Football League Third Division

The Football League Third Division was the third tier of the English football league system in 1920–21 and again from 1958 until 1992. With the formation of the FA Premier League the division become the fourth tier. In 2004 following the formation of the Football League Championship, the division league was renamed Football League Two.

Football League Third Division
Founded1920
Folded2004
CountryEngland
Wales
Number of teams24
Level on pyramid4 (1992–2004)
3 (1920–1992)
Promotion toSecond Division
Relegation toFourth Division (1958–1992)
Football Conference (1992–2004)
Domestic cup(s)FA Cup
League Cup
Football League Trophy
Last championsDoncaster Rovers
(2003–04)
Most championshipsPlymouth Argyle
(4 titles, including 2 in Third Division South)

Founder Clubs of the Third Division (1920)

Most of these clubs were drawn from what was then the top division of the 1919–20 Southern Football League, in an expansion of the Football League south of Birmingham. As Cardiff City was long considered a potential entrant for the Second Division due to their FA Cup exploits and Southern League dominance, they were sent directly into the Second Division and Grimsby Town, last place in the Second Division for 1919–20, were relegated.

The split Third Divisions

This league continued in 1921–22 as Football League Third Division South whilst the Football League Third Division North was formed with the Northern clubs, the two Divisions jointly forming the third tier.

Geographical separation was abolished in 1958 with the creation of the Football League Fourth Division.

As a single Third Division

The original members in 1958–59 were:

  • From Third Division North: Accrington Stanley, Bradford City, Bury, Chesterfield, Halifax Town, Hull City, Mansfield Town, Rochdale, Stockport County, Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham
  • From Third Division South: Bournemouth, Brentford, Colchester United, Newport County, Norwich City, Plymouth Argyle, Queens Park Rangers, Reading, Southampton, Southend United, Swindon Town
  • Relegated from Second Division: Doncaster Rovers, Notts County

Of these, Bournemouth, Bradford, Hull, Norwich, Notts, QPR, Reading, Southampton, and Swindon have made the top flight in either the First Division or the Premier League era. Stockport, Doncaster, Notts County and Rochdale were the first to be relegated into the Fourth Division the following season (1959–60), starting the bottom-four-team turnover tradition for the third tier. As with the Second Division, the champion and runner-up were automatically promoted; the third place was also promoted automatically beginning in 1974. Play-offs for the third promotion place were introduced in 1987. AFC Bournemouth, formerly Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic, hold the record as the club to have spent most time in this Division.

The Third Division of English football lasted for a total of 72 years, the first 38 years as two regionalized divisions (although just 31 seasons were played due to the advent of World War II) before a 34-year run as a national division. Plymouth Argyle were the most successful team at this level during these years, winning the national title twice, having already won the southern section twice.

In 1992 the FA Premier League started and the Football League was reduced in numbers, leading to the Third Division becoming the fourth tier. See Football League One for subsequent third-tier history.

Winners of the Third Division

See List of winners of English Football League One and predecessors for winners before 1992 and List of winners of English Football League Two and predecessors for winners afterwards.

1921–22 Football League

The 1921–22 season was the 30th season of The Football League.

This year the Third Division was divided into North and South sections. The Third Division South was mainly the continuation of the Third Division of the previous season, while most of the teams in the Third Division North were newcomers in the league.

1939–40 Football League

The abandoned 1939–40 season would have been the 48th season of The Football League. The kick-off in all divisions took place on Saturday 26 August 1939. On Friday 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. On Saturday 2 September 1939, all divisions of the Football League played their third game of the season. But these would be the last fixtures before abandonment following the British declaration of war on Germany on Sunday 3 September 1939. Large gatherings of crowds were suspended with the implementation of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939.

Blackpool were leading the First Division when the season was abandoned.

1946–47 Football League

The 1946–47 season was the 48th completed season of The Football League.

This season was the first to feature a full football programme since the 1938–39 campaign.

1950–51 Football League

The 1950–51 season was the 52nd completed season of The Football League.

1952–53 Football League

The 1952–53 season was the 54th completed season of The Football League.

1953–54 Football League

The 1953–54 season was the 55th completed season of The Football League, which ran from August 1953 until April 1954.

1954–55 Football League

The 1954–55 season was the 56th completed season of The Football League.

1955–56 Football League

The 1955–56 season was the 57th completed season of The Football League.

1956–57 Football League

The 1956–57 season was the 58th completed season of The Football League.

1957–58 Football League

The 1957–58 season was the 59th completed season of The Football League. The first division title went to Wolverhampton Wanderers for the second time, while Sunderland were relegated to the second division for the first time in the club's history, after 57 consecutive seasons in the top flight of English football. The season also witnessed the Munich air disaster, which killed several members of the Manchester United team.

1989 Football League Third Division play-off Final

The 1989 Football League Third Division play-off Final was a two-legged football match played on 31 May and 3 June 1989, to determine the third and final team to gain promotion from the Third Division to the Second Division of the Football League in the 1988–89 season. Port Vale faced Bristol Rovers. It was the final Third Division play-off final to be decided on a two leg basis. From 1990 onwards, matches would be decided at Wembley – or an appropriate national stadium.

Rovers' rivals Bristol City had been defeated in last year's play-off finals after losing the replay 4–0. It was the first time either Rovers or Vale played a play-off final. Rovers had easily disposed of Fulham and Vale had brushed aside Preston North End to reach the final.

The first leg finished 1–1, with Vale's talisman Robbie Earle equalising in the 73rd minute after Gary Penrice had given Rovers the lead in the first half. In the second leg, Earle was the hero once again, scoring the only goal of the match with a 52nd-minute header.

