The Nationwide League is the name under which the English Football League is currently known, and it is called the Nationwide Football League for the simple reason that it is sponsored by the Nationwide Building Society. (And if the Nationwide Building Society ever get bored with sponsoring football and some other corporate sponsor steps forward it will be known under a completely different name; British sport is pretty shameless in its thirst for money.)
The Nationwide League came into being because in 1992 the top 22 English football (as in soccer) clubs broke away from the old Football League and joined the Premier League under the control of the Football Assocation. (Although their number has since been reduced to 20.). The old Football League simply continued with the teams it had left, and made the best of a bad job.
The Nationwide League has had its share of recent problems, it has had to deal with the threat of a strike by the Professional Footballers Association and the collapse of the ITV Digital company and with it their lucrative deal for broadcasting league matches. Although the League have succeeded in signing a new replacement deal with Sky BSB its worth a good deal less and the resulting shortfall in revenue has placed question marks over the financial viability of a good number of clubs.
The Structure of the League
The league consists of 72 professional football clubs split into three divisions of 24 teams, called (for obvious reasons) the First, Second and Third Divisions. In each division the 24 clubs play a round-robin tournament playing each other twice each season; once at home, one away. There are three points for a win, one for a draw, with goal difference separating teams with the same points.
The three clubs finishing in the lowest three places in The Premier League get relegated to the First Division each season. The two top clubs in the First Division get promoted, the next four placed clubs compete in the play-offs, a knock-out competition where the winner gets the third vacant promotion spot. The same promotion/relegation arrangements apply between the First and Second Divisions; between the Second and Third its the same except its four down, three up and a play off.
The bottom placed club, or from the current season the two bottom placed clubs, in the Third Division get relegated into the Nationwide Conference, which is a semi-professional feeder league. Relegation to the Nationwide Conference is the football equivalent of being cast into the darkness; few return.
The Divisional Champions of the Nationwide League to date
Sources and further information see