French Leagues - League 2 match ball

French Leagues bellow Ligue 1

French football stands at the centre of contemporary football – a position it assumed from the sport’s earliest moments of organisation in the 1900s. When, in 1948, L’Equipe’s editor Gabriel Hanot proposed the initial structure of the Champions League, which UEFA eventually ran with, it epitomised what French football was, is, and likely will be: a football association and culture that is willing to adapt, change, and progress the game.

It is no wonder then that the structure of France’s football league system has evolved as much as it has since the country’s first professional league’s inaugural season in 1932/1933. 

This guide to the French Leagues will cover the expansion, restructuring, and reorganising it has undergone in the 90 (or so) years since.

French Leagues: The 101

  • French Leagues are split into a number of tiers. The top two tiers are the professional league – containing Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. Three other national tiers exist below these, comprising some professional clubs, but mostly semi-professional and amateur clubs. Tier 5 is the lowest national tier, with the regional leagues beginning at tier 6. Tier 8 is where most regional leagues end. Departmental leagues support the regional league system. Some of the departmental leagues go as far as Tier 17.
  • Corsica’s football league system differs from other regional leagues. It ends at the 9th level, as opposed to the 8th, and has no departmental leagues below it. AC Ajaccio and SC Bastia are the two major teams from the island, with Ajaccio plying its trade in Ligue 1, with Bastia in Ligue 2.
  • There are two further exceptions in the French leagues. AS Monaco are one, which is based in Monaco, the independent sovereign state – a club that has won Ligue 1, Ligue 2, and the Championnat National 2 throughout its history. Secondly, UE Bossòst, which is a club based in the Lleida province in Catalonia, Spain, plays in the Haute-Garonne departmental league system.

The Ever-Updating History of the French Leagues

French football doesn’t stand still. We’re about to cover the history and development of the French Leagues, but what we should start with is a view to the future. This season – 2022/2023 – is the first in a four-season plan to slowly rearrange the number of clubs competing across France’s top-five tiers. The goal of the rearrangement is the reduction of teams competing at each tier. 

Ligue 1 will be reduced to 18 teams from the 2023/2024 season. 

Ligue 2 will be reduced to 18 teams from the 2024/2025 season.

Championnat National will continue to have 18 teams.

Championnat National 2 will be slowly reduced to 48 clubs across 3 groups over the next three seasons – losing 16 clubs from this tier.

Championnat National 3, similarly to National 2, will follow a four-season plan to be reduced to 112 clubs across 8 groups – losing 56 clubs from this tier.

With this reform, French Leagues are seeking to renew the competitiveness of its top tier and secure the financial stability of clubs at the national level. After struggling with competitiveness since PSG’s dominance began in the early 2010s and struggling financially after COVID-19-related implications with matchday revenue and TV deals, reform has been crucial. Indicating again, as we’ve mentioned, that French football is willing to embrace change to seek a better game.

In the Early Days of the 1930s

Reform has long been a word associated with France – politically, socially, and sporting. The first whispers of professional football were met with suspicion and derision from many teams in the North. Semantics and the subjective criteria of professionalism were the main issues. After the first season of the first professional league in France, in 1932/1933, a second division was created. 

Clubs relegated from the top tier and clubs that had refused to become professional the season before competed in Ligue 2. It was comprised of 2 groups, split on location: 14 clubs in the northern group, 9 clubs in the southern group. Winners of the two groups participated in a playoff to determine who would be promoted. Red Star Saint-Ouen were inaugural champions of the 1933/1934 season, returning swiftly to Ligue 1 after relegation the previous season.

Ligue 2 became a single-table league in 1934/1935, after financial troubles and merges disrupted the 2-group system. 16 teams competed, with CS Metz being crowned champions. 

Following the suspension of national football during World War II, the league found healthy stability and began to allow more amateur leagues to play without turning professional – opting for professionalism later, should they wish, provided they met conditions.

The 1990s

It wasn’t until 1993 that French football decided to create three more national leagues to soften the bridge between amateur clubs and professional leagues. The Championnat de France – what had been the third tier – was the highest amateur league in French football. 1993 saw it become the fourth tier, renamed as the Championnat National 2, while the Championnat National was inserted as the third tier. 

In 1998, the Championnat National 2 and the Championnat National 3 (also created in 1993) were rebranded, becoming the Championnat de France Amateur again and the Championnat de France Amateur 2. By 2017, the competitions’ names had reverted back to their Championnat National versions.

Professionalism is still a flexible thing in French Leagues, as teams move throughout the league structure. Definitively, Ligue 2 is the beginning of the professional teams. However, the Championnat National is home to a couple of professional clubs, following relegation from Ligue 2 and able to keep their professional status. 

Following the changes to the structure of the French leagues top-five tiers over the next couple of years, French football will hope to return to its pinnacle of health and competitiveness.

French Leagues: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

Our run-through of the French Leagues in football has ended. Here begins our pop quiz, which will test your deepest and haziest memories of clubs and leagues.

Which teams have won the most Ligue 2 titles?

Success is relative in football, and numerous titles in Ligue 2 – a professional league – is success to many. Le Havre and Nancy hold the record with 5 titles each (and 1 runner-up finish each, too). Le Havre won its last title in 2007/2008, while Nancy’s last title came in 2015/2016. However, since then, Nancy has dropped down to the Championnat National.

Who scored the fastest hat trick in Ligue 2 history?

Angelo Fulgini made each shot feel like an inevitable goal during a 5-minute spell for Valenciennes during the 2016/2017 season. He holds the record for the fastest hat trick in Ligue 2 history.