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The National Soccer League is a name given to competitions in which New Zealand's top association football clubs play each other, at least two times, on a home and away basis (and occasional in so called championship play-offs). At the completion of the competition, the best-performed team is declared as the New Zealand champion. Specifically, the name is usually used for the nationwide league competitions which ran intermittently from 1970 to 2004.
This definition, however, is open to debate. For example, in 2004, the New Zealand Football Championship was launched. Some do not consider this competition to be a true successor to the National Soccer League as it does not involve the traditional club teams but new teams especially created to compete in this competition. It also lacks a relegation and promotion system allowing clubs to "work their way up" and earn a place in this league (thus making the New Zealand championship a closed shop, eight team affair).
When the National Soccer League was launched in 1970, it became the first national league for any sport in New Zealand. It was also a league in the purest meaning of this word, as it involved clubs playing each other two times, on a home and away basis. Two points were awarded for a win, and one point was awarded for a draw. The club with the greatest number of points was declared the champion. The league was also open and clubs could be relegated from it and promoted to it. This is the most common method of deciding a national champion and prominent examples include the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A.
The league in 1970 involved eight teams. Three clubs came from the Northern League, three clubs came from the Central League while the four clubs from The Southern League (Christchurch City, Rangers, Shamrock and Technical) decided to back a new club called Christchurch United in the league. The last place went to the winner of a play-off of the fourth placed Northern League team, North Shore United, and the fourth placed Central League team, Hungaria. Hungaria succeeded by beating their opponents 1-0 in North Shore, and by drawing the return leg 1-1 at home.
The eight teams thus taking part in the inaugural National Soccer League were: Blockhouse Bay, Eastern Suburbs, Mt Wellington (promoted from the Northern League), Stop Out, Gisborne City, Hungaria, Western Suburbs (promoted from the Central League) and Christchurch United (representing the Southern League).
The northern clubs enjoyed an excellent start to the league, all finishing in the top four places. Central clubs, however, took all the bottom four places.
The final standings in 1970 were:
|8.||Western Suburbs FC||14||1||1||12||18-40||3|
Blockhouse Bay thus became the first winner and the New Zealand Champions.
The bottom club, Western Suburbs FC didn't suffer relegation, as it was decided to expand the league to 10 teams. Mt Albert-Ponsonby and Caversham won places in the league following promotion play-offs.
The National Soccer League continued in this fashion, as summarised below:
|Year||League size||Matches per team||Winner||Relegated||Promoted||Notes|
|1970||8||14||Blockhouse Bay||-||Mt Albert-Ponsonby, Caversham|
|1971||10||18||Eastern Suburbs||Western Suburbs FC||New Brighton||Hungaria replaced with composite Hungaria-Miramar Rangers side, known as Wellington City.|
|1972||10||18||Mt Wellington||Auckland City||Wellington Diamond United||Mt Albert-Ponsonby changed name to Auckland City.|
|1973||10||18||Christchurch United||Caversham||North Shore United|
|1974||10||18||Mt Wellington||Wellington Diamond United||Caversham|
|1975||10||18||Christchurch United||Wellington City||Wellington Diamond United|
|1976||10||18||Wellington Diamond United||Gisborne City||Hamilton, Nelson United, Dunedin City|
|1977||12||22||North Shore United||New Brighton, Dunedin City, Caversham||Courier Rangers, Waterside, Woolston WMC|
|1978||12||22||Christchurch United||Hamilton, Waterside, Woolston WMC||Manurewa, Manawatu United, Dunedin City|
|1979||12||22||Mt Wellington||Manawatu United, Courier Rangers, Eastern Suburbs||Hamilton, Gisborne City, Rangers|
|1980||12||22||Mt Wellington||Stop Out, Blockhouse Bay, Nelson United||Takapuna AFC, Miramar Rangers, Woolston WMC|
|1981||12||22||Wellington Diamond United||Takapuna AFC, Woolston WMC, Rangers||East Coast Bays, Napier City Rovers, Invercargill Thistle|
|1982||12||22||Mt Wellington||Hamilton, East Coast Bays, Invercargill Thistle||Papatoetoe, Nelson United, Dunedin Technical|
|1983||12||22||Manurewa||Dunedin Technical||Auckland University||Number of points for a win changed from 2 to 3|
|1984||12||22||Gisborne City||-||-||Auckland University finished 12th but retained their place in the league following play-off wins versus promotion candidates.|
|1985||12||22||Wellington Diamond United||Napier City Rovers||Manawatu United||Wellington Diamond United merged with Wellington City and became Wellington City Diamond United - then shortened the name to Wellington United|
|1986||12||22||Mt Wellington||Auckland University*||Mount Maunganui, Napier City Rovers, Hutt Valley United||Despite finishing 9th, Auckland University were relegated because their ground did not meet the required standard. Manurewa finished 12th but were not relegated.|
|1987||14||26||Christchurch United||Dunedin City*||Waikato United||Dunedin City finished 12th but withdrew due to financial reasons. Miramar Rangers finished 14th.|
|1988||14||26||Christchurch United||Nelson United, Manawatu United||Waitakere City, Waterside Karori||Nelson United, who finished 13th, relegated because their ground didn't meet the required standards.|
|1989||14||26||Napier City Rovers||Papatoetoe||New Plymouth Old Boys|
|1990||14||26||Waitakere City||Waterside Karori||Nelson United|
|1991||14||26||Christchurch United||Gisborne City||Papatoetoe|
In 1992 the National League was disbanded due to financial reasons.
