K League

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K League
K League.png
Organising bodyKorea Football Association
K League Federation
Korea Football Association
K League Federation
CountrySouth Korea
DivisionsK League 1
K League 2
Number of teams22
Level on pyramid1–2
Domestic cup(s)Korean FA Cup
International cup(s)AFC Champions League
Current championsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
(8th title)
Most championshipsJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
(8 titles)
TV partnersJTBC Golf&Sports
Sky Sports (South Korea)
IB Sports
Life Sports TV

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


Until the 1970s, South Korean football opreated two major football leagues, the National Semi-professional Football League and the National University Football League, but these were not professional leagues in which footballers can focus on only football. In 1979, however, the Korea Football Association (KFA)'s president Choi Soon-young planned to found a pro football league,[3] and made the first pro club Hallelujah FC the next year.[4] After the South Korean pro baseball league KBO League was founded in 1982, the KFA was aware of crisis about the popularity of football.[5] In 1983, it urgently made the Korean Super League with two pro clubs (Hallelujah FC, Yukong Elephants) and three semi-pro clubs (Pohang Steelworks, Daewoo Royals, Kookmin Bank) to professionalize South Korean football. Then the Super League accomplished its purpose after existing clubs were also converted into pro clubs (Pohang, Daewoo), or new pro clubs joined the league. In the early years, it also showed a promotion system by giving qualifications to the Semi-professional League winners. (Hanil Bank in 1984, Sangmu FC in 1985)

However, the number of spectators was consistently decreased despite KFA's effort, so the pro league, renamed as the Korean Professional Football League, operated home and away system to interest fans since 1987.[6] On 30 July 1994, the Professional League Committee under KFA was independent of the association, and renamed as the "Korean Professional Football Federation". In 1996, South Korean government and the Football Federation introduced a decentralization policy to proliferate the popularity of football nationally in preparation for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which they wanted to host. Several clubs located in the capital Seoul moved to other cities according to the new policy, but this was abolished after only three years and is regarded as a failed policy because it gave up the most populous city in South Korea. In 1998, the league was renamed again as current K League.[7]

It had the current format by abolishing the K League Championship and the Korean League Cup after the 2011 season, and being split into two divisions in 2013. 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.[8] Beginning with the 2018 season, the first division was renamed to K League 1 and the second division to K League 2.

On February 23, 2021, an OTT platform named "K League TV" officially began its service: born from a partnership between K League and their official relay operator abroad, Sportradar, the platform would guarantee access to users from almost the whole world (except for Korea), broadcast K League 1 and K League 2 matches in real time and host game highlights and interviews. K League TV also represented the first official portal to publish content about both the championships in English.[9]


Below the K League 1, there is the K League 2, and both form the K League as professional championships. Under them, there are two semi-professional leagues (K3 League, K4 League) and several amateur leagues, but their clubs cannot be promoted to K League.

However, since 2021 K League 1 and K League 2 teams have been allowed to create reserve teams set to play in the K4 League.[10]


Current clubs[edit]

K League 1[edit]

  1. ^ a b Has two home stadiums

K League 2[edit]

All-time clubs[edit]

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 italics no longer exist.
# Club (duration) Owner(s)
1 POSCO Dolphins[a] (1983–1984)
POSCO Atoms (1985–1994)
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 FC[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 Hwangso (1984–1990)
LG Cheetahs (1991–1995)
Anyang LG Cheetahs (1996–2003)
FC Seoul (2004–present)
LG Group (1984–2004)
GS Group (2004–present)
8 Hanil Bank FC (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)
Hyundai Motor Company (1995–present)
Hyunyang Company (1995–1999)
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 (2011–2020) 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
33[e] Gimcheon Sangmu (2021–present) Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps
Gimcheon Government
  1. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club "POSCO FC" on 1 April 1973.
  2. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club on 20 December 1980
  3. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club "Saehan Motors FC" on 22 November 1979
  4. ^ Founded as a semi-professional club on 29 September 1969
  5. ^ a b c d Sangmu, Gwangju Sangmu, Sangju Sangmu, and Gimcheon 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 FC" on 15 March 2003


