K League
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K League

K League
K League.png
Organising body (1983-1994)
K League Federation
CountrySouth Korea
DivisionsK League 1
K League 2
Number of teams22
Level on pyramid1-2
Domestic cup(s)Korean FA Cup
International cup(s)AFC Champions League
Current championsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Most championshipsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors

K League (Hangul: K) is South Korea's professional association football league including the first division K League 1 and the second division K League 2.[1][2]


Until the 1970s, South Korean football opreated two major football leagues, the National Semi-professional Football League and the National University Football League, but these were not professional leagues in which footballers can focus on only football. In 1979, however, the Korea Football Association (KFA)'s president Choi Soon-young planned to found a pro football league,[3] and made the first pro club Hallelujah FC the next year.[4] After the South Korean pro baseball league KBO League was founded in 1982, the KFA was aware of crisis about the popularity of football.[5] In 1983, it urgently made the Korean Super League with two pro clubs (Hallelujah FC, Yukong Elephants) and three semi-pro clubs (Pohang Steelworks, Daewoo Royals, Kookmin Bank) to professionalize South Korean football. Then the Super League accomplished its purpose after existing clubs were also converted into pro clubs (Pohang, Daewoo), or new pro clubs joined the league. In the early years, it also showed a promotion system by giving qualifications to the Semi-professional League winners. (Hanil Bank in 1984, Sangmu FC in 1985)

However, the number of spectators was consistently decreased despite KFA's effort, so the pro league, renamed as the Korean Professional Football Competition, operated home and away system to interest fans since 1987.[6] On 30 July 1994, the Professional League Committee under KFA was independent of the association, and renamed as the "Korean Professional Football Federation". In 1996, South Korean government and the Football Federation introduced a decentralization policy to proliferate the popularity of football nationally in preparation for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which they wanted to host. Several clubs located in the capital Seoul moved to other cities according to the new policy, but this was abolished after only three years and is regarded as a failed policy because it gave up the most populous city in South Korea. In 1998, the league was renamed again as current K League.[7]

It had the current format by abolishing the K League Championship and the Korean League Cup after the 2011 season, and being split into two divisions in 2013. The first division's name was K League Classic, the second division's name was K League Challenge and the comprehensive brand name was K League. The fact that both the first and second divisions had very similar names caused some degree of confusion and controversy.[8] Beginning with the 2018 season, the first division was renamed to K League 1 and the second division to K League 2.


Below the K League 1, there is the K League 2, and both form the K League as professional leagues. Under two K Leagues, there are several semi-professional leagues (K3 League, K4 League) and amateur leagues, but their clubs cannot be promoted to K League.

All-time clubs

As of 2020, there have been a total of 32 member clubs in the history of the K League - those clubs are listed below with their current names (where applicable):

