FA Women's National League
The FA Women's National League, formerly WFA National League and FA Women's Premier League (WPL), is a group of six football divisions run by the English Football Association. Founded in 1991 by the Women's Football Association, the League included England's top division from 1991 to 2010.
National League North
National League South
Division One North
Division One Midlands
Division One South East
Division One South West
Premier League National Division (1991–2013)
|Number of teams||150|
|Level on pyramid||3–4 (since 2014)|
|Promotion to||FA Women's Championship (since 2014–15)|
|Relegation to||Regional Leagues|
|Domestic cup(s)||Women's FA Cup|
|League cup(s)||FA Women's National League Cup, FA Women's National League Plate|
|Most championships||Arsenal (12 titles)|
|Current: Current season (2020–21)|
The League's Premier Division/National Division contained England's top women's clubs from 1991–92 until the season 2009–10. During this time, Arsenal Ladies won 12 League titles. Below the National Division was a Northern Division and Southern Division, whose teams could win promotion.
The WPL National Division became the country's level 2 division from 2010–11 to 2012–13 (with the Northern and Southern at level 3). The WPL National Division ended in 2013, and was replaced at level 2 by FA WSL 2, later renamed the Championship. The Northern Division and Southern Division teams (continuing at level 3) have since played for promotion to this division instead.
The feeder divisions of the Combination Women's Football Leagues (1998–2014) became officially part of the WPL system in 2014 at level 4. From these four divisions (North, Midlands, South East and South West), clubs can win promotion to the level 3 National League North or National League South.
Before the National League, women's teams nationally had competed in the WFA Cup (Women's FA Cup) since 1970, and there were English regional leagues, but this was the first regular nationwide competition of its kind.
The Women's National League was inaugurated in the 1991–92 season by the Women's Football Association (WFA), with a monetary grant from the Sports Council. Eight teams played in the top flight in that year. From the League's foundation, it consisted of a national premier division and two lower divisions, the Northern and Southern Divisions, whose winners each season were promoted to the top flight.
From 1991–92 until 2012–13, the national premier division was above the Northern and Southern Divisions. Since 1991–92, the Northern and Southern Divisions have run on an equal basis with promotion, and this continues today. The terms Women's Premiership and Ladies Premiership were generally used for the National Division only.
The National Division's most successful clubs were Arsenal (12 titles), Croydon (3 titles), Doncaster Belles (2 titles and 7 times runners-up), Everton (1 title and 5 times runners-up), and Sunderland (3 titles at league level 2).
The Women's Premier League lost several clubs prior to the 2010–11 season and the National Division was demoted to level 2, due to the creation of the FA WSL in 2011. (The WSL was a summer league for its first six years, as opposed to the WPL's winter format.) Strangely, the lower divisions were still given the name "Premier League" for eight more seasons. The number of clubs competing in the Northern and Southern Divisions decreased from 12 to 10. The National Division decreased from 12 clubs to eight (2010–11), then increased to 10 clubs (2011–12 and 2012–13).
After the WPL National Division's three seasons at level 2, that division was scrapped after 2012–13, due to the FA's decision to add another WSL division, WSL 2, for its 2014 season, which included some clubs that moved from the WPL.
The only divisions in 2013–14 with WPL branding were the Northern and Southern Divisions at league level 3.
From the 2014–15 season, the Women's Premier League incorporated the four existing Combination Women's Football Leagues (level 4), as the Premier League's "Division One", with four groups of Division One leagues: North, Midlands, South East and South West. The FA proposed rebranding the WPL collectively as the Women's Championship League, but instead the six divisions kept the name Women's Premier League until 2018.
The winners of the Northern and Southern Divisions have played each other since 2014–15 in a single play-off at a neutral venue, to win the Women's Premier League/National League championship and promotion into the level 2 division. This was the first instance of promotion from the WPL to the WSL when the first play-off occurred in 2015. In that year's play-off between Portsmouth and Sheffield F.C. at Stratford FC's ground, Sheffield won through a stoppage-time goal.
The six divisions were renamed the Women's National League from 2018–19.
National Division champions
The League was run by the Women's Football Association in 1991–92 and 1992–93, by the Women's Football Alliance and an FA committee in 1993–94. The FA renamed the League in 1994–95. (The Women's FA Cup was run by the WFA from 1970–71 to 1992–93, and taken over by the FA in 1993–94.)
