Football, known as soccer in the United States, is widely acknowledged as the most popular team sport in the world. In the United Kingdom, participation in football far outstrips that in other traditionally popular sports such as cricket, rugby and tennis. Due in part to England's long football history and the fervent loyalty of its club supporters, the sport has an almost religious following.
The Football Association
Often called the birthplace of the modern game, England was first country to codify the laws of football, in 1863. The English Football Association (FA) formed the backbone of the movement to bring professionalism to the game. By standardising the rules, it allowed clubs from different parts of the country to play each other without conflict. With football's growing popularity among both the working and upper classes, the first league was formed in 1888 with a view toward creating a stable competition. The FA Cup, first played in 1871, is the oldest football competition in the world. In its 21st century iteration, the cup is a knockout tournament contested by all professional clubs in the top six leagues in England.
With some matchups having a history of more than 100 years, rivalries and fan support play a big role in the bloodlines of the UK game. Premier League clubs Arsenal and Tottenham have a rivalry dating to 1919. Fans on both sides are fierce in their support despite the fact that the teams are separated by less than 4 miles in northern London. Supporters of Rangers FC and Celtic FC, the two big clubs in Glasgow, Scotland, make the intracity grudge matches one of the most intense rivalries in the world. The matches are of such significance that admittances spike ninefold in area hospitals on game weekends.
Such intense rivalries are one reason UK football also has a long history of hooliganism. By the 21st century the violence inside and outside stadiums appeared more sporadic, but not before authorities from the clubs to the police to the British government got more involved in prevention and enforcement. Regulations and legislation provided for restrictions on alcohol at matches, the banning of previous offenders and the prohibition of launching objects at matches and trespassing on the pitch.
United Kingdom football leagues are arranged in a single table format, usually consisting of about 20 teams. Matches are arranged on a home and away format, with teams playing each other twice. If the league has 20 teams, this results in a 38-game schedule for every team. Teams are ranked based on the points acquired after every match, with three points awarded for a win and one for a draw.
At the end of the season, teams are rewarded or penalised at either end of the table. For most leagues, the top three teams are promoted to the competition above them while the bottom three teams are relegated to the competition below.
The top four levels of the English league competition hierarchy are:
Football League Championship
Football League One
Football League Two