The following outlines a number of recently announced changes to the National League and our Club’s viewpoint on the proposed changes which are scheduled to take effect from the start of the 2012-2021 season.


"Some of these changes are long overdue...our club has been vocal for changes to the structure and format of the National League". (Chris Ruffell - ESAFC Chairman)


A longer National League season:

The key change (to come into effect from the start of the 2020 - 2021 season) is a longer season. The league will move from a minimum of an 18-game season to 23 games over November to May. The revised competition will include promotion/relegation and the integration of youth development starting from the 2020/21 season.


Duration of the National League season: November - May.

The timing of the National League will result in the ISPS Handa Premiership overlapping the winter Premier regional competitions. This timing change and resultant overlap of the summer and winter seasons triggers a number of other important changes:


Player transfers between clubs playing in the summer and winter leagues:

From next National League season players will only be eligible to play for two clubs.

This will remove New Zealand’s unique dual season structure (national league season and winter regional leagues season). The change is designed to reduce the level of player movement during and between seasons. The fact the National League is now being played in May will encourage player loyalty to a club in both the summer and winter competitions.


Eastern Suburbs AFC viewpoint - regarding the extended season coupled with reduction in player movement between summer & winter clubs:

After reviewing the changes Chris Ruffell (Chairman ESAFC) commented:

"We have agitated for these changes from the day we entered the National League for two reasons:


  1. To help strengthen the integrity of the ISPS Handa Premiership we have 'pushed for' a longer season so the National League overlaps with the Winter Premier Regional League season. We have argued this overlap will reduce players playing for one club that competes in the summer competition and then leaving that club to play for another in the winter league. This to-ing & fro-ing between clubs is opposed to our club's pathway strategy as we need to work with players during both the winter and summer seasons if we are to help players develop their game and football knowledge, this in turn will allow the players to maximise their talents and achieve their football ambitions"
  2. As players move between different summer & winter clubs the number of games they play accumulates, and for some this means playing season to season without a break from the rigours of training and the game itself. When players don't get a chance to take a break this significantly increases the dangers of over-use injuries and player burn-out".


New format: the National League season to consist of two phases:

The revamped format delivering an extended competition (from 18 to 23 matches per season) features 10 clubs playing with the National League consisting of two phases:

  • Phase 1: the regular season
  • Phase 2: the championship

The regular season shall consist of two rounds (18 matches). At the end of the regular season, the league is divided into two tiers with:


  1.  the top six teams advancing to the major championship to compete for the title

  2.  the bottom four teams advancing to the minor championship to compete for final placings that count towards relegation.



Promotion - Relegation: a slot protected model:

A promotion/relegation system will be introduced to the National League, taking the form of a slot protection model. This model protects:

  • One National League slot for each regional premier league to protect geographic representation and maintain a pathway for all clubs into the ISPS Handa Premiership
  • A slot for the Wellington Phoenix will also be protected


Promotion - Relegation: decided every four years

The frequency of promotion/relegation will be every four years, so one team will be relegated from the National League and one team will be promoted from the regional premier leagues every four years.


How the promotion-relegation will 'work':

Promotion: The highest-placed regional club shall be measured during the first three years of the four-year cycle. As such the sporting performance will be measured by combing the teams league placement during the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons to determine the opportunity for promotion for the National League commencing November 2024.


Relegation will be based on sporting performance during the last three years of a four-year cycle. For relegation the teams sporting performance will be measured during the 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons to determine relegation to the regional premier leagues commencing March 2025.


One team will be relegated from the national league and one team will be promoted from the regional premier leagues every four years.


Eastern Suburbs AFC viewpoint on the proposed promotion-relegation structure

Chris Ruffell (ESAFC Chairman) commented:

"New Zealand Football state this delay is to provide suitable preparation time for teams promoted from regional premier leagues, as well as mitigating the non-playing period for teams relegated from the national league.

Our club has always supported promotion - relegation...if the National League is to maintain its competitive edge and provide the pinnacle of the player pathway in this country, then it simply must be comprised of the best teams rather than those who are guaranteed a place.

We do question the 'every four years' cycle though. we believe it should be annual, as is the case with the best club leagues around the world, resulting in a highly competitive environment every single season, and this will ultimately benefit the clubs, moreover the players and their development. We believe that if at the end of the season we are in last place, we should be relegated, irrespective of geographical location."

"The other issue we have with the proposal is that by accumulating the results over a three year period, a team which has potentially achieved a podium finish over the years, but never won their regional league, could go forward to the promotion - relegation playoffs. This does not fit with the philosophy of promotion should be for the best and most competitive team!"



The National Youth League will discontinue following the 2019 season

NZF acknowledges the role of the National Youth League is to support and help drive player development, as a result they have made it mandatory for NL teams to operate a second team (development team) in a regional league and/or implement a player development programme.

National League clubs will be allowed an extended squad of 40 players to a combined squad, with at least 17 of those players required to be development players (under 21).


The ESAFC viewpoint:

Chris Ruffell (ESAFC Chairman): "The key reason our club entered the National League back in 2015 was to ensure we were providing the strongest as well as most well-resourced player pathway in this country. So from our view point NZF are mandating our player development philosophy and practice for the other National League teams. Similarly our Winter Premier League team has been focused on player development rather than chasing titles in that division. Our Winter regional team has been characterised by aspiring and talented youth players since we entered the National League". This does run the risk however of adversely affecting the quality of the NRFL winter league, with potentially 4 development teams out of 10 competing in the Premier League?