League Championship

The League Championship is the current second tier of English football’s league pyramid system.

Due to the immediate success of the Football League following its 12-club formation in 1888, a rival league called the Football Alliance operated from 1889. It was decided to formally merge the two leagues so a Second Division was introduced in 1892.

Although the new 28-club Football League membership only extended as far south of Birmingham, this expansion helped to give the developing game essential impetus in the south of England. Up to this stage, London and other southern county associations refused to recognise professional footballers.

Growing increasing frustrated by this attitude, Woolwich Arsenal were the first to break ranks by resigning from the London FA and joining the Second Division in 1893.

The following year, more clubs joined the exodus with Millwall Athletic being founder members of the Southern League which soon rivalled the standards of the Football League.

Automatic promotion and relegation for the two bottom and top two teams respectively of Division One and Two was introduced in the 1898-99 season. Previously, a series of Test matches (similar to the modern day play-offs) determined promotion and relegation issues.

From the original 12-club line-up, the second tier was increased, as follows:

• 1893-94 – 15 clubs
• 1894-95 – 16 clubs
• 1898-99 – 18 clubs
• 1905-06 – 20 clubs
• 1919-20 – 22 clubs
• 1987-88 – 23 clubs (First Division reduced to 21 clubs)
• 1988-89 – 24 clubs (First Division reduced to 20 clubs)

At the Football League’s AGM on 1 June 1973, it was agreed to adopt a ‘three-up-and-three-down’ promotion and relegation system between the top three divisions (four each way between third and fourth divisions remained in place).

It was Carlisle United who finished in third position in the Second Division in 1973-74 to secure what would be their only-ever season in the top flight. Southampton were the unlucky club to be the first to finish third from bottom in the First Division.

The next significant structural change was in 1987-88 when the play-offs were introduced. During the first two seasons, the four teams involved were the three clubs that finished directly below the automatic promotions positions, plus the club which finished directly above the automatic relegation places in the division above.
Since 1989-90, in the second tier, they have involved the four clubs immediately below the top two clubs who gained automatic promotion.

In the three seasons prior to 1990-91, the final was a two-legged tie on a home and away basis. If the two teams could not be separated, a tie-breaker was then staged at a neutral venue. Since then, it has been a one-off final game played at Wembley Stadium (apart from Cardiff between 2001 and 2006 during the reconstruction of Wembley).

Due to the formation of the Premier League as England’s top division in 1992, for the purposes of clarity on this web site, the second tier (which therefore then became the highest level of the Football League) is described, as follows:

• 1892-93 to 1991-92 – League Division Two
• 1992-93 to 2003-04 – League Division 1
• 2004-05 to date – League Championship

Renamed for marketing reasons in 2004, the Championship is now accepted as the wealthiest non-top flight football division in the world, regularly reported to be at least seventh richest in Europe while, due to the astronomical wealth on offer in the Premier League, the end of season play-off final is widely regarded as the single richest game in world football.

Visit our 2023-24 League Championship team sites: