The Northern League ran as one of two major amateur competitions (with the Isthmian League) in tandem with the professional Football League, Southern League and, since 1968, the Northern Premier League.
In 1974, amateur status was abandoned by the Football Association and amateur leagues like the Northern had to find a place in the overall structure of non-League football. Unlike its southern equivalent the Isthmian League who became a feeder in 1982, the Northern League rejected repeated invitations to become a feeder league to the Alliance Premier League, later the Conference, when that league was created in 1979.
Ultimately, the Northern League remained out of the football pyramid until 1991, a decision that proved very costly to its status. The league declined throughout the 1980s as its leading clubs defected to other leagues within the football pyramid, such as the Northern Counties East Football League.
When the Northern League was finally forced into the pyramid, the opportunity to become a feeder league to the Conference had long passed and the Northern League was forced to become a feeder league to the lower division of the Northern Premier League, two tiers below the Conference.
The League suffered a further blow to its prestige in 1995 when the Football Association limited the entry to the FA Trophy to the first three steps of the pyramid thereby disqualifying the Northern League’s clubs and those in equivalent competitions from competing for the FA Trophy. Northern League clubs now compete for the FA Vase.
The League had an unusual sponsorship deal put in place by Brooks Mileson, owner of the Albany Group, who were its sponsors in 2003. In that year, Mileson announced that he had created a trust which would continue to sponsor the league throughout his lifetime and that of his sons. In 2008, however, the league announced that this sponsorship had come to an end, and it held a raffle to determine its next sponsor. Interested parties were invited to buy a stake in the raffle for £250. The winning stake was held by a local training company and the league was known as the skilltrainingltd Northern League from the 2008–09 season until the 2011–12 season. The league is currently sponsored by dehumidifier manufacturer Ebac.