Rather naively, I used to think that all league systems were the same as the English system: Bottom 3 teams of the Premier League relegated, top 3 of the Championship promoted, play offs between the next 4 teams in the Championship to determine who gets the 3rd place in the Premier League.

I’d never really paid close attention to other leagues, therefore just assumed that all systems were the same, but with vary amount of clubs being promoted/relegated (e.g. only 1 or 2 teams being relegated if it was a relatively small league). This was until I began looking at the Eredivisie.

I was looking into moving to Amsterdam, which led to reading about Ajax Amsterdam, and then about the Dutch football leagues as a whole. I was surprised to find out that the system was quite different!

So, here are the promotion/relegation systems of some of the top ranked leagues in the world, including who was promoted and relegated at the end of the 2011/12 season:

England – Premier League

England – Championship

The bottom 3 teams of the Premier League are relegated to the Championship (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers).
The top 2 teams of the Championship gain automatic promotion to the Premier League (Reading and Southampton).

Teams with positions 3 to 6 then went to play offs. Teams in the 3rd and 6th position play two legs (West Ham United v Cardiff City), as do the teams in 4th and 5th (Birmingham City v Blackpool). The winners (West Ham v Blackpool) then play one another to decide who gains the last Premier League place (West Ham).

N.B. The amount of teams that are promoted/relegated are different for lower leagues, but the play-off system is the same. 

Spain – La Liga (Primera División)

Spain – Segunda División

Spain uses roughly the same system as England. Last season, Racing Santander, Sporting de Gijón and Villarreal were relegated to the Segunda División. Deportivo La Coruñaand Celta de Vigo gained automatic promotion to La Liga, and play-offs were played between Valladolid, Alcorcón, Hércules and Córdoba, with Valladolid gaining promotion. Unlike in England, the play-off final has two legs.

Germany – Bundesliga (Fuβball Bundesliga)

The Bundesliga uses a different system to England and Spain.

Germany – 2. Bundesliga

The bottom two teams of the Bundesliga (FC Kaiserslautern, FC Köln) are automatically relegated.

The top two teams of the 2. Bundesliga (SpVgg Greuther Fürth, Eintracht Frankfurt) are automatically promoted.

The 16th team from the Bundesliga (Hertha BSC) and the 3rd team in the 2. Bundesliga (Fortuna Düsseldorf) then compete in a play-off. Two legs are played between the teams. If the team in the Bundesliga wins, they stay there, and the other team is not promoted. If the team from the 2. Bundesliga wins, then they are promoted, and the team from the Bundesliga relegated.

Fortuna Düsseldorf won 4-3 on aggregate, therefore they were promoted and Hertha BSC were relegated.
Italy – Serie A

Italy – Serie B 

Italy uses the same system as Spain. Last season, Cesena, Novara and Lecce were relegated to Serie B, and Pescara and Torino gained automatic promotion to Serie A. There were play-offs between Sadduolo, Verona, Varese and Sampdoria, with Sampdoria gaining promotion.

N.B. When being relegated from Serie B, a play-off system is used

Portugal – Primeira Liga/Liga de Honra (aka Liga Orangina) 
The Portuguese league uses a simpler system. The bottom two teams of the Primeira Liga (Feirense, União de Leiria) are relegated to the Liga de Honra, and the top two teams of Liga de Honra (Estoril-Praia, Moreirense) are promoted.
France – Ligue 1/Ligue 2
The French system is similar to the Portuguese one, but with 3 teams being promoted/relegated. Auxerre, Dijon and Caen were relegated, and Bastia, Reims andTroyes were promoted.
Netherlands – Eredivisie/Eerste Divisie
Promotion and relegation between the Dutch leagues is similar to the German system, although slightly more complicated.

Netherlands – Eerste Divisie

The team at the bottom of the Eredivisie (Excelsior) gets automatic relegation. The teams in 16th and 17th place (VVV-Venlo, De Graafschap) then enter the relegation play-offs.
The champion of the Eerste Divisie (Zwolle) gains automatic promotion.
The teams from positions 6 to 9 in the Eerste Divisie play in the first round of the play-offs. The 6th and 9th teams (Den Bosch, Go Ahead Eagles) play each other and the 7th and 8th(Cambuur, MVV) play each other, the games being two legs. The winners of these games (Den Bosch, Cambuur) then go through to round 2 of the play-offs.

The second round is played between teams in the Eredivisie and the Eerste Divisie. The teams in positions 2 to 5 in the Eerste Divisie play each other. The 2nd and 5th teams (Sparta Rotterdam, Willem II) play each other, as do the teams in 3rd and 4th position (Eindhoven, Helmond Sport). The teams that qualified from the first round then play teams from the Eredivisie. The team in 17th place (De Graafschap) plays the team that won the 6th v 9th position game (Den Bosch), and the team in 16th place (VVV-Venlo) plays the team that won the 7th v 8th position game (Cambuur). All games are played with two legs.

The third round has 4 games. The winner of the game that involved the 17th place Eredivisie team (Den Bosch) plays the winner of the 2nd v 5th position game (Willem II). The winner of the game that involved the 16th place Eredivisie team (VVV-Venlo) plays the team that won the 3rd v 4th position game (Helmond Sport).

In the 2011/12 season, the eventual winners of the play-offs were Willem II and VVV-Venlo. This means that VVV-Venlo retained their place in the Eredivisie, while De Graafschap were relegated, with Willem II gaining promotion and taking their place.