K League Classic

This article is about the first division of South Korea Professional Football League. For Comprehensive South Korea Professional Football League including first division and second division, see K League.
K League Classic
Country South Korea South Korea
Confederation AFC
Founded 1983
Number of teams 12
Level on pyramid 1
Relegation to K League Challenge
Domestic cup(s) FA Cup
International cup(s) AFC Champions League
Current champions FC Seoul
Most championships Seongnam FC
(7 titles)
TV partners KBS, JTBC, SPOTV
Website Official Website
2017 K League Classic
K League Classic
Hangul K리그 클래식
Revised Romanization K rigeu keullaesik
McCune–Reischauer K rigŭ k'ŭllaesik

The K League Classic is one of South Korea's professional association football leagues. At the top of the South Korean football league system, it is the country's highest and most prestigious level of football competition currently contested by 12 clubs.


The K League Classic 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. (K-League was official orthography by 2012) Since its creation, the league has expanded from an initial 5 to 16 clubs. Of the 5 inaugural clubs, only Yukong Elephants, POSCO Dolphins, and Daewoo Royals remain in the K League; Kookmin Bank FC dropped out of the league at the end of 1984, and Hallelujah FC followed the season after.


Below the K League Classic, there is the K League Challenge, and below the K League Challenge, there is the National League, a closed semi-professional/amateur league with fifteen clubs, established in 2003. The fourth level of football in Korea is the Challengers League.

There was no official system of promotion and relegation. However, beginning in 2013, the champions of K League Challenge is eligible for promotion to the K League Classic, provided they had met certain criteria. In 2012 season, two teams from K League Classic was relegated to K League Challenge, and in 2013, two teams will be relegated to K League Challenge, and 11th placed team from K League Classic and the first placed team from K League Challenge will have a relegation play-off.

League summary

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, runner-up and third place gain entry to the AFC Champions League the following season, with the exception of Sangmu, due to their unique status as an army team, and therefore non-professional.

A number of the member clubs are owned by major Korean Chaebols, and the club names reflect that fact. Clubs have adopted local city names in an effort to integrate themselves more with the local communities; for example, Daewoo evolved over the years into Daewoo Royals, Pusan Daewoo Royals, Busan I'ons and latterly Busan IPark.

In 1996, K League franchise structure was changed hugely. Originally, When the franchise system was introduced in 1987, K League club's franchise were big cities of South Korea like Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon. But Theses cities are also franchise of Korean Baseball teams. Some K League clubs gave up big-city franchise and relocated to mid-sized/small-city franchise like Ulsan, Pohang by 1990. and In 1996, Due to Decentralization policy in K League, K League clubs in Seoul were moved to Seoul's satellite small city Anyang, Bucheon, Cheonan. Also Samsung was joined in 1996, But Samsung chose Suwon, a mid-sized/small-city franchise. As a result, In 1996 K-League franchise structure changed to mid-sized/small-city franchise totally.

Following the 2002 FIFA World Cup, 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.[1] Although a number of K League clubs have relocated in the past, the Lucky Goldstar (LG) corporation caused a huge controversy 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. Then following the 2005 season SK announced it was moving the Bucheon SK FC to the island of Jeju, where they became Jeju United.

In the 2009 season, Gangwon FC (Head Coach: Choi Soon-Ho, former Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dolphin head coach) joined the K League as its 15th member club. As such, the K League had one or more clubs in every Korean Province (Gyeonggi, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, Chungcheong, Gangwon, and Jeju). This is the first time in domestic Korean professional sports history that there has been at least two clubs in each Korean province.

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

On October 5, 2011, the league announced a plan to introduce a relegation system from 2012 season. A number of teams of the league will decreased to 12 teams from 2013 season. 4 teams will be relegated to next level league based on the standing of 2012 season. And, the league introduced a split system like the Scottish Premier League from the 2012 season.

The league introduced the relegation system from the 2012 season. According to new relegation rule, 2 teams each will be relegated to lower level league based on the standing of 2012 and 2013 season, respectively (total: 4 teams). The league also changed the amount of entrance fee from 1 billion to 500 million Korean won.


Club Hometown Stadium First season in
the top flight
Current spell in
the top flight
Daegu FC Daegu Daegu Stadium 2003 2017–
Gangwon FC Gangwon Province Gangneung Stadium 2017 2017–
Gwangju FC Gwangju Gwangju World Cup Stadium 2011 2015–
Incheon United Incheon Incheon Football Stadium 2004 2004–
Jeju United Jeju Province Jeju World Cup Stadium 1983 1983–
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors North Jeolla Province Jeonju World Cup Stadium 1995 1995–
Jeonnam Dragons South Jeolla Province Gwangyang Football Stadium 1995 1995–
Pohang Steelers Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province Pohang Steel Yard 1983 1983–
Sangju Sangmu Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province Sangju Civic Stadium 1985 2016–
FC Seoul Seoul Seoul World Cup Stadium 1984 1984–
Suwon Samsung Bluewings Suwon, Gyeonggi Province Suwon World Cup Stadium 1996 1996–
Ulsan Hyundai Ulsan Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium 1984 1984–


Seongnam FC are the most successful team in terms of championship victories, having lifted the title on seven occasions.
The roll-call of champions is as follows (present-date names included where teams have changed names previously):

Titles by season

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
Season Champions Runners-up
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

Titles by club

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
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
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2009, 2011, 2014, 2015
2012, 2016
Ulsan Hyundai
1996, 2005
1988, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2011, 2013
Jeju United
1984, 1994, 2000, 2010
Hallelujah FC
Jeonnam Dragons
Incheon United

See also


  1. "The World Cup 2006 in TIME Europe Magazine". Time. October 7, 2006.
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