  • K League's principle of official statistics is that final club succeeds to predecessor club's history and records.
  • Clubs in italics no longer exist.
# Club (duration) Owner(s)
1 Pohang Steelworks[A] (1983-1994)
Pohang Atoms (1995-1996)
Pohang Steelers (1997-present)
2 Hallelujah FC[B] (1983-1985) Shindongah Group
3 Yukong Elephants (1983-1995)
Bucheon Yukong (1996-1997)
Bucheon SK (1997-2005)
Jeju United (2006-present)
SK Energy
4 Daewoo Royals[C] (1983-1995)
Busan Daewoo Royals (1996-1999)
Busan I'Cons (2000-2004)
Busan IPark (2005-present)
Daewoo (1983-1999)
HDC Group (2000-present)
5 Kookmin Bank[D] (1983-1984) Kookmin Bank
6 Hyundai Horang-i (1984-1995)
Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i (1996-2007)
Ulsan Hyundai (2008-present)
Hyundai Motor Company (1984-1997)
Hyundai Heavy Industries (1998-present)
7 Lucky-Goldstar (1984-1990)
LG Cheetahs (1991-1995)
Anyang LG Cheetahs (1996-2003)
FC Seoul (2004-present)
LG Group (1984-2004)
GS Group (June 2004-present)
8 Hanil Bank (1984-1986) Hanil Bank
9[E] Sangmu FC (1985) Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps
10 Ilhwa Chunma (1989-1995)
Cheonan Ilhwa Chunma (1996-1999)
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (2000-2013)
Seongnam FC (2014-present)
Ilwha Company (1989-2013)
Seongnam Government (2014-present)
11 Chonbuk Buffalo (1994) Bobae Soju
12 Jeonbuk Dinos (1995-1996)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Dinos (1997-1999)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (2000-present)
Hyunyang Company (1995-1999)
Hyundai Motor Company (1995-present)
13 Jeonnam Dragons (1995-present) POSCO
14 Suwon Samsung Bluewings (1996-present) Samsung Electronics (1996-2014)
Cheil Worldwide (2014-present)
15 Daejon Citizen (1997-2019)
Daejeon Hana Citizen (2020-present)
Dong Ah Group (1997-1998)
Chungchong Bank (1997-1998)
Dongyang Department Store (1997-1999)
KyeRyong Construction Company (1997-2002)
Daejeon Government (2003-2019)
Hana Financial Group (2020-present)
16[E] Gwangju Sangmu (2003-2010) Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps
Gwangju Government
17 Daegu FC (2003-present) Daegu Government
18 Incheon United (2004-present) Incheon Government
19 Gyeongnam FC (2006-present) Gyeongnam Provincial Government
20 Gangwon FC (2009-present) Gangwon Provincial Government
21[E] Sangju Sangmu (2011-present) Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps
Sangju Government
22 Gwangju FC (2011-present) Gwangju Government
23[F] Police FC (2013)
Ansan Police (2014-2015)
Ansan Mugunghwa (2016)
KNP Sports Club
Ansan Government (2014-2016)
24 Goyang Hi FC[G] (2013-2015)
Goyang Zaicro (2016)
25 Chungju Hummel[H] (2013-2016) Hummel Korea
26 Suwon FC[I] (2013-present) Suwon Government
27 Bucheon FC 1995 (2013-present) Bucheon Government
28 FC Anyang (2013-present) Anyang Government
29 Seoul E-Land (2015-present) E-Land Group
30[F] Asan Mugunghwa (2017-2019) KNP Sports Club
Asan Government
31 Ansan Greeners (2017-present) Ansan Government
32 Chungnam Asan (2020-present) Asan Government
Chungnam Provincial Government
  1. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club on 1 April 1973, Pohang originally chose a dolphin as their mascot, but changed to Astro Boy, also known as "Atom", in 1985
  2. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club on 20 December 1980
  3. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club "Saehan Motors" on 22 November 1979
  4. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club on 29 September 1969
  5. ^ a b c Sangmu, Gwangju Sangmu and Sangju Sangmu are separate legal entities according to the K League federation
  6. ^ a b Ansan Mugunghwa and Asan Mugunghwa are separate legal entities according to the K League federation
  7. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club "Hallelujah FC" on 3 April 1999
  8. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club "Hummel FC" on 9 December 1999
  9. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club "Suwon City" on 15 March 2003

Promotion-relegation playoffs

The K League promotion-relegation playoffs were introduced in 2013 and are contested between the 11th-placed team of the K League 1 and the runners-up of the K League 2. The first leg is always played at the second division team's home ground, while the second leg is played at the first division team's home ground.

Season K League 1 Aggregate K League 2 1st leg 2nd leg
2013 Gangwon FC 2-4 Sangju Sangmu 1-4 1-0
2014 Gyeongnam FC 2-4 Gwangju FC 1-3 1-1
2015 Busan IPark 0-3 Suwon FC 0-1 0-2
2016 Seongnam FC 1-1 (a) Gangwon FC 0-0 1-1
2017 Sangju Sangmu 1-1 (5-4 p) Busan IPark 1-0 0-1 (a.e.t.)
2018 FC Seoul 4-2 Busan IPark 3-1 1-1
2019 Gyeongnam FC 0-2 Busan IPark 0-0 0-2

Records and statistics

As of 25 November 2020[9]

K League officially includes records of K League 1, K League 2 and Korean League Cup in its statistics regardless of competition levels and formats.

Rank Player Num. Apps Avg.
1 South Korea Lee Dong-gook 228 548 0.42
2 Montenegro Dejan Damjanovi? 198 380 0.52
3 South Korea Kim Shin-wook 132 350 0.38
1 South Korea Yeom Ki-hun 110 396 0.28
2 South Korea Lee Dong-gook 77 548 0.14
3 Colombia Mauricio Molina 69 209 0.33
Clean sheets
1 South Korea Kim Byung-ji 229 706 0.32
2 South Korea Kim Young-kwang 153 518 0.3
3 South Korea Choi Eun-sung 152 532 0.29
1 South Korea Kim Byung-ji 706 --
2 South Korea Lee Dong-gook 548
3 South Korea Choi Eun-sung 532

