|Divisions||K League 1 (First Division)|
K League 2 (Second Division)
|Number of teams||22|
|Domestic cup(s)||FA Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
|Current champions||Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors|
|Most championships||Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors|
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. 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.
|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)
|4||Daewoo Royals[C] (1983–1995)
Busan Daewoo Royals (1996–1999)
Busan I'Cons (2000–2004)
Busan IPark (2005–present)
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)
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|
|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|
|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|
|31||Ansan Greeners (2017–present)||Ansan Government|
|32||Chungnam Asan (2020–present)||Asan Government|
Chungnam Provincial Government
- 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
- Founded as a semi-professional club on 20 December 1980
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Saehan Motors" on 22 November 1979
- Founded as a semi-professional club on 29 September 1969
- Sangmu, Gwangju Sangmu and Sangju Sangmu are separate legal entities according to the K League federation
- Ansan Mugunghwa and Asan Mugunghwa are separate legal entities according to the K League federation
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Hallelujah FC" on 3 April 1999
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Hummel FC" on 9 December 1999
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Suwon City" on 15 March 2003
- For details on K League Champions, see List of South Korean football champions.
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.
- Records include K League 1 (top division), K League 2 (second division), and Korean League Cup.
- Bold denotes players still playing in the K League.
|Season||Squad||Play in match||Notes|
|1994||3||2||If three players chosen to South Korea in one club,|
three foreign players can play.
|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.|
|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.
- 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.
|Club||Original City / area
|Pohang Steelers||Daegu+Gyeongbuk (1983)||N/A||Pohang (1990 / 1988–present)|
|Jeju United||Seoul+Incheon+Gyeonggi (1983)||Seoul (1984)||Incheon+Gyeonggi (1987) ▶ Seoul (1991)|
▶ Bucheon / Mok-dong, Seoul (1996) ▶ Bucheon (2001) ▶ Jeju (2006–present)
|Busan IPark||Busan+Gyeongnam (1983)||N/A||Busan (1990 / 1989–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||Gwangju (2003)||N/A||Gwangju (2003) ▶ Sangju (2011–2020) ▶ Gimcheon (2021–future)|
|Asan Mugunghwa||N/A (all matches were away matches) (2013)||N/A||Ansan (2014) ▶ Asan (2017–2019)|
 K League officially began city franchise policy in 1990, But Pohang Steelers began in 1988 and Busan IPark began in 1989.
 Actually Bucheon SK held all home matches at Mokdong Stadium in Seoul until 2000. Because Bucheon Stadium was under construction.
 Gwangju Sangmu and Sangju Sangmu are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and founded as a new club.
 Ansan Police and Asan Police are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and founded as a new club.
K League AwardsEdit
|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
|2017–2018||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
This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (August 2020)
- "In search of Korea's disappearing Red Devils-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily". Koreajoongangdaily.joins.com. 2012-06-06. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
- "South Korean Teams Fight for Attention at Home". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-02.
- "위원석의 하프타임 'K리그'에 새로운 이름을 붙여주자" (in Korean). The Daily Sports Seoul. February 19, 2013. Archived from the original on December 11, 2013.
- "News: K League to Introduce ASEAN Quota in 2020". Retrieved 21 December 2019.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to K League.|
- Official K League website (in English)