The Foundation of Korean Professional Football, K League
The Super League, which is the predecessor of the current K League, was launched as the top tier of the Korea Professional Football League on the 8th of May, 1983 in an attempt to promote the game, as there were only two professional clubs at that time: Hallelujah Eagles and Yukong Elephants. Three amateur teams, POSCO, Daewoo and Kookmin Bank, also took parts in the inaugural season.
Before each team began to settle in its respective region from in 1990 season – Hyundai in Ulsan, Ilhwa and Lucky-Goldstar in Seoul, Daewoo in Busan, POSCO in Pohang and Yukong in Incheon, only professional clubs were allowed to participate in the Korea Professional Football Championship in 1987.
Pohang, in particular, became the first club to own a stadium exclusively built for the purpose of football in 1990 : The Steelyard. While the annual attendance reached the one million mark for the first time in 1991, Ilhwa enjoyed its finest days, winning three consecutive titles from 1993 to 1995.
The KFA President Chung Mong-Joon established the Korea Professional Football League in 1994, changing the name into the Korean League. With the country co-hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the development of the professional game became a priority. Since only six clubs were in the domestic league at that point, the cities bidding for the rights to host the World Cup matches began to establish their own clubs – Jeonbuk Dinos in 1994 followed by Chunnam Dragons, Suwon Bluewings and Daejeon Citizen. The 2002 FIFA World Cup enabled the southwestern region to have its own clubs for the first time.
The Korea Professional Football League launched the K League in 1998, in an attempt to revive the professional football game in the country. With the emergence of star players and the passionate support from local fans, the attendance reached the two million mark. The world-class infrastructure built for Korea/Japan 2002 FIFA World Cup provided other opportunities for some local governments to establish their clubs: Daegu FC, Gwangju Sangmu, Incheon United, Gyeongnam FC and Gangwon FC. After Anyang LG Cheetahs then moved its home to Seoul and changed its name to FC Seoul in 2004, the attendance began to rise in a dramatic fashion. FC Seoul attracted 60,747 fans in a single match against Seongnam Ilhwa on Children’s Day of 2010 to set a new franchise record in the history of professional sports. bHowever, in the following year, FC Seoul broke its own record by attracting 51,606 fans to the season opener against its archrival, Suwon Bluewings.
The division system was introduced in 2013, with the launch of the K League Classic and the K League Challenge. The winner of the second division gets the chance to be promoted to the top division for the next season. The division system is also an important part of the KFA’s Vision of Hat-trick 2033, in which the establishment of five divisions is expected to be completed by 2033. In the past three decades, the K League has grown from two professional clubs into a competitive system of 22 clubs in two divisions. The K League is continuously testing its limits by overcoming diverse challenges thrown to it.