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The K League 1 (Hangul: K리그1) is a South Korean association football league that serves as the top-tier of the South Korean football league system. The league is contested by twelve clubs.

K League 1
K League Classic.png
Founded1983; 36 years ago (1983)
CountrySouth Korea
Number of teams12
Level on pyramid1
Relegation toK League 2
Domestic cup(s)FA Cup
International cup(s)AFC Champions League
Current championsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors (6th title)
Most championshipsSeongnam FC (7 titles)
TV partnersKBS+KBS N Sports, JTBC+JTBC3 Fox Sports, SPOTV
WebsiteOfficial website
2019 K League 1
K League 1
K리그 원
Revised RomanizationK rigeu one
McCune–ReischauerK rigŭ wŏn


The K League 1 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, Kookmin Bank FC. Hallelujah FC won the inaugural title, finishing one point ahead of Daewoo FC to lift the crown.

In 1998, Korea's football league was reformed and renamed the K League. The K League was then split into two divisions in 2013, the first division was renamed the K League Classic while the newly created second division was named the K League Challenge and both are now part of the K League structure. Since its creation, the league has expanded from an initial 5 to 22 clubs. Of the five inaugural clubs, only Yukong Elephants, POSCO Dolphins, and Daewoo Royals still competes in the K League; Kookmin Bank FC dropped out of the league at the end of 1984, and Hallelujah FC followed the season after.

On 22 January 2018 the official name was changed to K League 1.[1]


Below the K League 1, there is the K League 2, and below the K League 2, there is the National League, a closed semi-professional/amateur league established in 2003. The fourth level of football in South Korea is the K3 League.

There was no official system of promotion and relegation. However, beginning in 2013, the champions of the K League 2 are eligible for promotion to the K League 1, provided that they meet certain criteria.

League summaryEdit

The K League season typically begins around March and runs to late November each year. The number of games, clubs and the systems used have varied through the years.

The K League champions, runners-up, and third-placed team gain entry to the AFC Champions League the following season, with the exception of Sangju Sangmu due to their unique status as an army team. The 12th team is automatically relegated, while the 11th team plays a match against the winner of the K League 2 promotion playoffs.

A number of the member clubs are owned by major South Korean chaebols. Those clubs have adopted local city names in an effort to integrate themselves more with the local communities. All other teams are owned by local governments.

In 1996, the K League franchise structure underwent a major change. Originally, when the franchise system was introduced in 1987, the K League club's franchise were big cities of South Korea like Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, and Daejeon. Some K League clubs gave up big-city franchise and relocated to mid-sized/small-city franchise like Ulsan and Pohang by 1990. In 1996, due to Decentralization policy in K League, K League clubs in Seoul were moved to Seoul's satellite cities of Anyang, Bucheon, and Cheonan.

Following the 2002 FIFA World Cup, co-hosted by South Korea and in which South Korea reached the semi-finals for the first time, leaders of the K League had hoped to transfer South Korea's passion for its national team to the domestic league. However, the K League continued to struggle for crowds.[2] Although a number of K League clubs have relocated in the past, the Lucky Goldstar (LG) corporation caused a controversy[not specific enough to verify] at the end of 2003 when they made the decision to uproot their Anyang LG Cheetahs from the Seoul satellite city of Anyang and move into the empty Seoul World Cup Stadium, becoming FC Seoul. After the 2005 season, SK Group relocated the Bucheon SK to the island of Jeju, where they became Jeju United. This move was largely opposed by fans, who founded Bucheon FC 1995 in 2007 as a community-owned replacement club.

In the 2009 season, Gangwon FC joined the K League as its 15th member club. As such, the K League had one or more clubs in every South Korean province. This was the first time in domestic South Korean professional sports history that there has been at least one club in each South Korean province.

On 5 April 2010, Gwangju City announced a plan to establish a football club by the end of 2010 and to join the league for the 2011 season. On 12 October 2010, the club was approved to join the league as the 16th member club.

