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Football pyramid

The football pyramid (formally but rather infrequently known as the National League System) groups virtually all of England's Association football teams that are under the jurisdiction of The Football Association into a layered hierarchy.

The top five layers of the system are not "pyramidal", in that they consist of only one league or league division each. The FA Premier league is the highest, followed by the three remaining divisions of The Football League and then the Nationwide Conference.

The sixth to tenth layers are pyramidal: the further down you go, the more leagues at that level you find, covering smaller and smaller geographic areas of England. Below the tenth layer, the existence of leagues at that level becomes intermittent, though in some areas there are as many as twenty layers to the bottom.

What binds the many leagues making up the Pyramid together (bearing in mind that all leagues below the fourth layer are called non-league, as the Football League, from which the highest teams seceded as the Premier League in 1992, was the only league in the world when formed in 1888) is the system by which the teams that do best in each league are generally eligible for promotion to the league above in the pyramid, while those that do worst in their league risk being relegated to a league below. Promotion and relegation have been a part of the league structure since the creation of the old Second Division, direct ancestor of today's First Division, in the 1890s. The number of teams promoted between leagues or divisions varies, and promotion is usually contingent on meeting criteria set by the higher league.

The evolution of the system to take in virtually the entire organized sport has proceeded in stages, and today's pyramid can be said to be barely twenty years old. Leagues have formed and dissolved over the years and reorganization in some area of the pyramid takes place every few years as a result. From 2004 it is planned that two geographic lower divisions of the Nationwide Conference will become the new sixth layer, forcing the top divisions of the Dr Martens Southern League, Ryman Isthmian League, and Unibond Northern Premier League down one level.

An underpinning of this structure is the idea that teams must earn high league status by play on the field, and not through a business decision to enter a market. Teams are never supposed to move from one community to another in search of business opportunities, but to rise or fall by the support they obtain where they are. The disregard for this principle by the owners of Wimbledon F.C and the unpopular decision by the authorities to permit their relocation led to the formation of AFC Wimbledon.

The number of league competitions (i.e. counting each division seperately) is well over 300. Given that each league has at least 15 teams, each with no less than 11 players, then the number of players is surely well over 50,000. Players range from world-famous full-time professionals to strictly local amateur groups who play in pubs' back yards.

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