Year K League 1 K League 2
1983 Hallelujah FC No second-tier
professional league
1984 Daewoo Royals
1985 Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso
1986 POSCO Atoms
1987 Daewoo Royals
1988 POSCO Atoms
1989 Yukong Elephants
1990 Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso
1991 Daewoo Royals
1992 POSCO Atoms
1993 Ilhwa Chunma
1994 Ilhwa Chunma
1995 Ilhwa Chunma
1996 Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i
1997 Busan Daewoo Royals
1998 Suwon Samsung Bluewings
1999 Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2000 Anyang LG Cheetahs
2001 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2002 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2003 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2004 Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2005 Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i
2006 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2007 Pohang Steelers
2008 Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2009 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2010 FC Seoul
2011 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2012 FC Seoul
2013 Pohang Steelers Sangju Sangmu
2014 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Daejeon Citizen
2015 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Sangju Sangmu
2016 FC Seoul Ansan Mugunghwa
2017 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Gyeongnam FC
2018 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Asan Mugunghwa
2019 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Gwangju FC
2020 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Jeju United

Promotion-relegation playoffs[edit]

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
2013 Gangwon FC 2–4 Sangju Sangmu 1–4 1–0
2014 Gyeongnam FC 2–4 Gwangju FC 1–3 1–1
2015 Busan IPark 0–3 Suwon FC 0–1 0–2
2016 Seongnam FC 1–1 (a) Gangwon FC 0–0 1–1
2017 Sangju Sangmu 1–1 (5–4 p) Busan IPark 1–0 0–1 (a.e.t.)
2018 FC Seoul 4–2 Busan IPark 3–1 1–1
2019 Gyeongnam FC 0–2 Busan IPark 0–0 0–2
2020 No promotion-relegation playoffs were played.[a]
2021 TBD TBD TBD 25 Nov 28 Nov
  1. ^ Two K League 1 teams were relegated, so runners-up of the K League 2 were directly promoted in this year.

Records and statistics[edit]

As of 25 November 2020[11]

K League officially includes records of K League 1, K League 2 and Korean League Cup in its statistics regardless of competition levels and formats.

Rank Player Figure Apps Average
1 South Korea Lee Dong-gook 228 548 0.42
2 Montenegro Dejan Damjanović 198 380 0.52
3 South Korea Kim Shin-wook 132 350 0.38
1 South Korea Yeom Ki-hun 110 396 0.28
2 South Korea Lee Dong-gook 77 548 0.14
3 Colombia Mauricio Molina 69 209 0.33
Clean sheets
1 South Korea Kim Byung-ji 229 706 0.32
2 South Korea Kim Young-kwang 153 518 0.3
3 South Korea Choi Eun-sung 152 532 0.29
1 South Korea Kim Byung-ji 706
2 South Korea Lee Dong-gook 548
3 South Korea Choi Eun-sung 532

Restriction of foreign players[edit]

Season 1983–1993 1994 1995 1996–2000 2001–2002 2003–2004 2005 2006–2008 2009–2019 2020–present
Squad 2 3 3 5 7 5 4 3 3+1 3+1+1
Line-up 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3+1 3+1+1
Details [detail 1] [detail 2] [detail 3] [detail 4] [detail 5]
  1. ^ If three or more native players in one club were chosen for national team, three foreign players could play.
  2. ^ The number of foreign goalkeepers' appearances was limited in 1997 and 1998, and their employment is being banned since 1999.
    1997 season: Two-thirds of all matches
    1998 season: One-third of all matches
    1999–present: Foreign goalkeepers are restricted in league
  3. ^ Temporary operation due to frequent call-ups of native players for World Cup team.
  4. ^ +1 Asian player
  5. ^ +1 Asian player, +1 Southeast Asian player

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. Since 1999, foreign goalkeepers are banned from the league because South Korean clubs excessively employed foreign goalkeepers after watching Valeri Sarychev's performances at that time.[12] In 2001 and 2002, 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. Since 2009, the number of foreign players went back up to four per team, including a slot for a player from AFC countries. Since 2020, Southeast Asian players can be registered under the ASEAN Quota.[13]

Relocation of clubs[edit]

In early years, the hometowns of K League clubs were determined,[14] but they were pointless in substance because the clubs played all K League matches by going around all stadiums together. The current home and away system is being operated since 1987. The clubs were relocated from provinces to cities in 1990, but clubs are currently based in their area regardless of province and city since 1994. In 1996, the decentralization policy was operated. In result 3 clubs based in Seoul were relocated. Since 1996, It was obligatory for all clubs to include hometown name in their club name.

