K League

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

K League
K League.png
CountrySouth Korea
DivisionsK League 1 (First Division)
K League 2 (Second Division)
Number of teams22
Domestic cup(s)FA Cup
International cup(s)AFC Champions League
Current championsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
(8th title)
Most championshipsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
(8 titles)


The K League was founded in 1983 as the Korean Super League, with five member clubs. The initial five clubs were Hallelujah FC, Yukong Elephants, POSCO Dolphins, Daewoo Royals, and Kookmin Bank FC. Hallelujah FC won the inaugural title, finishing one point ahead of Daewoo Royals to lift the crown.

In 1998, Korea's football league was reformed and renamed the K League. Since its creation, the league has expanded from an initial 5 to 16 clubs. Of the five inaugural clubs, only Yukong Elephants, POSCO Dolphins, and Daewoo Royals remains in the K League; Kookmin Bank FC dropped out of the league at the end of 1984, and Hallelujah FC followed the season after.

In 2013, K League introduced the division system, splitting the league into two divisions. 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.[3] 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 is the K League 2, and below the K League 2 is the former National League, a closed semi-professional league established in 2003 and dissolved in 2019. The revamped league third and fourth level of football in South Korea is the K3 League and K4 League was founded in 2020.

On 5 October 2011, the league announced a plan to introduce a relegation system from the 2012 season, when two teams were relegated. In 2013, the bottom two teams were directly relegated, while the 12th team played a relegation playoff match against the winner of the newly formed K League Challenge. From the 2013 season, as the number of teams of K League was reduced, only the 12th team is automatically relegated, with the 11th team playing a match against the winner of the K League 2 promotion playoffs.


K League 1 clubsEdit

K League 2 clubsEdit

All-time K League clubsEdit

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 italic 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


Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors is the most successful team in terms of championship victories, having lifted the title on eight occasions.

K League promotion-relegation playoffsEdit

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 Outcome
2013 Gangwon FC 2–4 Sangju Sangmu 1–4 1–0 Sangju Sangmu promoted, Gangwon FC relegated.
2014 Gyeongnam FC 2–4 Gwangju FC 1–3 1–1 Gwangju FC promoted, Gyeongnam FC relegated.
2015 Busan IPark 0–3 Suwon FC 0–1 0–2 Suwon FC promoted, Busan IPark relegated.
2016 Seongnam FC 1–1 (a) Gangwon FC 0–0 1–1 Gangwon FC promoted, Seongnam FC relegated.
2017 Sangju Sangmu 1–1 (5–4 p) Busan IPark 1–0 0–1 Sangju Sangmu stayed in the top division.
2018 FC Seoul 4–2 Busan IPark 3–1 1–1 FC Seoul stayed in the top division.
2019 Gyeongnam FC 0–2 Busan IPark 0–0 0–2 Busan IPark promoted, Gyeongnam FC relegated.

Records and statisticsEdit

For details, see K League records and statistics.

Foreign playersEdit

Season Squad Play in match Notes
1983–1993 2 2
1994 3 2 If three players chosen to South Korea in one club,
three foreign players can play.
1995 3 3
1996–2000 5 3 From 1997 season, foreign goalkeepers were restricted in play the match.
* 1997 season: Two-thirds of all matches
* 1998 season: one-third of all matches
* From 1999 season: foreign goalkeepers were restricted in K League
2001–2002 7 3 Temporary operation due to support the World Cup.
2003–2004 5 3
2005 4 3
2006–2008 3 3
2009–2019 3+1 3+1 '+1' is Asian quota.
2020–present 3+1+1 3+1+1 '+1' are Asian quota and ASEAN quota.

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. Moreover, from the 2000 season to the 2002 season, 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. From the 2009 season, the number of foreign players went back up to four per team, including a slot for a player from AFC countries.

