K League 1

K League 1

K League 1
Soccerball current event.svgK League 1 2020
Flag of South Korea.svg
General data
Sport Soccer
Venue South KoreaFlag of South Korea.svg South Korea
Confederacy A
Continent Asia
Organized by South Korean Football Association
K League Federation
(1994 – present)
Participating teams 12 equipment
Historical facts
Foundation 1983
First season 1983
First champion Hallelujah F.C. (1983)
Statistical data
Current champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (2020)
More championships Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (8 titles)
Competition data
Zone 1
Red Arrow Down.svg Descent to K League 2
Classification a AFC Champions League
National cup Korean FA Cup
Other data
Sponsored by
TV Partner
Official Web site kleague.com

La K League 1 (in Hangul: K 리그 1), formerly known as K League, is the highest male category of professional soccer in the South Korean league system, attached to the Asian Soccer Confederation.

Since its founding in 1983 as Asia's first professional league, the K League 1 It has had different models of competition. In the current season, each season is celebrated between the months of March and October, with the participation of twelve clubs that play against each other. In 2013, a promotion and relegation system was introduced with the creation of the second division (K League 2).

Competition system

The South Korean First Division is an organized and regulated tournament (jointly with the K League 2) by K League, a sports association made up of the clubs that participate in the professional categories. The competition is held annually, beginning in March and ending at the end of October of the same year, and 12 teams participate in it.

Participation in the K League It is limited by a registration system: members must meet certain requirements imposed by the organization.Since 2004, efforts have been made to maintain a territorial balance between the different regions of the country. Similarly, the promotion and relegation system is limited to the clubs that are part of the association.

Following a league system, the competition consists of two phases. In the first phase, the 12 teams will face each other on two occasions: once in their own field and another in the opposite field, until adding 22 matches. The order of the matches is decided by lottery before the start of the competition. Depending on their classification, the teams will have to face a second phase for the title (first to sixth classified) and another for permanence (seventh to twelfth classified), keeping the points they already had. In this last round, the clubs in each group also meet twice to add up to 32 matches.

The final classification is established according to the total points obtained by each team at the end of the championship. Teams score three points for each game won, one point for each tie, and no points for games lost. If at the end of the championship two teams equal points, the mechanisms to tie the tie are as follows:

  1. The one with the greatest difference between goals for and against according to the result of the matches played between them.
  2. The one with the highest goal difference in favor taking into account all those obtained and received during the course of the competition.
  3. The one who has scored the most goals.

The team that scores the most points at the end of the championship will be proclaimed League champion. The last classified descends to K League 2 and is replaced by the champion of that division, while the penultimate will play a round trip promotion against the runner-up of the second category.

When it comes to international competitions, the league champion and the runner-up win a place in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. The third classified, as well as the group champion for permanence, will play the previous round of the Champions League.

Registration of foreign footballers

National players are all footballers on the Korean Peninsula, whether South or North Koreans, because South Korea does not recognize North Korea.

Like other Asian championships, the K League 1 restricts the hiring of foreign footballers. Currently five foreigners are allowed per team: three from any country, a fourth for players from the Asian Confederation (AFC), and an extra one for players from Southeast Asia (ASEAN). The only teams that cannot enter foreigners are Sangju Sangmu (the Armed Forces team) and Ansan Mugunghwa (the National Police team) The hiring of foreign porters has been prohibited since 1999.

In the inaugural season of 1983 there were only two foreign players, both from Brazil. However, the number has been increasing over time. The first international star was Piyapong Pue-on, Thailand's striker and top scorer in 1985. Also notable were Rade Bogdanović, who made a career at the Pohang Steelers before leaving for Europe, and Valeri Sarychev, a Tajik goalkeeper who became a Korean national in 2000 and was a relevant figure in the 1990s. Today almost all foreign footballers come from Brazil.

The number of foreign places is regulated by the K League and by the regulations of the AFC. Exceptionally, the 2001 and 2002 seasons allowed up to seven foreigners per team, with the aim of increasing the competitive level with a view to the 2002 Soccer World Cup.

Punctuation system

The scoring system is the standard set by FIFA: three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. However, the K League 1 Throughout its history, it has had other ways of rewarding victories:

  • 1983: Two points for a win and one for a draw.
  • 1984: Three points for a win, two for a goal draw, one for a scoreless draw (at that time, almost all countries awarded two points for a win).
  • 1985 to 1992: Two points for a win, one for a draw.
  • 1993: Four points for victory, two for victory on penalties, one for loss on penalties. There are no ties.
  • 1994 to 1997: Three points for a win, one for a draw.
  • 1998 to 1999: Three points for victory, two points for victory in overtime (with a golden goal), one for victory on penalties. There are no ties.
  • 2000: Three points for a win in regulation or overtime, two points for a win on penalties. There are no ties.
  • Since 2001: Three points for a win, one for a draw.


