|Other club(s) from||Guernsey|
South Central Division
South East Division
|Number of teams||82|
Premier Division: 22
North Division: 20
South Central Division: 20
South East Division: 20
|Level on pyramid||7–8|
|Promotion to||National League South|
|Relegation to||Combined Counties League|
Eastern Counties League
Essex Senior League
Southern Combination League
Southern Counties East League
Spartan South Midlands League
|Domestic cup(s)||FA Cup|
Isthmian League Cup
|International cup(s)||Europa League |
(via FA Cup)
|Current champions||None (season abandoned)|
|Current: 2020–21 Isthmian League|
It was founded in 1905 by amateur clubs in the London area. It now consists of 82 teams in four divisions; the Premier Division above its three feeder divisions, the North, South Central and South East divisions.
Together with the Southern League and the Northern Premier League, it forms the seventh and eighth levels of the English football league system. It has various regional feeder leagues and the league as a whole is a feeder league mainly to the National League South.
Before the Isthmian League was formed, there were no leagues in which amateur football clubs could compete, only knock-out cup competitions. Therefore, a meeting took place between representatives of Casuals, Civil Service, Clapton, Ealing Association, Ilford and London Caledonians to discuss the creation of a strong amateur league. All the clubs supported the idea and the Isthmian League was born on 8 March 1905. Membership to the league was through invitation only. The league was very strongly dedicated to the cause of amateurism in sport; consequently, the champions of the league did not even receive a trophy or medals; the league's Latin motto was honor sufficit ('honour is sufficient').
Thus, those clubs less able to compete financially gravitated to it rather than to the Southern League, which attracted clubs with ambition and money. Although the Isthmian League established itself as one of the strongest amateur leagues in the country, routinely providing the winners of the FA Amateur Cup, it was still regarded as being at a lower level than the Southern League, which had developed into the top regional semi-professional league. By 1922 the Isthmian League had fourteen clubs and over the next five decades, only a few new members were admitted, mainly to fill vacancies left by clubs leaving the league. Most new Isthmian League members joined from the Athenian League, which was similarly dedicated to amateurism.
The Isthmian League was most likely named after the ancient Isthmian Games, with the later Athenian League, Corinthian League and Delphian League all adding a Classical Greek flavour to amateur football competition. In 1962 an 'all-star' team from the Isthmian League entered the 1962 Ugandan Independence Tournament, drawing both their games versus Kenya and Ghana.
The league finally began to permit professionalism in the mid 1970s when the Football Association abolished the long-standing distinction between amateur and professional status with effect from the 1974–75 season. A second division of sixteen clubs was formed in 1973 and a third division followed in 1977. However, the league still remained officious and refused to participate in the formation of the Alliance Premier League in 1979 and whilst two Isthmian clubs, Enfield and Dagenham, defected to the APL in 1981, it was not until 1985 that the Isthmian League champions were given a promotion place to the newly renamed Football Conference. The reward of promotion into the Conference means that, since 1985, no team has won the league champions title two seasons in succession (as had happened on 22 occasions previously). The Athenian League disbanded in 1984 when the Isthmian League Second Division split into North and South Divisions. These were restructured yet again to Second and Third Divisions in 1991.
In 2002, the league was restructured once more, with the First and Second Divisions merging to become Division One North and Division One South (later renamed simply the North and South divisions), and the Third Division being renamed as Division Two. In addition, the league's three feeder leagues—the Combined Counties League, Essex Senior League and Spartan South Midlands League—ran in parallel with Division Two, and were able to feed directly into the regional Division Ones.
In 2004, The Football Association pushed through a major restructuring of the entire national non-league National League System, creating new regional divisions of the Football Conference feeding into the top, national, level. As a consequence of this restructuring, the Isthmian League was reduced back down to three divisions, and its boundaries were changed to remove the overlap with the Southern League.
In 2006, further reorganisation saw a reversion to two regional Division Ones and the disbandment of Division Two. This current plan calls for clubs based on the edges of the Isthmian League's territory to transfer to and from the Southern League as necessary to maintain numerical balance between the leagues. One team, Clapton, who were ever present in the Isthmian League since its foundation, were moved to the Essex Senior League for the 2006–07 season. Dulwich Hamlet, who had joined the league in 1907, became its longest serving member until their promotion to the National League South for the 2018–19 season.
In May 2017, The FA chose the Isthmian League to add a third regional division at Step 4 as part of further restructuring in the National League System, reducing all divisions at Step 4 to 20 teams. The new division started play in the 2018–19 season.
