Southern Football League

Southern Football League
Country England
Other club(s) from Wales
Confederation The Football Association
Founded 1894
Number of teams 68
Level on pyramid Level 7 and Level 8
Promotion to National League South,
National League North
Relegation to Combined Counties League
Hellenic League
Midland Football League
Spartan South Midlands League
United Counties League
Wessex League
Western League
Domestic cup(s) Southern League Cup
Current champions Poole Town (Premier Division)
Cinderford Town (D1 South & West)
Kings Langley (D1 Central)
(2015–16 Southern Football League)
Website Official website

The Southern League, currently known as the Evo-Stik League Southern under the terms of a sponsorship agreement with Bostik Ltd,[1] is a men's football competition featuring semi-professional and amateur clubs from the South West, 'South Central' and Midlands of England and South Wales. Together with the Isthmian League and the Northern Premier League it forms levels seven and eight of the English football league system.

The structure of the Southern League has changed several times since its formation in 1894, and currently there are 68 clubs which are divided into three divisions. The Premier Division is at step 3 of the National League System (NLS), and is a feeder division, mainly to the National League South but also to the National League North. Feeding the Premier Division are two regional divisions, Division One South & West and Division One Central, which are at step 4 of the NLS. These divisions are in turn fed by various regional leagues.


Football in the south of England

Professional football (and professional sport in general) developed more slowly in Southern England than in Northern England. Professionalism was sanctioned by The Football Association as early as 1885, but when The Football League was founded in 1888 it was based entirely in the north and midlands with the County Football Associations in the South being firmly opposed to professionalism.

Woolwich Arsenal (nowadays simply Arsenal) were the first club in London to turn professional in 1891 and were one of the prime motivators behind an attempt to set up a Southern League to mirror the existing Northern and Midlands based Football League. However, this venture failed in the face of opposition from the London Football Association and Woolwich Arsenal instead joined the Football League as its only representative south of Birmingham in 1893. Additionally, an amateur league, the Southern Alliance was founded in 1892, with seven clubs from the region, but that folded after one incomplete season.

Formation of the Southern League

Nonetheless, another attempt was made to form the Southern League, and this time it was successful. A competition for both professional and amateur clubs was founded in 1894 under the initiative of Millwall Athletic (now simply Millwall). Initially only one division was envisaged, but such was the enthusiasm, that eventually two divisions were formed. The sixteen founder members were:[2]

Division One
Luton Town
Millwall Athletic
Royal Ordnance Factories
2nd Scots Guards
Swindon Town
Division Two
New Brompton
Old St Stephen's
Sheppey United

2nd Scots Guards withdrew before the first season started and were replaced by Southampton St Mary's. Woolwich Arsenal attempted to add their reserve side to the second division but this application was refused.

Success of the Southern League

The Southern League soon became the dominant competition below The Football League in Southern and Central England. By the turn of the century a few of the Southern League sides began to rival the Football League in the FA Cup but overall it was still regarded as the equivalent to the third level of English.[3]

Two Southern League clubs, Southampton (in 1900 and 1902) and Tottenham Hotspur (in 1901) reached the final of the FA Cup around the turn of the century. Tottenham Hotspur are the only club from below the 2nd level of English football to have won the FA Cup.

Several of the best players in England moved from the Football League to the Southern League around this time, due to the restrictions on their freedom of movement and wages implemented by the Football League between 1893 and 1901, and the failed efforts of the Association Footballers' Union (the AFU) to relax the restrictions.

The champions of the two leagues during this period met in the annual Charity Shield. Out of the six meetings the respective league champions had in the Shield, however, only one was won by the Southern League champions – Brighton & Hove Albion, in 1910, and this remains their only top level national honour.

In 1907, it accepted Bradford Park Avenue, a northern club, as a member, reflecting its senior position at the time.

In 1920, virtually the entire top division of the Southern League was absorbed by the Football League to become that league's new Third Division. A year later the Third Division was expanded and regionalised. The Third Division clubs from the previous season became the Third Division South, with the addition of the Third Division North.

Of the original founder members, six – Gillingham (formerly New Brompton), Luton Town, Millwall, Reading, Southampton and Swindon Town – are now Premier or Football League clubs.

A feeder league

For the next six decades, the Football League and Southern League would exchange a limited number of clubs as a result of the older league's re-election process. From 1920 onward, the Southern League's status as a semi-professional league was firmly established.

