays at Step 5.

Step 5 to Step 6

Between Steps 5 and 6 things are relatively simple again. The bottom two sides in each of the 16 divisions at Step 5 will be relegated, meaning 32 sides will go down.

Coming up, the champions from each of the 17 Step 6 divisions will be promoted automatically. For the two divisions run by the South West Peninsula League the champions are the only team promoted but for the other 15 Step 6 divisions another side will be promoted via a playoff featuring the teams who finished 2nd to 5th. This gives the 32 teams (17 champions and 15 playoff winners) who will go up to Step 5.

Step 6 to Step 7

At Step 6 the bottom 3 sides of each division are liable to be relegated so a maximum of 51 teams, but the exact number is determined by how many teams are promoted from Step 7. There are 50 divisions at Step 7 and a maximum of one team can be promoted from each. Teams who want to be considered for promotion have to apply in advance, pass the relevant ground grading for Step 6 and finish in the top 5 places of their division. If more than one team from a division apply for and achieve the criteria for promotion, the team finishing highest will go up.

In theory, 50 teams could be promoted from Step 7, but some divisions will not have any teams that meet the criteria for promotion and some divisions will not have any teams apply to go up, so in reality the number will be smaller. This means some teams from Step 6 will receive a reprieve from relegation. Any reprieves will be given to teams finishing 3rd from bottom in their divisions on a points-per-game basis, and then teams finishing 2nd from bottom in the same way.

Hopefully this guide provides some clarity on the promotion and relegation situation at each Step, and you now know exactly what your side needs to do to go up or avoid the drop at the end of the season.

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