The predecessor of Dalian Shide was the Dalian Football Club, which was organised in 1982 to replace the struggling Dalian Dockyards team's place in the Chinese second tier at the beginning of the 1983 league season. Under the local Dalian government's ownership, the club immediately became a major force within the second tier and eventually win promotion to the top level in 1984 when they won the division title. For the next several seasons Dalian were predominantly top tier regulars except for one season in 1989 when they were in the second tier, however they quickly won promotion and soon went on to win their first domestic cup in 1992. Soon afterwards the Chinese Football Association started to demand full professionalism and sponsorship from all the clubs in China. Dalian went on to be one of the first fully professionalised clubs in China on July 3, 1992. They gained sponsorship in 1993 from the China Hualu group and then the Dalian Wanda Group on March 8, 1994 who changed the club's name to Dalian Wanda FC.
In the inaugural fully professional 1994 league season the club brought in former Chinese national team manager Zhang Honggen to coach the team and under his leadership guide the club to their first ever league title. The following season saw Zhang Honggen decide to not stay on as the club's manager and Dalian were unable to retain the league title, however the club eventually brought in former Chinese international player Chi Shangbin into the club as their new manager and with Wang Jianlin and the full support of his company the Dalian Wanda Group taking full ownership of the club, they started to build a football dynasty by winning the 1996 league season undefeated. Domestic dominance continued in the 1997 league season while Dalian narrowly just missed out on 1997–98 Asian Club Championship and Chi Shangbin decided to leave to take on a position with the Chinese national team. Despite this Dalian had a well-funded and prolific academy that produced numerous Chinese internationals such as Zhang Enhua, Li Ming and Sun Jihai and with another former Chinese national team manager Xu Genbao Dalian were easily able to replicate their success by winning the 1998 league title. In 2000 at the height of their success Wang Jianlin decided to pull-out from football after publicly criticizing Chinese referees for match fixing and he did not return to football until 2011 when his associated Wanda Group sponsored the 2011 Chinese Super League after former Chinese FA Vice-Chairmen Xie Yalong and Nan Yong stood on trial for bribery.