La K League 1 it is made up of twelve clubs. Throughout its history the tournament has had 21 different participants, although most have undergone changes of name, property and even city. Only two teams have managed to contest all editions: Pohang Steelers (founded as POSCO Dolphins) and Jeju United (founded as Yukong Kokkiri).

Season 2021

2021 Season Teams
Team City Stadium
Daegu FC Daegu Daegu Stadium
Gangwon FC Chuncheon, Gangwon Chuncheon Songam Stadium, Gangneung Stadium
Gwangju FC Gwangju Gwangju Football Stadium
Incheon United Incheon Incheon Football Stadium
Jeju United Seogwipo, Jeju Province Jeju World Cup Stadium
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Jeonju, North Jeolla Jeonju World Cup Stadium
Pohang Steelers Pohang, North Gyeongsang Steel Yard Stadium
Seongnam FC Seongnam, Gyeonggi Tancheon Sports Complex
FC Seoul Seoul Seoul World Cup Stadium
Suwon Samsung Bluewings Suwon, Gyeonggi Suwon World Cup Stadium
Suwon FC Suwon, Gyeonggi Suwon Sports Complex
Ulsan Hyundai Ulsan Ulsan Munsu Stadium

Our Story

Creation of the Korean Professional League

Debut teams in the 1983 season
Team Representation Symbol Provenance
Hallelujah F.C. Gangwon
South Chungcheong
North Chungcheong
Eagle Professional club
Yukong kokkiri Seoul
Elephant Professional club
POSCO Dolphins Daegu
North Gyeongsang
Dolphin Business League (1st)
Kookmin Bank F.C. North Jeolla
South Jeolla
Magpie Business League (2st)
Daewoo royals Busan
South Gyeongsang
Corona Business League (4st)

Before the creation of this system, South Korea held only corporate and college football championships. To develop this sport and its national team, the Korean Football Association created in 1983 a strictly professional competition, the first of its kind in Asia, which it called Korean Super League.

To establish the first participants, both strictly professional franchises and clubs from business leagues were taken into account. South Korean conglomerates (chaebol) maintained their sponsorship in the name of the teams, in the same way that happened in the Korean Baseball Organization. In addition, each club represented an area of ​​the country, rather than focusing on a specific city. In total, five members were admitted: two fully professional (Hallelujah FC and Yukong Kokkiri) and three from corporate football leagues (Daewoo, Kookmin Bank FC and POSCO).

The first season was held from May 8 to September 25, 1983, with a regular league format with 16 days. Instead of playing them at home and at home, series were played in the most populated cities in order to expand the sport throughout the country. The champion was Hallelujah and the MVP was Park Sung-wha.

Championship development

The Korean league registered in its first year a good attendance to the stadiums, with an average of 20 000 spectators, which motivated the incorporation of new clubs in 1984 with the arrival of Hyundai Horang-i, Hanil Bank FC and Lucky-Goldstar, all of them professionals and controlled by large national companies. A system of opening and closing phases was created , with series in the most important cities, where the champions of each phase would face each other in a round-trip final. At that time the first international players also arrived, such as the Thai star Piyapong Pue-on or the Dutchman Rob Landsbergen.

Although the series system was maintained in the first seasons, the attendance to the fields decreased and even some clubs, such as Hallelujah or Hanil Bank, gave up professional competition. For this reason, the number of participants was reduced in the following seasons, with different competition systems to attract the public. Starting in 1987, franchises with their own city and stadium were established instead of the series in cities.

At the sporting level, the South Korean league was a success because the results in international competitions were improved. The South Korean national team certified their qualification for the 1986 Soccer World Cup and became a powerhouse of Asian soccer. In terms of clubs, Daewoo Royals were the first South Korean team to win an international tournament, the 1985 Asian Club Championship. Within the Asian Football Confederation, countries such as Japan and China turned to the South Korean model to create their own. professional tournaments.

K-League conversion

FC 서울 2016 K 리그 우승 황선홍 감독 박주영 다카 하기 인터뷰 1.13 minutes Scene

Football Club Seoul players celebrate the league they won in 2016.

South Korea maintained a reduced number of participants until 1996, the year in which - along with Japan - the organization of the 2002 Soccer World Cup was awarded. The championship increased participation to ten teams in 1997, allowing sign up to three foreign players, and established a regular league system with play-off for the title. In order to grow in the number of followers, ties were strengthened with the cities and provinces that hosted the franchises. And in 1997 the league changed its trade name to K-League.