Level 1 national champions
Level 2 national champions:
|Season||National Division champions|
- From 2014, the level 2 national division was FA WSL 2.
Northern/Southern Division champions
Level 2 champions:
|Season||Northern Division||Southern Division|
|1992–93||Aston Villa||District Line|
|1993–94||Wolverhampton Wanderers||Bromley Borough|
|1994–95||Aston Villa||Maidstone Tigresses|
|1995–96||Tranmere Rovers||Southampton Saints|
|1997–98||Ilkeston Town||Southampton Saints|
|1998–99||Aston Villa||Reading Royals|
|2000–01||Leeds United||Brighton & Hove Albion|
|2002–03||Aston Villa||Bristol Rovers|
|2005–06||Blackburn Rovers||Cardiff City|
Level 3 champions:
- Automatic promotion ended in 2012–13. From 2014–15 onwards, the club marked in bold won the League championship play-off between the Northern and Southern Division winners, and won promotion to WSL 2/Women's Championship.
- 2011: Promotion of both champions and runners-up Coventry City and Cardiff City to National Division, after WSL's formation
- 2012: Promotion of both champions to National Division
- 2013: National Division ended. Reading, Millwall and Yeovil were elected to WSL 2
- 2018: West Ham wins WSL licence; Charlton, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Lewes to Women's Championship
- 2019: Promotion of both champions to Women's Championship, as WSL increased to 12 clubs
- 2019–20 and 2020–21 seasons were curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic
Division One champions
Following the incorporation of the Combination Women's Football Leagues into the Women's Premier League in 2014, the Women's Premier League/National League consisted of an additional four regional leagues below the Northern and Southern Divisions.
Level 4 champions:
|Season||Division One North||Division One Midlands||Division One South East||Division One South West|
|2014–15||Guiseley Vixens||Loughborough Foxes||C & K Basildon||Forest Green Rovers|
|2015–16||Middlesbrough||Leicester City||Crystal Palace||Swindon Town|
|2016–17||Guiseley Vixens||Wolverhampton Wanderers||Gillingham||Chichester City|
|2017–18||Hull City||Loughborough Foxes||Milton Keynes Dons||Plymouth Argyle|
|2018–19||Burnley||West Bromwich Albion||Crawley Wasps||Keynsham Town|
- 2019–20 and 2020–21 seasons were curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic
Format and clubs
Currently there are 71 clubs in the League, with two tiers and six divisions: the Northern and Southern Premier Divisions (level 3 in the football pyramid), and the regional Division One North, Division One Midlands, Division One South East and Division One South West (all level 4).
These numbers have varied historically due to the changing structure of women's football.
In the 2020–21 season, 24 teams compete in the Northern and Southern Premier Divisions (12 teams per division) and 47 teams compete in Division One (12 teams per division except for Division One South East which has 11 following the disbanding of Southampton Saints the previous season).
- Division One North
- Division One Midlands
- Division One South East
- Division One South West
The main cup competition of the National League is the FA Women's National League Cup, a knock-out competition involving all of the teams within the League's six divisions. Due to the changing structure of women's football, this competition has historically varied from a straight knock-out competition to a competition with a preliminary group stage before reaching the knock-out stage. The first Cup-winners were Arsenal in the 1991–92 WFA Women's National League Cup. The first winners of a Cup without top-flight teams were Barnet F.C. Ladies in the 2010–11 FA Women's Premier League Cup.
The FA Women's National League Plate was introduced in the 2014–15 season (as the Women's Premier League Plate). Under the current format, the teams that are eliminated from the opening round of the League Cup are entered into the Plate.
- List of association football competitions
- FA Women's Premier League National Division
- FA Women's Premier League Northern Division
- FA Women's Premier League Southern Division
- FA Women's Premier League Cup
- Garin, Erik; Di Maggio, Roberto. "England - List of Women Champions". Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
- Williams, Jean (2003). A game for rough girls?: a history of women's football in Britain. Routledge. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-415-26338-2. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- Davies, Pete (30 August 1995). "Life's a pitch for women footie players". The Independent. Archived from the original on 11 November 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
- "Women's Super League".
- "An introduction to the FA Women's Premier League". The FA. 13 August 2014. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
- "From the 2014/15 season The FAWPL and Combination Leagues will merge to form the Women's Championship League". The FA. 29 November 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
- "FA Women's Championship: New name chosen for England's second tier". 26 February 2018.