With its clubs seeking a more regular means of advancing to the Football League, in 1979 the Southern League became a feeder to the new Alliance Premier League along with the Isthmian League and the Northern Premier League, and the top Southern clubs of the day joined the new league. In turn, the APL (renamed Football Conference in 1986) would eventually succeed in becoming a feeder to the Football League. The league lost more of its top clubs in 2004 when the Conference added two regional divisions below the existing National League, the Conference South and Conference North.


The first sponsor of the Southern League was Beazer Homes who sponsored the league from 1987–96. The sponsors after Beazer Homes to the present day are: Dr Martens (1996–2004), British Gas (2006–2009), Zamaretto (2009–2011), Evo-Stik (2011–2013),[4] Calor Gas (2013–14), and Evo-Stik (2014– ).

2016–17 member clubs

Premier Division

Division One Central

Division One South & West

AFC Dunstable
AFC Kempston Rovers
Arlesey Town
Ashford Town
Aylesbury United
Barton Rovers
Beaconsfield Town
Bedford Town
Chalfont St Peter
Egham Town
Fleet Town
Hanwell Town
Petersfield Town
Potters Bar Town
Royston Town
AFC Totton
Barnstaple Town
Bishop's Cleeve
Bridgwater Town
Cinderford Town
Didcot Town
Larkhall Athletic
Mangotsfield United
North Leigh
Paulton Rovers
Shortwood United
Swindon Supermarine
Taunton Town
Tiverton Town
Wantage Town
Wimborne Town
Winchester City
Yate Town
Banbury United
Basingstoke Town
Biggleswade Town
Chesham United
Chippenham Town
Cirencester Town
Corby Town
Dorchester Town
Dunstable Town
Hayes & Yeading United
Frome Town
Hitchin Town
Kettering Town
King's Lynn Town
Kings Langley
Merthyr Town
Redditch United
Slough Town
St Ives Town
St Neots Town
Stratford Town
Locations of the Southern Football League clubs by division
– Premier Division     – Division One Central     – Division One South & West

Past Southern League winners

This section lists the past winners of the Southern League.[5]

Season Division One Division Two
1894–95 Millwall Athletic New Brompton
1895–96 Millwall Athletic Wolverton L & NWR
1896–97 Southampton St Mary's Dartford
1897–98 Southampton Royal Artillery Portsmouth

For the 1898–99 season, Division Two was divided into London and South-West sections, with a playoff contested between the winners of each section.

Season Division One Division Two (London) Division Two (SW) Division Two Playoff
1898–99 Southampton Thames Ironworks Cowes Thames won 3–1

For the 1899–1900 season, the league reverted to the old format.

Bristol Rovers' Southern League championship-winning side from the 1904–05 season
Season Division One Division Two
1899–1900 Tottenham Hotspur Watford
1900–01 Southampton Brentford
1901–02 Portsmouth Fulham
1902–03 Southampton Fulham
1903–04 Southampton Watford
1904–05 Bristol Rovers Fulham Reserves
1905–06 Fulham Crystal Palace
1906–07 Fulham Southend United
1907–08 Queens Park Rangers Southend United
1908–09 Northampton Town Croydon Common

For the 1909–10 season, Division Two was split into an 'A' section and a 'B' section, with the winners of each section contesting a play-off for the Division Two championship.

Season Division One Division Two (A) Division Two (B) Division Two Playoff
1909–10 Brighton & Hove Albion Stoke Hastings & St Leonards Stoke won 6–0

For the 1910–11 season, the league again reverted to the previous format.

Season Division One Division Two
1910–11 Swindon Town Reading
1911–12 Queens Park Rangers Merthyr Town
1912–13 Plymouth Argyle Cardiff City
1913–14 Swindon Town Croydon Common
1914–15 Watford Stoke
1919–20 Portsmouth Mid Rhondda

At the end of the 1919–20 season, the majority of the clubs in the First Division moved into the new Third Division of the Football League. The Southern League was therefore split into two sections for England and Wales, with the winners of each section contesting a playoff for the Southern League championship.