Following the dissolution of the league a new competition (called Superclub) was launched to decide the championship. To keep costs down, the teams participating were divided into three regional groups (Northern, Central, Southern). This was followed by an eight-team national stage (involving only seven matches) and a short championship stage.
The winners in those years were as follows:
|Year||Regional League sizes (N, C, S)||Regional matches per team (N, C, S)||National League size||Matches per team||Winners||Runners-up|
|1993||10, 10, 10||18, 18, 18||8||7||Napier City Rovers||Waitakere City|
|1994||10, 10, 10||18, 18, 18||8||7||North Shore United||Napier City Rovers|
|1995||10, 11, 10||18, 20, 18||8||7||Waitakere City||Waikato United|
The increase in the number of teams participating for the championship, as well as lack of a true national league system, caused a strong drop in playing standards. It was clear that New Zealand not only needed a national league, but also one which was financially stable.
In 1996 a National League was launched for the second time in the history of New Zealand soccer. This time however, the league was (mostly) played during the summer months and did not feature relegation and promotion. Teams were invited to participate and the selection criteria involved the financial strength of the club and its location. The league also featured a championship play-off session at the end of the seasons, involving teams finishing high in the table.
To further upset the traditionalists, penalties followed matches which ended in a draw. The winners of the penalty shoot-out were awarded two points, the losers one point while winners in the regular 90 minutes were awarded four points (although this system as dropped in the last year of the National Summer Soccer League). The winners in those years were:
|Year||League size||Matches per team||Winners||Runners-up|
|1996||10||18||Waitakere City||Miramar Rangers|
|1997||10||18||Waitakere City||Napier City Rovers|
|1998||11||20||Napier City Rovers||Central United|
In 1999, the National Soccer League again took a break. The competition for determining the New Zealand champion was moved back to (mostly) winter months. Two leagues were created, the North Island Soccer League (NISL) and the South Island Soccer League (SISL). The winner of the NISL, Central United, defeated the winner of the SISL, Dunedin Technical, 3-1, in extra time, in the championship final.
The National Soccer League was launched for the third time in 2000 as the National Club Championship. Like the original in 1970, it was played during (mostly) winter months and a promotion and relegation system was used. In the first season, a bonus point was awarded for scoring four or more goals in one match but that system was dropped in subsequent seasons. The championship play-offs system at the end of the league was the major difference when compared with the competition launched in 1970.
Seven teams, participating in the first edition, came from the NISL (Central United, Waitakere City, Napier City Rovers, Mt Wellington, Miramar Rangers, Metro and Manawatu AFC) and three came from the SISL (Dunedin Technical, Nelson Suburbs, Woolston WMC).
|Year||League size||Matches per team||Winner||Relegated||Promoted||Notes|
|2000||10||18||Napier City Rovers||Nelson Suburbs||Tauranga City United||Nelson Suburbs, who finished 7th, withdrew due to financial reasons. Metro, who finished 10th, retained their place following play-offs. Controversially, Tauranga City United, who finished third in the play-offs, were awarded Nelson's spot in the league, ahead of Caversham, who finished second.|
|2001||10||18||Central United||Metro||North Shore United|
|2002||10||18||Miramar Rangers||Waitakere City||Caversham|
2004 was the transition year between the National Soccer League and the New Zealand Football championship. Regional competitions were played but no New Zealand champion was determined.
On 15 October 2004 the New Zealand Football Championship was launched (NZFC). It marked a turning point in the history of the game in New Zealand, as for the first time traditional clubs were not eligible to participate in the top league. They were replaced by eight franchise style entities.