League Two is the current fourth tier of English football’s league pyramid system.
The second-half of the 1950s was an era of emerging change in the game. Floodlit football was a catalyst for the emergence of glamorous European competition with increased potential for the leading players, while change was afoot within the corridors of power at the Football League.
It was maybe nothing more than coincidence that the first section of the motorway network was opened near the Football League’s HQ in Preston in 1958. Undoubtedly, the forthcoming ease in road transport must have come under consideration when the campaign to reorganise the League in to four national divisions began at the Annual General Meeting in 1956.
The clubs in the Northern and Southern sections of the Third Division were split in more ways than one. The North opposed a move to a national third and fourth divisions as many were already struggling to satisfy their commitments while the South were in favour as they argued that reports of additional travelling costs were being wildly exaggerated.
The vote of 33 votes in favour compared to 16 against narrowly failed to win the required three-quarters majority.
Nonetheless, the die had been cast and the appointment of Alan Hardaker as the league’s new Secretary in December 1956 meant that change was inevitable.
The forthright Yorkshireman was instrumental in designing the ‘Pattern of Football’ proposal in 1957 which would have seen the existing 92 clubs, then occupying the four divisions of the League, increased to 100, with 20 teams in each of five divisions.
That proved to be a step too far though as new President Joe Richards proposed at the 1957 AGM that the top halves of both the north and south sections would form the national Third Division from the start of the 1958-59 season. Similarly, the bottom halves of both sections would form the new Fourth Division.
The top four clubs were automatically promoted to the Third Division each season until 1987-88 when the play-offs were introduced.
The bottom four clubs had to apply for re-election until 1986-87 when the bottom club was relegated to the top division of non-league football. This was increased to the bottom two clubs in 2002-03.
The fourth tier remained as a 24-club competition until 1991-92 when it was reduced by two clubs to allow the First Division to increase to 22 clubs. The switch was reversed in 1995-96 to allow the Premier League to be reduced to 20 clubs.
Following the Football League’s rebranding in 2004, it was renamed League Two.
While the League saw it as a commercial necessity, Alex Flynn – influential in the formation of the Premier League and UEFA Champions League – claimed a chance for a wider Football League restructuring had been missed: “Twenty four clubs in each division means there is a huge gap between the teams at the top and the bottom; fewer clubs would make it more competitive. I would favour two national divisions of 20 clubs and three regional divisions of 20 clubs.”
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 fourth tier (which therefore then became the third level of the Football League) is described, as follows:
- 1958-59 to 1991-92 – League Division Four
- 1992-93 to 2003-04 – League Division 3
- 2004-05 to date – League Two
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