What is the North West Counties Football League?

abbey hey are playing at home a match in the north west counties leagueBill Boaden / Abbey Hey are playing at home

The North West Counties Football League, also known as the NWCFL, is based in the north of England and features teams from the Isle of Man, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Cumbria, Northern Staffordshire, Northern Shropshire, the far west of West Yorkshire, and the High Peak area of Derbyshire.

However, Welsh clubs Caernarfon Town, Colwyn Bay and Rhyl have all previously featured in the competition at various times in its history.

The league is a part of the Joint Liaison Council that manages the Northern branch of the National Football System in England.

Change of format

From season 2018/19, the competition has had some format changes, as it has gone from two divisions to three, with the Premier Division being the ninth level of the English game and the fifth in NLS. The Premier Division features 24 teams.

There are now also two separate divisions split into North and South, decided by which part of the country the club hails from. These divisions are the tenth level of the English league system and the sixth in the non-league system. Unlike the Premier Division, there are just 18 teams in each of the North and South Divisions.

An early history of the North West Counties Football League

The league was introduced in 1982 when the Cheshire County League and the Lancashire Combination merged into one organisation.

The league first consisted of three divisions. However, the introduction of the Northern Premier League (NPL) in 1987 led to the league being reduced to just two divisions.

That time was a crucial one as it was around that time that the league saw promotion and relegation introduced. Whichever two clubs finished first and second in the North West Counties Football League earned promotion to the Northern Premier League if, of course, their grounds meet the criteria for such a promotion.

For the 2008-09 season, the Premier Division replaced Division One while the First Division took the place of Division Two. Hence, the North and South divisions were created for the 2018-19 season, as previously mentioned.

The competition has six feeder leagues, namely the Cheshire Association Football League, Liverpool County Premier League, West Cheshire Amateur Football League, Staffordshire County Senior League, West Lancashire Football League, and Manchester Football League. For any team to be promoted to the league, their grounds must meet the required ground regulations to feature in the NWCFL.

The league received its first sponsor in the shape of Yorkshire-based brewery BASS, who sponsored the league until 1995.

The following sponsor came in 1998 when the region’s railway company First North Western sponsored the competition. However, the deal lasted just two years. Hallmark Security also enjoyed a partnership with the competition for three years, from 2015 until 2018.

Going in different directions

Former Football League trio Northwich Victoria, Nelson and Darwen now play their football in the NWCFL. Northwich spent two seasons in the Football League but quit the league in 1892.

Nelson was actually a founding member of the English Third Division North in 1921, after being resurrected following its closure for a short time in 1916 before reforming in 1918.

The original Darwen were members of the Football League in 1891. However, they finished bottom of the 14-team top division and became founding members of the Second Division. However, the original Darwen was dissolved in 2009 and rebirthed as Darwen F.C., which is now part of the NWCFL system.

While the three above clubs have dropped down into the system, Accrington Stanley, Fleetwood Town and Salford City have all climbed their way from the North West Counties Football League all the way into the Football League.

The latter was the team who last featured in the NWCFL back in 2008. Salford won promotion to the Football League in 2019 from the National League. Fleetwood Town was only founded in 1997 after the original Fleetwood folded earlier in that same year and was resurrected. They only changed their name to Fleetwood Town in 2002.

NWCFL Challenge Cup

The NWCFL Challenge Cup is a competition that allows all members to participate. The most successful teams in Challenge Cup history are Warrington Town, Burscough, Vauxhall Motors, Bacup Borough and 1874 Northwich, who have all won the trophy on two occasions. Warrington and Burscough have also both finished as competition runners on two occasions too.

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