Southern Football League
|Other club(s) from||Wales|
|Confederation||The Football Association|
|Number of teams||68|
|Level on pyramid||Level 7 and Level 8|
National League South,|
National League North
Combined Counties League|
Midland Football League
Spartan South Midlands League
United Counties League
|Domestic cup(s)||Southern League Cup|
Poole Town (Premier Division)|
Cinderford Town (D1 South & West)
Kings Langley (D1 Central)
(2015–16 Southern Football League)
The Southern League, currently known as the Evo-Stik League Southern under the terms of a sponsorship agreement with Bostik Ltd, 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:
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.
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), Calor Gas (2013–14), and Evo-Stik (2014– ).
2016–17 member clubs
Past Southern League winners
|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.
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|
|1911–12||Queens Park Rangers||Merthyr Town|
|1912–13||Plymouth Argyle||Cardiff City|
|1913–14||Swindon Town||Croydon Common|
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|
|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.
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.
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|
|1974–75||Wimbledon||Bedford Town||Gravesend & Northfleet|
|1977–78||Bath City||Witney Town||Margate|
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|
For the 1982–83 season, the Premier Division was re-introduced, above the regional divisions.
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|
|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
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):
- Combined Counties League
- Hellenic League
- Midland Football League
- Spartan South Midlands League
- United Counties League
- Wessex League
- Western League
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.
- "Main sponsor Bostik back with two-year deal as Evo-Stik League Southern is reborn". 9 October 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
- "The History of the Southern Football League". Southern Football League official website. Retrieved 2007-04-23.
- Football League Football Club History Database
- League tables available English Non-League Archive 1965–98
- Southern League History RSSSF
- Edwards, Leigh (1993). The Official Centenary History of the Southern League. Halesowen: Paper Plane Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 1-871872-08-1.