In the 1985 season, Piyapong Pue-on of Thailand led foreign players in the league in scoring and assists. Other leading players were Rade Bogdanović, who provided 10 goals and 10 assists in the 1996 season. Valeri Sarychev, the K League's most famous foreign goalkeeper, played in 320 league games from 1992 to 2004. He was eventually naturalized as a Korean citizen and given the Korean name Shin Eui-Son which means God's hand because of his stellar play.

In the 1990s, the trend was for the K League to get foreign players from Eastern Europe such as Rade Bogdanović, Radivoje Manic, Saša Drakulić and Denis Laktionov. From 2000, Brazilians became the K League's priority such as Tavares, Mota, Nádson, Adilson and Edu. Since 2009, players from AFC have been fairly popular, especially those from Australia, China, Japan and Uzbekistan. Since 2020, players from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam can be registered under the ASEAN quota.[4]

Franchise systemEdit

  • Non-franchised Period (1983–1986): K League Clubs had franchise but clubs played the all games of round at one stadium.
  • Franchised period (1987–present): K League introduced home and away matches system in 1987.
  • Clubs which are not listed in the table don't have franchise relocations.

Franchise relocationsEdit

Club Original City / area
(joined year)
Non-franchised period
Franchised period
Pohang Steelers Daegu+Gyeongbuk (1983) N/A Pohang (1990 / 1988[1]–present)
Jeju United Seoul+Incheon+Gyeonggi (1983) Seoul (1984) Incheon+Gyeonggi (1987) ▶ Seoul (1991)
Bucheon / Mok-dong, Seoul (1996)[2]Bucheon (2001) ▶ Jeju (2006–present)
Busan IPark Busan+Gyeongnam (1983) N/A Busan (1990 / 1989[1]–present)
Ulsan Hyundai Incheon+Gyeonggi (1984) Incheon+Gyeonggi+Gangwon(1986) Gangwon (1987) ▶ Ulsan (1990–present)
FC Seoul Chungcheong (1984) N/A Chungcheong (1987) ▶ Seoul (1990) ▶ Anyang (1996) ▶ Seoul (2004–present)
Seongnam FC Seoul (1989) N/A Cheonan (1996) ▶ Seongnam (2000–present)
Gimcheon Sangmu[3] Gwangju (2003) N/A Gwangju (2003) ▶ Sangju (2011–2020) ▶ Gimcheon (2021–future)
Asan Mugunghwa[4] N/A (all matches were away matches) (2013) N/A Ansan (2014) ▶ Asan (2017–2019)

[1] K League officially began city franchise policy in 1990, But Pohang Steelers began in 1988 and Busan IPark began in 1989.
[2] Actually Bucheon SK held all home matches at Mokdong Stadium in Seoul until 2000. Because Bucheon Stadium was under construction.
[3] Gwangju Sangmu and Sangju Sangmu are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and founded as a new club.
[4] Ansan Police and Asan Police are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and founded as a new club.

K League AwardsEdit


Season Sponsor League name
19941995 Hite 94 Hite Cup Korean League
95 Hite Cup Korean League
19961997 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
20032008 Samsung Hauzen K-League 2003–2008
2010 Hyundai Motor Company Sonata K League 2010
20112016 Hyundai Oilbank Hyundai Oilbank K League 2011–2012
Hyundai Oilbank K League Classic 2013–2016
Hyundai Oilbank K League Challenge 2013–2016
20172018 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
2019–present Hana 1Q K League 1 2019
Hana 1Q K League 2 2019

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "In search of Korea's disappearing Red Devils-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily". Koreajoongangdaily.joins.com. 2012-06-06. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
  2. ^ "South Korean Teams Fight for Attention at Home". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-02.
  3. ^ "위원석의 하프타임 'K리그'에 새로운 이름을 붙여주자" (in Korean). The Daily Sports Seoul. February 19, 2013. Archived from the original on December 11, 2013.
  4. ^ "News: K League to Introduce ASEAN Quota in 2020". Retrieved 21 December 2019.

External linksEdit