Current Isthmian League members
For the 1973–74 season, Division Two was added.
|Season||Division One||Division Two|
|1974–75||Wycombe Wanderers||Staines Town|
For the 1977–78 season, Division One was renamed the Premier Division, Division Two was renamed Division One and new Division Two was added.
For the 1984–85 season, Division Two was reorganised into North and South regions.
|Season||Premier Division||Division One||Division Two North||Division Two South|
|1984–85||Sutton United||Farnborough Town||Leyton Wingate||Grays Athletic|
|1985–86||Sutton United||St Albans City||Stevenage Borough||Southwick|
|1986–87||Wycombe Wanderers||Leytonstone/Ilford||Chesham United||Woking|
|1987–88||Yeovil Town||Marlow||Wivenhoe Town||Chalfont St Peter|
|1988–89||Leytonstone/Ilford||Staines Town||Harlow Town||Dorking|
|1989–90||Slough Town||Wivenhoe Town||Heybridge Swifts||Yeading|
|1990–91||Redbridge Forest||Chesham United||Stevenage Borough||Abingdon Town|
For the 1991–92 season, regional divisions Two were merged and Division Three was added.
At the end of the 1994–95 season, Enfield were denied promotion to the Conference. Their place was taken by Slough Town who finished as runners-up.
For the 2002–03 season, Division One was reorganised into North and South regions and Division Three was disbanded.
|Season||Premier Division||Division One North||Division One South||Division Two|
|2002–03||Aldershot Town||Northwood||Carshalton Athletic||Cheshunt|
|2003–04||Canvey Island||Yeading||Lewes||Leighton Town|
For the 2004–05 season Division Ones North and South were merged.
|Season||Premier Division||Division One||Division Two|
For the 2006–07 season, Division One was reorganised into North and South regions and Division Two was disbanded.
For the 2018–19 season, the South Division was reorganised into South Central and South East divisions.
|Season||Premier Division||North Division||South Central Division||South East Division|
|2018–19||Dorking Wanderers||Bowers & Pitsea||Hayes & Yeading United||Cray Wanderers|
|2019–201||Worthing||Maldon & Tiptree||Ware||Hastings United|
1 The 2019–20 season was terminated on 26 March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic; the teams listed here were in first place in the standings at the time of the termination, but were not recognised as champions.
The Isthmian League was the first league to have sponsorship, having been selected by Rothmans, who sponsored the league from 1973 to 1977. The company offered prize money for position in the league but money was deducted for bookings. Thus the money encouraged both more goals and fair play. The sponsors after Rothmans to the present day have been: Michael Lawrie (1977–78), Berger (1978–82), Servowarm (1982–85), Vauxhall-Opel (1985–90), Vauxhall (1990–91), Diadora (1991–95), ICIS (1995–97), Ryman (1997–2017), Bostik (2017–19) and BetVictor (2019–20).
Ryman also sponsored the Isthmian Youth League and Isthmian Development League upon their creations in 2007 and 2013 respectively. Ryman chairman Theo Paphitis added to his league sponsorship through his flagship companies. Robert Dyas became sponsors of the Isthmian League Cup, Isthmian Veterans Cup, Isthmian Disability Cup and Isthmian Youth Play-off Cup in 2014, and Boux Avenue sponsored the Isthmian Women's Cup from 2014 to 2017.
Becoming the longest running sports sponsorship in UK football, Ryman stepped down as sponsors at the end of the 2016–17 season after 20 years.
The Alan Turvey Trophy, formerly the Isthmian League Cup, has run since 1975 and involves all Isthmian League teams.
- "The big shake up of non-League football confirmed". Pitchero.com. Pitch Hero Ltd. 16 May 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
- "English Non-League Archive 1965–98". city.ac.uk. Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
- "Bostik signs sponsorship deal with the Isthmian Football League". Bostik.com. 2 July 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- "BetVictor sponsors the Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern Leagues". 8 July 2019. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
- "Record-breaking Ryman era to end – The Ryman Isthmian Football League". isthmian.co.uk. 14 January 2017. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- Elliott, Sam (19 January 2017). "End of the Ryman era as longest-running sponsors quit after 20 years". The Non-League Football Paper. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
- "The Ryman Football League". isthmian.co.uk. Ryman Football League. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
- "Isthmian League History". fchd.info. Football Club History Database. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
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