K League

K League (Hangul: K리그) (Korea Professional Football League) 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
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 (K League 1)
Gwangju FC (K League 2)
Most championshipsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Seongnam FC
(both 7 titles)
WebsiteOfficial website


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 (K League was official orthography by 2012). 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 National League, a closed semi-professional league established in 2003. The fourth level of football in South Korea is the K3 League.

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 clubs

K League 2 clubs

All-time K League clubs

As of 2019, there have been a total of 31 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)
Pohang Steelworks Dolphins[upper-alpha 1] (1983–1984)
Pohang Steelworks Atoms (1985–1994)
Pohang Atoms (1995–1996)
Pohang Steelers (1997–present)
Hallelujah Eagles[upper-alpha 2] (1983–1985) Shindongah Group
Yukong Elephants (1983–1995)
Puchon Yukong (1996–September 1997)
Puchon SK (October 1997–2000)
Bucheon SK (2001–2005)
Jeju United (2006–present)
SK Energy
Daewoo Royals[upper-alpha 3] (1983–1995)
Pusan Daewoo Royals (1996–1999)
Pusan i.cons (2000–July 2002)
Pusan I'Cons (July 2002–2004)
Busan I'Park (2005–2011)
Busan IPark (2012–present)
Daewoo Group (1983–1999)
HDC Group (2000–present)
Kookmin Bank Magpies[upper-alpha 4] (1983–1984) Kookmin Bank
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)
Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso (1984–1990)
LG Cheetahs (1991–1995)
Anyang LG Cheetahs (1996–2003)
FC Seoul (2004–present)
LG Group (1984–2004)
GS Group (June 2004–present)
Hanil Bank FC (1984–1986) Hanil Bank
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)
Chonbuk Buffalo (1994) Bobae Soju
Chonbuk Dinos (1995–1996)
Chonbuk Hyundai Dinos (1997–1999)
Chonbuk Hyundai Motors (2000–2005)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (2006–present)
Hyunyang Company (1995–1999)
Hyundai Motor Company (1995–present)
Chunnam Dragons (1995–2013)
Jeonnam Dragons (2014–present)
Suwon Samsung Bluewings (1996–present) Samsung Electronics (1996–2014)
Cheil Worldwide (2014–present)
Taejon Citizen (1997–2002)
Daejeon Citizen (2003–present)
Dong Ah Group (1997–1998)
Chungchong Bank (1997–1998)
Dongyang Department Store (1997–1999)
KyeRyong Construction Company (1997–2002)
Daejeon Government (2003–present)
Daegu FC (2003–present) Daegu Government
Incheon United (2004–present) Incheon Government
Gyeongnam FC (2006–present) Gyeongnam Provincial Government
Gangwon FC (2009–present) Gangwon Provincial Government
Gwangju FC (2011–present) Gwangju Government
20–22[upper-alpha 5]
Sangmu FC (1985)
Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix[upper-alpha 6] (2003–2010)
Sangju Sangmu Phoenix[upper-alpha 7] (2011–2012)
Sangju Sangmu (2013–present)
Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps (1985–present)
Gwangju Government (2003–2010)
Sangju Government (2011–present)
23–24[upper-alpha 8]
Police FC (2013)
Ansan Police FC (2014–2015)
Ansan Mugunghwa (2016)
Asan Mugunghwa[upper-alpha 9] (2017–present)
KNP Sports Club (2013–present)
Ansan Government (2014–2016)
Asan Government (2017–present)
Goyang Hi FC[upper-alpha 10] (2013–2015)
Goyang Zaicro (2016)
Chungju Hummel[upper-alpha 11] (2013–2016) Hummel Korea
Suwon FC[upper-alpha 12] (2013–present) Suwon Government
Bucheon FC 1995 (2013–present) Bucheon Government
FC Anyang (2013–present) Anyang Government
Seoul E-Land (2015–present) E-Land Group
Ansan Greeners (2017–present) Ansan Government
  1. Founded as "Pohang Steelworks FC" (semi-professional club) on 1 April 1973.
  2. Founded as "Hallelujah FC" (semi-professional club) on 20 December 1980.
  3. Founded as "Saehan Motors FC" (semi-professional club) on 22 November 1979.
  4. Founded as "Kookmin Bank FC" (semi-professional club) on 29 September 1969.
  5. Sangmu, Gwangju Sangmu and Sangju Sangmu are separate legal entities according to the K League.
  6. Re-founded as "Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix" on 4 January 2003.
  7. Re-founded as "Sangju Sangmu Phoenix" on 26 February 2011.
  8. Ansan Mugunghwa and Asan Mugunghwa are separate legal entities according to the K League.
  9. Re-founded as "Asan Mugunghwa" on 16 January 2017.
  10. Founded as "Hallelujah FC" (semi-professional club) on 3 April 1999.
  11. Founded as "Hummel FC" (semi-professional club) on 9 December 1999.
  12. Founded as "Suwon City FC" (semi-professional club) on 15 March 2003.


Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Seongnam FC are the most successful teams in terms of championship victories, having both lifted the title on seven occasions.

K League 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.

SeasonK League 1AggregateK League 21st leg2nd legOutcome
2013Gangwon FC2–4Sangju Sangmu 1–41–0Sangju Sangmu promoted, Gangwon FC relegated.
2014Gyeongnam FC2–4Gwangju FC 1–31–1Gwangju FC promoted, Gyeongnam FC relegated.
2015Busan IPark0–3Suwon FC 0–10–2Suwon FC promoted, Busan IPark relegated.
2016Seongnam FC1–1 (a)Gangwon FC 0–01–1Gangwon FC promoted, Seongnam FC relegated.
2017Sangju Sangmu 1–1 (5–4 p)Busan IPark1–00–1Sangju Sangmu stayed in the top division.
2018FC Seoul 4–2Busan IPark3–11–1FC Seoul stayed in the top division.
2019Gyeongnam FC0–2Busan IPark0–00–2Busan IPark promoted, Gyeongnam FC relegated.

Records and statistics

For details, see K League records and statistics.

  1. Including K League Challenge appearances (second division)

Foreign players

SeasonSquadPlay in matchNotes
199432 If three players chosen to South Korea in one club,
three foreign players can play.
1996–200053 From 1997 season, foreign goalkeepers were restricted in play the match.
* 1997 season : Two-third of all matches
* 1998 season : one-third of all matches
* From 1999 season : foreign goalkeepers were restricted in K League
2001–200273 Temporary operation due to support the World Cup.
2009–3+13+1 '+1' is Asian 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.

Franchise system

  • Non-franchised Period (1983–1986): K League Clubs had franchise but clubs played the all game 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 relocations

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)
Sangju Sangmu[3] Gwangju (2003) N/A Gwangju (2003) ▶ Sangju (2011–present)
Asan Mugunghwa[4] N/A (all matches were away matches) (2013) N/A Ansan (2014) ▶ Asan (2017–present)

[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 Awards


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


  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.
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