Second tier football in Northern Ireland takes place in the form of the Belfast Telegraph Championship 1. Like the NIFL-Dankse Bank Premiership, this league is semi-professional.
History of the Belfast Telegraph Championship 1
The league started out in 1951 as the Irish League B Division. Its current name and format began in 2013.
Over its 61 year existence, the league has had many structures as well as names. These include the Irish League B Division (1951 - 1977), the Irish League B Division Section 1 (1977 - 1999), the Irish League Second Division (1999 - 2003), the Irish League (2003 - 2004), the IFA Intermediate League (2004 - 2008) and the IFA Championship (2008 - 2013).
Format of the Belfast Telegraph Championship 1
In 2008, former members of the IFA Intermediate League founded the Premier Intermediate League. A number of changes were made, including much rigorous membership guidelines.
Before the 2009 season this leagues format was changed significantly in the fact that it would now consist out of two divisions. These divisions, Championship 1 and Championship 2 would feature a promotion and relegation format, with the bottom team in Championship 1 relegated and the top team in Championship 2 promoted.
The format changed again in 2013. At this point a single league, the Northern Ireland Football League was formed. Interestingly, this league does not fall under the auspices of the Irish Football Association and is totally independent. Over 40 clubs make up the private company running the league. They are from the Premiership, Championship 1 and Championship 2, each with a stake in the company. The 14 team league is currently sponsored by the Belfast Telegraph and runs from August to May each season.
Three points are awarded for a victory with teams receiving a point each for a drawn match. The team leading the table after all 26 fixtures have been played are crowned league champions.
The winners of the championship receive automatic promotion to the NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership, replacing the team in last place in that division.
The team finishing second enter into a relegation playoff against the second last team in the NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership. This playoff takes place over a home and away leg. The winner, on aggregate, will take their place in the NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership.
The teams finishing in 13th and 14th positions are relegated to the NIFL Championship 2 league. They are replaced by the two top teams from that league.
League restructuring from 2016
In terms of an agreement reached between all clubs in 2014, some major changes will take place in the league structures from 2016. The NIFL Championship will continue with 12 teams, each with senior team status. Championship 2 will be renamed the Premier Intermediate League. All 12 teams in this league will have intermediate status.
Teams from the NIFL Championship are allowed to participate in a number of cup competitions. These include the Irish Cup, the IFA Intermediate Cup and the Northern Ireland League Cup. All of these competitions are run on a knock-out basis.
Former and current champions
Dundela are the most successful team in the NIFL Championship having won it 10 times and sharing it once. Carrick Rangers are the current 2014/2015 champions having pipped Bangor to the title by a mere 2 points. Both teams were incredibly well matched throughout the season and their fixtures against each both ended up as a draw.