Season English Section Welsh Section Championship Playoff
1920–21 Brighton & Hove Albion Reserves Barry Brighton won 2–1
1921–22 Plymouth Argyle Reserves Ebbw Vale Plymouth won 3–0
1922–23 Bristol City Reserves Ebbw Vale Ebbw Vale won 2–1

For the 1923–24 season, the league was split into two regional sections, with the winners of each section contesting a playoff for the Southern League championship.

Season Eastern Section Western Section Championship Playoff
1923–24 Peterborough & Fletton United Yeovil & Petters United Yeovil won 3–1
1924–25 Southampton Reserves Swansea Town Reserves Southampton won 2–1
1925–26 Millwall Reserves Plymouth Argyle Reserves Plymouth won 1–0
1926–27 Brighton & Hove Albion Reserves Torquay United Brighton won 4–0
1927–28 Kettering Town Bristol City Reserves Kettering won 5–0
1928–29 Kettering Town Plymouth Argyle Reserves Plymouth won 4–2
1929–30 Aldershot Town Bath City Aldershot won 3–2
1930–31 Dartford Exeter City Reserves Dartford won 7–2
1931–32 Dartford Yeovil & Petters United Dartford won 2–1
1932–33 Norwich City Reserves Bath City Norwich won 2–1

For the 1933–34 season an extra section, the Central Section was introduced to provide additional fixtures. The Central included clubs from the other two sections and did not contribute to the overall championship.

Season Eastern Section Western Section Central Section Championship Playoff
1933–34 Norwich City Reserves Plymouth Argyle Reserves Plymouth Argyle Reserves Plymouth won 3–0
1934–35 Norwich City Reserves Yeovil & Petters United Folkestone Norwich won 7–2
1935–36 Margate Plymouth Argyle Reserves Margate Margate won 3–1

For the 1936–37 season, the Eastern and Western sections were merged into a single division. Additional fixtures were obtained through the Midweek Section which did not contribute to the overall championship.

Season Southern League Midweek Section
1936–37 Ipswich Town Margate
1937–38 Guildford City Millwall Reserves
1938–39 Colchester United Tunbridge Wells Rangers

For the 1945–46 season, the Midweek Section was not played due to power restrictions after the Second World War.

Season Southern League
1945–46 Chelmsford City
1946–47 Gillingham
1947–48 Merthyr Tydfil
1948–49 Gillingham
1949–50 Merthyr Tydfil
1950–51 Merthyr Tydfil
1951–52 Merthyr Tydfil
1952–53 Headington United
1953–54 Merthyr Tydfil
1954–55 Yeovil Town
1955–56 Guildford City
1956–57 Kettering Town
1957–58 Gravesend & Northfleet

For the 1958–59 season the Southern League was again divided into two sections: North-Western and South-Eastern. The winners of each section contested a playoff for the Southern League championship

Season North-Western Section South-Eastern Section Championship Playoff
1958–59 Hereford United Bedford Town Bedford won 3–0

The following season saw the two sections merged to form a Premier Division, and a new Division One introduced.

Season Premier Division Division One
1959–60 Bath City Clacton Town
1960–61 Oxford United Kettering Town
1961–62 Oxford United Wisbech Town
1962–63 Cambridge City Margate
1963–64 Yeovil Town Folkestone Town
1964–65 Weymouth Hereford United
1965–66 Weymouth Barnet
1966–67 Romford Dover
1967–68 Chelmsford City Worcester City
1968–69 Cambridge United Brentwood Town
1969–70 Cambridge United Bedford Town
1970–71 Yeovil Town Guildford City

For the 1971–72 season Division One was regionalised.

Season Premier Division Division One North Division One South
1971–72 Chelmsford City Kettering Town Waterlooville
1972–73 Kettering Town Grantham Maidstone United
1973–74 Dartford Stourbridge Wealdstone
1974–75 Wimbledon Bedford Town Gravesend & Northfleet
1975–76 Wimbledon Redditch United Minehead
1976–77 Wimbledon Worcester City Barnet
1977–78 Bath City Witney Town Margate
1978–79 Worcester City Grantham Dover

For the 1979–80 season, thirteen Premier Division clubs joined the newly formed Alliance Premier League. The Premier Division and Division One were subsequently merged, and two regional divisions formed.

Season Midland Division Southern Division
1979–80 Bridgend Town Dorchester Town
1980–81 Alvechurch Dartford
1981–82 Nuneaton Borough Wealdstone

For the 1982–83 season, the Premier Division was re-introduced, above the regional divisions.