Restriction of foreign players

Season 1983-1993 1994 1995 1996-2000 2001-2002 2003-2004 2005 2006-2008 2009-2019 2020-present
Squad 2 3 3 5 7 5 4 3 3+1 3+1+1
Line-up 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3+1 3+1+1
Details [detail 1] [detail 2] [detail 3] [detail 4] [detail 5]
  1. ^ If three or more native players in one club were chosen for national team, three foreign players could play.
  2. ^ The number of foreign goalkeepers' appearances was limited in 1997 and 1998, and their employment is being banned since 1999.
    1997 season: Two-thirds of all matches
    1998 season: One-third of all matches
    1999-present: Foreign goalkeepers are restricted in league
  3. ^ Temporary operation due to frequent call-ups of native players for World Cup team.
  4. ^ +1 Asian player
  5. ^ +1 Asian player, +1 Southeast Asian player

At the inception of the K League in 1983, only two Brazilian players made rosters. At the time, rules allowed each club to have three foreign players and that the three could also play simultaneously in a game. From the 1996 season, each team had five foreign players among whom three could play in a game at the same time. Since 1999, foreign goalkeepers are banned from the league because South Korean clubs excessively employed foreign goalkeepers after watching Valeri Sarychev's performances at that time.[10] In 2001 and 2002, the limit on foreign players was expanded seven but only three could play in a game at the same time. The limit was lower to five in 2003, four in 2005, and three in 2007. Since 2009, the number of foreign players went back up to four per team, including a slot for a player from AFC countries. Since 2020, Southeast Asian players can be registered under the ASEAN Quota.[11]

Relocation of clubs

In early years, the locations of K League clubs were determined, but they were pointless in substance because the clubs played games by going around all stadiums together. The current home and away system is being operated since 1987. The clubs were relocated from provinces to cities in 1990, but they are currently locating their area regardless of province and city since 1994. While the decentralization policy was operated from 1996 to 1999, the clubs in Seoul were relocated again.

K League Awards


Season Sponsor League name
1994-1995 Hite 94 Hite Cup Korean League
95 Hite Cup Korean League
1996-1997 Rapido 96 Rapido Cup Professional Football Championship
97 Rapido Cup Professional Football Championship
1998 Hyundai Group 98 Hyundai Cup K-League
1999 Hyundai Securities 99 Buy Korea Cup K-League
2000 Samsung Electronics 2000 Samsung DigiTall K-League
2001 POSCO 2001 POSCO K-League
2002 Samsung Electronics 2002 Samsung PAVV K-League
2003-2008 Samsung Hauzen K-League 2003-2008
2010 Hyundai Motor Company Sonata K League 2010
2011-2016 Hyundai Oilbank Hyundai Oilbank K League 2011-2012
Hyundai Oilbank K League Classic 2013-2016
Hyundai Oilbank K League Challenge 2013-2016
2017-present KEB Hana Bank KEB Hana Bank K League Classic 2017
KEB Hana Bank K League Challenge 2017
KEB Hana Bank K League 1 2018
KEB Hana Bank K League 2 2018
Hana 1Q K League 1 2019
Hana 1Q K League 2 2019

See also


  1. ^ "In search of Korea's disappearing Red Devils". Korea JoongAng Daily. 6 June 2012. Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ "South Korean Teams Fight for Attention at Home". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014.
  3. ^ " ? ? ·? ". Naver.com (in Korean). Kyunghyang. 31 January 1979. Retrieved 2020.
  4. ^ ? ? 10? ? ....?. Naver.com (in Korean). The Chosun Ilbo. 18 April 1980. Retrieved 2020.
  5. ^ Kim, Deok-gi (16 January 2013). [? ? 10950] ?, 1983? 5?8? . Naver.com (in Korean). Sportalkorea. Retrieved 2020.
  6. ^ ? ? . Naver.com (in Korean). Kyunghyang. 24 February 1987. Retrieved 2020.
  7. ^ ...FC ''. Naver.com (in Korean). Korea Economic Daily. 2 May 2014. Retrieved 2020.
  8. ^ ? ? 'K'? ? (in Korean). Sports Seoul. 19 February 2013. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013.
  9. ^ "Record - All-time record - Individual top record" (in Korean). K League. Retrieved 2020.
  10. ^ [? 328? 2?] K Top7. TV.Kakao.com (in Korean). Daum. 24 September 2018. Retrieved 2020.
  11. ^ "News: K League to Introduce ASEAN Quota in 2020". K League United. Retrieved 2019.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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