On 5 October 2011, the league announced a plan to introduce a relegation system from the 2012 season. The number of teams of the league was decreased to twelve teams starting with the 2014 season. Two teams were relegated in the 2012 season. In 2013, the bottom two teams were directly relegated, while the 12th team played a relegation playoff match against the winner of the K League Challenge. From the 2013 season, as the number of teams 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. The league also introduced a split system like in the Scottish Premier League in the 2012 season, where each club plays each other three times in the regular round, then the top and bottom six teams are split into Split A and Split B, in which a team plays every other team in the split once, to decide the final standings.


Club Location Stadium First season Current spell Seasons[a] Last title
Daegu FC Daegu DGB Daegu Bank Park 2003 2017– 14
Gangwon FC Gangwon Chuncheon Songam Stadium 2009 2017– 8
Gyeongnam FC Changwon Changwon Football Center 2006 2018– 11
Incheon United Incheon Incheon Football Stadium 2004 2004– 16
Jeju United Jeju Jeju World Cup Stadium 1983 1983– 37 1989
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors North Jeolla Jeonju World Cup Stadium 1995 1995– 25 2018
Pohang Steelers Pohang Pohang Steel Yard 1983 1983– 37 2013
Sangju Sangmu Sangju Sangju Civic Stadium 2011 2016– 7
Seongnam FC Seongnam Tancheon Stadium 1987 2019– 29 2006
FC Seoul Seoul Seoul World Cup Stadium 1984 1984– 36 2016
Suwon Samsung Bluewings Suwon Suwon World Cup Stadium 1996 1996– 24 2008
Ulsan Hyundai Ulsan Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium 1984 1984– 36 2005
  1. ^ As of the start of the 2019 season.


Seongnam FC is the most successful team in terms of championship victories, having lifted the title on seven occasions.

Titles by seasonEdit

Season Champions Runners-up
1983 Hallelujah FC Daewoo Royals
1984 Daewoo Royals Yukong Elephants
1985 Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso POSCO Atoms
1986 POSCO Atoms Luck-Goldstar Hwangso
1987 Daewoo Royals POSCO Atoms
1988 POSCO Atoms Hyundai Horang-i
1989 Yukong Elephants Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso
1990 Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso Daewoo Royals
1991 Daewoo Royals Hyundai Horang-i
1992 POSCO Atoms Ilhwa Chunma
1993 Ilhwa Chunma LG Cheetahs
1994 Ilhwa Chunma Yukong Elephants
1995 Ilhwa Chunma Pohang Atoms
1996 Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i Suwon Samsung Bluewings
1997 Pusan Daewoo Royals Chunnam Dragons
1998 Suwon Samsung Bluewings Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i
1999 Suwon Samsung Bluewings Pusan Daewoo Royals
2000 Anyang LG Cheetahs Bucheon SK
2001 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma Anyang LG Cheetahs
2002 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i
2003 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i
2004 Suwon Samsung Bluewings Pohang Steelers
2005 Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i Incheon United
2006 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2007 Pohang Steelers Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2008 Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC Seoul
2009 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2010 FC Seoul Jeju United
2011 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Ulsan Hyundai
2012 FC Seoul Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2013 Pohang Steelers Ulsan Hyundai
2014 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2015 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2016 FC Seoul Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2017 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Jeju United
2018 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Gyeongnam FC

Titles by clubEdit

Club Champions Winning seasons Runners-up Runners-up seasons
Seongnam FC
1993, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006
1992, 2007, 2009
FC Seoul
1985, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2016
1986, 1989, 1993, 2001, 2008
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018
2012, 2016
Pohang Steelers
1986, 1988, 1992, 2007, 2013
1985, 1987, 1995, 2004
Suwon Samsung Bluewings
1998, 1999, 2004, 2008
1996, 2006, 2014, 2015
Busan IPark
1984, 1987, 1991, 1997
1983, 1990, 1999
Ulsan Hyundai
1996, 2005
1988, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2011, 2013
Jeju United
1984, 1994, 2000, 2010, 2017
Hallelujah FC
Jeonnam Dragons
Incheon United
Gyeongnam FC

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "프로축구연맹, 클래식→K리그1, 챌린지→K리그2 대회명 변경" (in Korean). K League Official Website. 22 January 2018.
  2. ^ "The World Cup 2006 in TIME Europe Magazine". Time. 7 October 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13.

External linksEdit