What is a Sunday football league? What you need to know

by Pablo M26th Mar 2022

If you are not from England, you probably came across the term Sunday league football and wondered its meaning. Millions of football lovers play the game for fun in pickup games every weekend, while others play in organised competitions. Sunday football leagues are a combination of both; let me explain.

Sunday football leagues are amateur football competitions organised in England. At their core, they are not very different from other amateur leagues worldwide. They are basically about friends putting together a team to compete against other teams on weekends. That is why Sunday leagues are also referred to as pub leagues. The difference with similar competitions outside England is that they are very organised at their highest competitive level. Depending on the county or region, these leagues may have multiple divisions. In addition, there is a national competition run by The Football Association known as FA Sunday Cup. In contrast, amateur football leagues outside England are often very simple, with only one division and no national competition.      

Sunday league football in England, and their amateur equivalents in the rest of the world, were born from having organised kickabouts. However, these competitions have become more organised and competitive since their humble beginnings. Therefore, there is more to them than just kicking a ball. The following paragraphs outline some aspects of organised amateur football.    

Saturday league vs Sunday league

You may also come across Saturday football leagues. Again, it is another term used in England to describe amateur football leagues. So, what is the difference between Saturday league and Sunday league football? Saturday leagues are, in theory, more competitive and of a higher standard than Sunday leagues. However, the gap between leagues varies depending on the county that organises them.

Standars vary depending on where you live

Regardless of the names given to amateur leagues, a similar situation occurs in other countries. It depends on how amateur leagues are organised in your country. In big cities, the share number of players results in higher standards. For example, in South America, the big cities have amateur leagues for all levels. But if you live in a small countryside town, the standards are likely to drop. If you are a good player, you are likely to play with average teammates or against hopeless teams.         

How well organised amateur football leagues are, and their name varies enormously depending on the country and your city. For example, I grew up in a small city in Argentina. Unfortunately, I wasn’t good enough to play in the local football clubs. So, I had not had many options to continue playing competitive football once I got to my 20s. Therefore, many of us, who were average players or couldn’t commit the time to serious training, could only organise pickup games. Fortunately, small privately organised leagues have emerged thanks to the internet and social media. Nowadays, AFA registered clubs in my town organise competitions for the general public.

Similar situations repeat everywhere. Amateur leagues nowadays are organised by local federations, private sports enterprises, sports clubs, employees of local businesses organising inter-company tournaments, and more. So you will never be short of playing opportunities if you know where to look.

How to join a league near you

If you live in England, you can find a Sunday league football near you on the  FA search to play football website. It is not as easy if you live anywhere else, though. As said in the previous sections, there are all shapes of amateur football competitions organised worldwide. So, Google and Facebook Groups are your friends. Start by looking at your city, county or provincial federations websites. For example, in the United States, virtually every big city has a federation website to find a team to play for (read Are there any Sunday League soccer clubs in the US?). Keep in mind that, as obvious as it sounds, joining an amateur football team and starting a football team are very different things.

Be honest with yourself

If you are a player looking for a team, you first need to be realistic about your skills and find a team that matches them. There is no point in joining a team with high standards if you are an average player. If you are lucky to be accepted in a higher level team than you are, you will have a bad time during the season. You may spend most of the season on the bench, hardly touch the ball in the field, have arguments with teammates, etc. Remember, at the end of the day, amateur football is about having fun and doing an activity that you enjoy.

Commitment is key

In addition to understanding your skills level, you also need to be committed to the team you joined. Although we are talking about amateur football and playing for the love of the game, it is not pickup football. There are financial and time obligations to fulfil. Firstly, most teams will ask you for a financial contribution upfront unless you are an outstanding player and they have sponsors. Secondly, you need to show up every weekend to play, or there is no point in joining a team. Additionally, many competitive teams will demand attendance to training to be considered in the starting lineup.

Understand your motivations to play

Finally, it would help if you understand well your motivations for joining an amateur football league. Online forums are full of players asking: do Sunday League players get scouted? As a general rule, Sunday league players do not get scouted. While scouts show up from time to time to the most competitive tournaments, the reality is that if you play in an amateur league is because you didn’t cut it through the clubs’ system. So, don’t join an amateur league to become a semi-pro or professional player. Like with anything, there are exceptions. Join a team to exercise, have a good time, and for the love of the game.