Relocation of K League clubs
Club National tour system (1983–1986) Home and away system (1987–present)
Pohang Steelers DaeguGyeongbuk (1983) DaeguGyeongbukPohang (1988[a])
Jeju United SeoulIncheonGyeonggi (1983) → Seoul (1984) SeoulIncheonGyeonggi (1987) → Seoul (1991) → Bucheon (2001[b]) → Jeju (2006)
Busan IPark BusanGyeongnam (1983) BusanGyeongnamBusan (1989[c])
Ulsan Hyundai IncheonGyeonggi (1984) → IncheonGyeonggiGangwon (1986) Gangwon (1987) → Ulsan (1990)
FC Seoul ChungnamChungbuk (1984) ChungnamChungbukSeoul (1990) → Anyang (1996) → Seoul (2004)
Seongnam FC N/A Seoul (1989) → Cheonan (1996) → Seongnam (2000)
Gimcheon Sangmu[d] N/A Gwangju (2003) → Sangju (2011) → Gimcheon (2021)
Asan Mugunghwa[e] N/A Unlocated[f] (2013) → Ansan (2014) → Asan (2017)
  1. ^ K League officially introduced the relocation policy to cities in 1990, but POSCO Atoms already followed it in 1988.
  2. ^ Bucheon Yukong decided Bucheon as its new city in 1996, but it played its home matches at Mokdong Stadium located in Mok-dong, Seoul until 2000, because Bucheon Stadium was under construction during that time.
  3. ^ K League officially introduced the relocation policy to cities in 1990, but Daewoo Royals already followed it in 1989.
  4. ^ Gwangju Sangmu, Sangju Sangmu, and Gimcheon Sangmu are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and founded as a new club.
  5. ^ Police FC, Ansan Police, and Asan Mugunghwa are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and re-founded as a new civil club, named Chungnam Asan, in 2019.
  6. ^ Played all matches at away stadiums



Season Sponsor League name
19941995 Hite 94 Hite Cup Korean League
95 Hite Cup Korean League
19961997 Rapido 96 Rapido Cup Professional Football League
97 Rapido Cup Professional Football League
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
2017–present 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
Hana 1Q K League 1 2019
Hana 1Q K League 2 2019

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In search of Korea's disappearing Red Devils". Korea JoongAng Daily. 6 June 2012. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  2. ^ "South Korean Teams Fight for Attention at Home". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  3. ^ "崔蹴協회장 후원회는 法人등록 北韓·中共과도 교류". Naver.com (in Korean). Kyunghyang. 31 January 1979. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  4. ^ 韓國球界 「프로時代」올것인가 「할렐루야」蹴球團 10월 창단을 계기로 본 「難題」속의 期待‥‥그展望과문제점. Naver.com (in Korean). The Chosun Ilbo. 18 April 1980. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  5. ^ Kim, Deok-gi (16 January 2013). [김덕기의 프로축구 10950] 슈퍼리그, 1983년 5월8일 팡파르. Naver.com (in Korean). Sportalkorea. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  6. ^ 프로蹴球 명예回復 선언. Naver.com (in Korean). Kyunghyang. 24 February 1987. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  7. ^ 서울 연고 이랜드프로축구단 출범…FC서울과 '투톱'. Naver.com (in Korean). Korea Economic Daily. 2 May 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  8. ^ 위원석의 하프타임 'K리그'에 새로운 이름을 붙여주자 (in Korean). Sports Seoul. 19 February 2013. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013.
  9. ^ "K League OTT Platform Launched for Overseas Fans - K LEAGUE / K리그". www.kleague.com. 23 February 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  10. ^ "K3·K4리그 대표자회의 개최...3월 7일 개막". www.kfa.or.kr. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  11. ^ "Record - All-time record - Individual top record" (in Korean). K League. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  12. ^ [원투펀치 328회 2부] K리그 역대 베스트 키퍼 Top7. TV.Kakao.com (in Korean). Daum. 24 September 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  13. ^ "News: K League to Introduce ASEAN Quota in 2020". K League United. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  14. ^ K League history - 1983 season (in Korean). K League. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2020.

External links[edit]