South Korea's success in its own World Cup, where the country reached the semi-finals and placed fourth, was a boost to the popularity of soccer and the national league. The organization proposed that each province of the country had its own team, which allowed the registration of new clubs. On the one hand, the transfer of franchises to the most populated cities was promoted, in the case of FC Seoul (2004). And on the other hand, teams with no relation to companies such as Daejeon Citizen, the first club of members of Korea, emerged. In addition, the South Korean army team was admitted with conditions in 2003 to prevent the development of footballers from being cut short by mandatory military service.

With its consolidation in South Korean sport, the K-League had to face new challenges. In the middle of the 2011 season, it was embroiled in a gambling scandal that ended with 31 people convicted among players, runners and administrative personnel.After reaching 16 participating teams in 2012, the league implemented a second category (K League Challenge) with promotions and descents from the 2013 season.


Season Champion runner-up Notes
Korea Professional Soccer Championship
1983 Hallelujah F.C. Daewoo F.C. League of 5 teams. The days are disputed in series by city.
1984 Daewoo royals Yukong kokkiri League expanded to 8 teams.
1985 Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso POSCO Atoms
1986 POSCO Atoms Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso League reduced to 6 teams.
1987 Daewoo royals POSCO Atoms League reduced to 5 teams. The days are held in the city linked to the club.
1988 POSCO Atoms Hyundai horang-i
1989 Yukong kokkiri Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso League expanded to 6 teams.
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 kokkiri League expanded to 7 teams.
1995 Ilhwa Chunma Pohang atoms League expanded to 8 teams. Opening and Closing Tournament with final.
1996 Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC League expanded to 9 teams.
1997 Pusan ​​Daewoo Royals Chunnam dragons League expanded to 10 teams. System of all against all.
K League
1998 Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i League expanded to 10 teams. Regular league and play-off for the title.
1999 Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC Bucheon SK
2000 Anyang LG Cheetahs Bucheon SK
2001 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC Anyang LG Cheetahs System of all against all.
2002 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i
2003 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i League expanded to 12 teams.
2004 Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC FC Pohang Steelers League expanded to 13 teams. Opening and Closing Tournament with play-offs for the title.
2005 Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i Incheon United FC
2006 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC League expanded to 14 teams.
2007 FC Pohang Steelers Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC Regular league and play-off for the title.
2008 Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC FC Seoul
2009 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC League expanded to 15 teams.
2010 FC Seoul Jeju United FC
2011 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Ulsan Hyundai F.C. League expanded to 16 teams.
2012 FC Seoul Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC System of all against all.
K-League Classic
2013 FC Pohang Steelers Ulsan Hyundai F.C. League reduced to 14 teams; creation of the Second Division.
2014 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC League reduced to 12 teams.
2015 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC
2016 FC Seoul Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC
2017 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Jeju United FC
K League 1
2018 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Gyeongnam FC
2019 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Ulsan Hyundai F.C.
2020 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Ulsan Hyundai F.C.


Club Securities Runners-up Years of the championships
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC
2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
Seongnam FC
1993, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006
FC Seoul
1985, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2016
FC Pohang Steelers
1986, 1988, 1992, 2007, 2013
Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC
1998, 1999, 2004, 2008
Busan IPark FC
1984, 1987, 1991, 1997
Ulsan Hyundai F.C.
1996, 2005
Jeju United FC
Hallelujah F.C.

individual distinctions

At the end of each season, the K League awards prizes to the best players of the year. The awards are presented at a special gala. The most important is the award for the most valuable player (MVP) of the season, which has been awarded since 1983.

Currently, the league awards five individual awards and draws up a starting eleven with the best players in the league. K League. The league awards have no relation to those awarded by the Korea Football Association.

Awards (2020)

Premio Current awarded Team
Most valuable Player Flag of South Korea.svg They are Jun-ho Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Top scorer Flag of Brazil.svg Junior Negrão (26 goals) Ulsan Hyundai
Maximum assistant Flag of South Korea.svg Kang Sang-woo Sangju Sangmu
Best Young Player Flag of South Korea.svg Song Min Kyu Football Club Pohang Steelers Pohang Steelers
Best coach Flag of South Korea.svg Kim Gi-dong Pohang Steelers

Other competitions

  • K League
  • K League 2
  • Korean FA Cup

See also

  • South Korea National Soccer Team
  • Soccer in South Korea
  • Annex: South Korean soccer stadiums


  • K League 1 Official Website (in Korean and English)