The National Soccer League was a name given to New Zealand's top football competition, though there has been many versions of the competition as well as many different names. The most common format saw clubs play each other, at least two times, on a home and away basis. At the completion of those games, the best-performing team was declared as the New Zealand champion.
|National Soccer League
|Regional leading to National finals||Super Club||Winter||Promotion/Relegation|
|National Summer League
|New Zealand Island Leagues
|North Island/South Island leagues
North Island v South Island play-off
|National Soccer League
|Regional leading to National finals||Club||Winter||Promotion/Relegation|
|New Zealand Football Championship
|National with playoff series||Fanchise||Summer||Participation criteria|
|New Zealand National League
|Regional leading to National finals||Club||Summer||Participation criteria|
When the National Soccer League was launched in 1970, it became the first national league for any sport in New Zealand.: 6 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 open and clubs could be relegated from it and promoted to it.
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 Christchurch 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 that took part in the inaugural National Soccer League were:
- Northern: Blockhouse Bay, Eastern Suburbs, Mt Wellington
- Central: Stop Out, Gisborne City, Hungaria, Western Suburbs
- Southern: Christchurch United
The northern clubs enjoyed an excellent start to the league, finishing in the top four places. The central clubs, however, took all the bottom four.
The final standings in 1970 were: 
Blockhouse Bay thus became the competitions first winner and the New Zealand Champions.
Western Suburbs weren't relegated, as it was decided to expand the league to 10 teams with Mt Albert-Ponsonby from the Northern league and Caversham from the Southern league, getting the two places in the league following a promotion play-off.
The National Soccer League continued in this fashion until 1992 when the League was disbanded due to financial reasons.: 39
|Year||League size||Matches per team||Winner||Relegated||Promoted||Notes|
|1970||8||14||Blockhouse Bay||-||Mt Albert-Ponsonby, Caversham||First season of the competition|
|1971||10||18||Eastern Suburbs||Western Suburbs FC||New Brighton||Hungaria joined with Miramar Rangers to form Wellington City, while Caversham, Maori Hill and Dunedin Technical joined to form Dunedin Suburbs|
|1972||10||18||Mt Wellington||Auckland City||Wellington United Diamonds||Dunedin Technical and Maori Hill withdrew support of Dunedin Suburbs and left the position to Caversham, while Miramar Rangers withdrew support of Wellington City. 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||Christchurch United was known as Trans Tours United from 1976 to 1978|
|1977||12||22||North Shore United||New Brighton, Dunedin City, Caversham||Courier Rangers, Waterside, Woolston WMC||League expanded to 12 teams and promotion and relegation changed to 3 up, 3 down with a team from each regional league|
|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, Miramar Rangers, Woolston WMC|
|1981||12||22||Wellington Diamond United||Takapuna, 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 a four-way play-off win versus the regional league winners|
|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||-||Mount Maunganui, Napier City Rovers, Hutt Valley United||Despite finishing 9th, Auckland University were dropped because their ground did not meet the required league standard.: 10 Manurewa who had finished last, were not relegated|
|1987||14||26||Christchurch United||-||Waikato United||League expanded to 14 teams. Dunedin City who had finished 12th, withdrew due to financial reasons meaning Miramar Rangers weren't relegated|
|1988||14||26||Christchurch United||Manawatu United||Waterside Karori||Nelson United, who finished 13th, were dropped because their ground didn't meet the required league standards. They were replaced by Waitakere City. Manawatu United was still relegated and replaced by Waterside|
|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||Papatoetoe only played off against Central league winners Wellington Olympic as Southern league winners Dunedin City opted out due to costs|
|1992||14||26||Waitakere City||-||-||League disbanded and replaced by the Superclub competition. Hutt Valley United disbanded and Lower Hutt City took their place in the new competition|
Following the dissolution of the league a new competition, called Superclub Championship, was launched to decide the top club in the country.: 11 The top 10 clubs in each three regional groups (Northern, Central, Southern) would play each other home and away with $10,000 going to the team that finished first in their region, $7,000 for second and $5,000 for third. Then the country's top eight teams, being three teams from northern, and central regions, and two from the south, combine to play each other once. After that the top four teams then play each other once before culminating in a grand final between the top two from that round. For the team that finished first, they were paid $30,000, $15,000 went to the runner-up with $5,000 to third and fourth.: 39
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.: 43
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.
In March 2021, New Zealand Football announced a change to the structure of both the premiership and the top regional leagues around the country. The four top regional leagues (NRFL Premier, Central Premier League, Mainland Premier League and the FootballSouth Premier League) would be formed into the Northern League, Central League, and the Southern League. These leagues would allow local clubs to qualify for the premiership season (now known as the National League Championship), with the top 4 teams from the Northern League, the top 3 teams from the Central League, and the top 2 teams from the Southern League making up the competition, alongside the Wellington Phoenix Reserve side. All teams that qualify plus the Phoenix Reserves, would then play a single round-robin competition between October and December. The top two placed teams will then progress to the Grand Final.
- 6 - University-Mount Wellington
- 6 - Christchurch United
- 5 - Waitakere City
- 4 - Napier City Rovers
- 3 - Wellington United
- 2 - North Shore United
- 2 - Miramar Rangers
- 2 - Central United
- 1 - Blockhouse Bay
- 1 - Eastern Suburbs
- 1 - Manurewa AFC
- 1 - Gisborne City
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