1998 Football League Third Division play-off Final

The 1998 Football League Third Division play-off final was a football match contested by Colchester United and Torquay United on 22 May 1998 at Wembley Stadium to decide the third team to be promoted from Third Division to Second Division for the 1998–99 season.

Under Third Division play-off rules, the final is contested by the two teams which secured an aggregate victory over two-legged semi-finals, with the team that finished seventh in the league table (Barnet) having played fourth place (Colchester United), and sixth place (Scarborough) having played fifth place (Torquay United).

2000 Football League Third Division play-off Final

The 2000 Football League Third Division play-off Final was contested by Peterborough United and Darlington. This was the last Third Division play-off final to be played at the old Wembley Stadium before moving to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

2001–02 Football League

The 2001–02 Football League (known as the Nationwide Football League for sponsorship reasons) was the 103rd completed season of The Football League.

2003–04 Football League

The 2003–04 Football League (known as the Nationwide Football League for sponsorship reasons) was the 105th completed season of The Football League.

This was the last season of the Football League with the Nationwide Building Society as title sponsor, and the last in which the divisions were known as the First, Second and Third Divisions: from the following season they would be known as the Championship, League One and League Two respectively.

Norwich City won the First Division, thus returning to the Premier League for the first time since 1994–95. Also promoted to the top flight were West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace. Plymouth Argyle won the Second Division, while Doncaster Rovers won the Third.

EFL League One play-offs

The English Football League One play-offs are a series of play-off matches, contested by the teams finishing from 3rd to 6th in the EFL League One table to determine the third spot for promotion to the second tier of English football, the Championship.

The latest team to win the League One play-offs were Rotherham United defeating Shrewsbury Town 2-1 at Wembley

The record attendance for a League One play-off Final at Wembley was the 1999 final, when Manchester City played Gillingham and the attendance stood at 76,935.

Football League Third Division North

The Third Division North of the Football League was a tier in the English football league system from 1921 to 1958. It ran in parallel with the Third Division South with clubs elected to the League or relegated from a higher division allocated to one or the other according to geographical position. Some clubs in the English Midlands shuttled between the Third Division North and the Third Division South according to the composition of the two leagues in any one season.

The Third Division South had been formed in the 1920-21 season (as simply the Third Division) with 22 teams drawn mostly from the Southern League. It was decided that this gave the Football League as a whole too much of a southern bias, so the Third Division North was created in 1921-22 to redress the balance. Stockport County had finished bottom of the Second Division at the end of the 1920-21 season, and they were relegated into this new division, where they joined Grimsby Town who had spent a season in the Third Division after relegation from the Second Division in 1919-20. As there was no Northern equivalent of the Southern League, the remaining 18 teams came from several regional leagues: the Midland League, the Central League, the North Eastern League, the Lancashire Combination and the Birmingham Combination.

The original 20 teams were: Stockport County, Darlington, Grimsby Town, Hartlepools, Accrington Stanley, Crewe Alexandra, Stalybridge Celtic, Walsall, Southport, Ashington, Durham City, Wrexham, Chesterfield, Lincoln City, Barrow, Nelson, Wigan Borough, Tranmere Rovers, Halifax Town and Rochdale. The division was extended by a further two teams in 1923 to take the total to 22, and for the 1950-51 season the division was expanded to 24 clubs, with Scunthorpe United and Shrewsbury Town joining.

Only one promotion place was available each season from the Third Division North to the Second Division, which made it very difficult to win promotion. Eight teams, Accrington Stanley, Barrow, Crewe Alexandra, Halifax Town, Hartlepool United, Rochdale, Southport and Wrexham, were ever-present in the division for the 30 years of its existence. Of the teams that played in Third Division North, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Derby County were later English football champions.

Its final season was 1957–58, after which the North and South sections were merged to form a single Third Division and the Fourth Division. The top 12 clubs in Division Three North, except for the Champions Scunthorpe United, went into the new Third Division, and the bottom 12 clubs went into the Fourth Division.

Football League Third Division South

The Third Division South of The Football League was a tier in the English football league system from 1921 to 1958. It ran in parallel with the Third Division North with clubs elected to the League or relegated from Division Two allocated to one or the other according to geographical position. Some clubs in the English Midlands shuttled between the Third Division South and the Third Division North according to the composition of the two leagues in any one season.

The division was created in 1921 from the Third Division, formed one year earlier when the Football League absorbed the leading clubs from the Southern League.In 1921 a Northern section was created, and the original division was renamed Third Division South. The original 22 teams in the Third Division formed the new Third Division South, with the exceptions of Crystal Palace, who were promoted to the Second Division, Grimsby Town who were transferred to the Third Division North, and Aberdare Athletic and Charlton Athletic who joined The Football League for the first time. Several Midlands-based teams were included in the Third Division South from time to time, although most were geographically closer to their Northern division rivals; Nottingham Forest and Notts County played in the Southern division although nearby Derby County spent time in the Northern division.

For the 1950–51 season the division was expanded to 24 clubs, with Colchester United and Gillingham joining.

Only one promotion place was available each season from the Third Division South to the Second Division, which made it very difficult to win promotion. Six teams, Brighton & Hove Albion, Exeter City, Northampton Town, Southend United, Swindon Town, and Watford, were ever-present in the division for the 30 years of its existence. Of the teams that played in the Third Division South, Portsmouth, Ipswich Town, and Nottingham Forest were later English football champions.

Its final season was 1957–58, after which the North and South sections were merged to form a single Third Division and a new Fourth Division. The top 12 clubs in Division Three South, except for the Champions Brighton & Hove Albion, went into the new Third Division, and the bottom 12 clubs went into the Fourth Division.

Scottish Football League Third Division

The Scottish Football League Third Division was the fourth tier of the Scottish football league system between 1994 and 2013.

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