Season Premier Division Midland Division Southern Division
1982–83 Leamington Cheltenham Town Fisher Athletic
1983–84 Dartford Willenhall Town Road-Sea Southampton
1984–85 Cheltenham Town Dudley Town Basingstoke Town
1985–86 Welling United Bromsgrove Rovers Cambridge City
1986–87 Fisher Athletic VS Rugby Dorchester Town
1987–88 Aylesbury United Merthyr Tydfil Dover Athletic
1988–89 Merthyr Tydfil Gloucester City Chelmsford City
1989–90 Dover Athletic Halesowen Town Bashley
1990–91 Farnborough Town Stourbridge Buckingham Town
1991–92 Bromsgrove Rovers Solihull Borough Hastings Town
1992–93 Dover Athletic Nuneaton Borough Sittingbourne
1993–94 Farnborough Town Rushden & Diamonds Gravesend & Northfleet
1994–95 Hednesford Town Newport County Salisbury City
1995–96 Rushden & Diamonds Nuneaton Borough Sittingbourne
1996–97 Gresley Rovers Tamworth Forest Green Rovers
1997–98 Forest Green Rovers Grantham Town Weymouth
1998–99 Nuneaton Borough Clevedon Town Havant & Waterlooville

For the 1999–2000 season, the regional divisions were renamed the Western and Eastern divisions.

Season Premier Division Western Division Eastern Division
1999–2000 Boston United Stafford Rangers Fisher Athletic
2000–01 Margate Hinckley United Newport IOW
2001–02 Kettering Town Halesowen Town Hastings Town
2002–03 Tamworth Merthyr Tydfil Dorchester Town
2003–04 Crawley Town Redditch United King's Lynn
2004–05 Histon Mangotsfield United Fisher Athletic
2005–06 Salisbury City Clevedon Town Boreham Wood

For the 2006–07 season, the two regional divisions were renamed Division One Midlands and Division One South & West.

Season Premier Division Division One Midlands Division One South & West
2006–07 Bath City Brackley Town Bashley
2007–08 King's Lynn Evesham United Farnborough
2008–09 Corby Town Leamington Truro City

For the 2009-10 season, Division One Midlands was renamed Division One Central.

Season Premier Division Division One Central Division One South & West
2009–10 Farnborough Bury Town Windsor & Eton
2010–11 Truro City Arlesey Town AFC Totton
2011–12 Brackley Town St Neots Town Bideford
2012–13 Leamington Burnham Poole Town
2013–14 Hemel Hempstead Town Dunstable Town Cirencester Town
2014–15 Corby Town Kettering Town Merthyr Town
2015–16 Poole Town Kings Langley Cinderford Town

League Cup winners

Winners to 1993 source:[6]

League structure

The league structure has changed several times over the years, and currently consists of a Premier Division at step 3 of the pyramid, with Division One South & West and Division One Central at step 4. Due in large part to the presence of the Isthmian League, the geographical footprint of the Southern League actually extends further north than the National League South. Therefore, while the majority of the winners of the Premier Division, together with the winners of a playoff, are promoted to the National League South, those clubs in the most northerly locales are promoted to the National League North.

Clubs relegated from the Southern League can theoretically be placed in any of fourteen lower level leagues, but in practice it is likely to be one of the following (based on geography):

From time to time, clubs outside the promotion and relegation positions based at the geographical edges of the Southern League will be compelled to leave the League by the NLS Committee, should it be necessary for them to compete in the Northern Premier or Isthmian Leagues so as to correct any imbalances brought on by the geographical distribution of the clubs promoted and relegated to this level. Clubs in the Northern Premier or Isthmian Leagues have also been entered into the Southern League for the same reason. In general, there has been a drift southwards with teams in the Midlands such as Halesowen Town moving into the Northern Premier.


  1. "Main sponsor Bostik back with two-year deal as Evo-Stik League Southern is reborn". 9 October 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  2. "The History of the Southern Football League". Southern Football League official website. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
  3. Football League Football Club History Database
  4. League tables available English Non-League Archive 1965–98
  5. Southern League History RSSSF
  6. 1 2 Edwards, Leigh (1993). The Official Centenary History of the Southern League. Halesowen: Paper Plane Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 1-871872-08-1.
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