The K League Guidebook.

The devastating impact of the Corona Virus has been all too visible to see. Especially in the world of live sports. Financial ruin, heartbroken supporters, and major roadblocks have stumped everyone invested in the world of sporting events.

With the Tokyo Olympic being postponed indefinitely, and major sports like football, that has left supporters utterly miserable and unsure what to do on weekends. Life as we once knew it has changed forever.

But it’s now May, and after months of deliberation and setbacks, the Korean professional football league has overcome the formidable task of getting the ball rolling. With that in mind, I thought it would be a great time to help you understand the Korean football league why you should tune in every weekend.



Well folks, Korean football is back!

Finally, after 10 weeks of delay, the 2020 K- league season has kicked off. And what a number of weeks it has been so far.

With stringent safety measures enforced to mitigate the spread of Coivd 19, such as no handshaking, no fans, and the requirement of masks for substitutes and coaching staff, it’s felt rather bizarre. With players tested regularly, they have ruled that anyone who tests positive for COVID 19, will have to sit out for two weeks; and their team, coaching staff, basically anyone connected to the club. A tough, yet justified response.

For all the safety measures in place, what we have is live football. Something we could never have foreseen just a couple of weeks ago.

Still, with no hope in sight for most football leagues, it’s truly an amazing feat that the Korean football league has started.

Taking all this into account, football associations around the world will watch closely to see how the K- league unfolds. The burning question on everyone’s mind is whether it will be a success or failure. I guess only time will tell. But meanwhile, we can appreciate Korean football. All the goals and saves, and of course the mishaps like the misplaced sex dolls that have focused the international spotlight on the league for all the wrong reasons.

As the K-league beams out across the world, on websites like the BBC for the first time in its history, the newfound focus on players is fantastic to see.

“I really appreciate that we can promote both the Korea Republic and the K-League. We have a chance to let football fans from all around the world know that there are many good players in our country if we perform to or best on the pitch, “said Hong, who was an integral part of Jeonbok Motors football club last season.


Let’s delve a little deeper in to the world of Korean football and unearth the formalities and history of the league.

K-League History

The professional football league has a relatively brief history when compared to some major leagues around the world. Established in 1983, the K-leagues existence of 37 years is action-packed with a whole host of events.

As you can see below, I’ve set up a timeline to go through all the major events leading up to the formation of the K-League. Scroll down to see when, and how football developed on the Korean peninsular.


1882

Association football is introduced in Korea.

A British Royal Navy ship, the HMS Flying Fish sails into the port of Incheon. Its crew take to the shores and play the first game of football.

1882
1910

Football flourishes

Football takes off. Working-class men come together and form clubs like, Bulgyo Cheongnyeonho and Joseon Football club.

1910
1910

The Japanese occupation of Korea begins.

Japan occupies Korea.

1910
1921

The All Joseon football tournament commences.

Joseon-was actually the name for Korea during this period. The Tournament starts, but cannot finish due to controversies regarding the referees decisions.

1921
1935

Kyungsung FC win the Japanese Emperor’s Cup.

For the first time in the Emperor’s cups history, a Korean team wins. Kyungsung FC beat Tokyo Bunri University 6-1 at the Meiji Jingu stadium in Tokyo. Korea rejoice.

1935
1945

WW2 Ends.

August 15, 1945: Korea gains independence.

1945
1950

The Korean War.

North Korea invades the South, and one of the most destructive wars in modern times commences.

1950
1953

The Korean War Ends.

The Korean Armistice Agreement is signed, and they create the DMZ.

1953
1964

The Korean National Semi- Professional Football league is founded.

The Semi-Professional football league is formed. Played mostly in Seoul, corporate men from companies join to make teams and compete. They divided the 1964 season into the spring and Autumn leagues because of the extreme temperatures that exist in the summer and winter. They divide the league into two groups of 3 teams.

1964
1983

Korean Super League

The Korean Super League begins.

1983
1998

The Korean football league has a major overhaul.

The powers to be rename the league to K league. Since its creation, the league has expanded from 5 to 16 clubs.

1998
2013

K league introduces the division system.

Unlike many Leagues around the world, the Korean league only has two professional divisions. They name the top division K League 1, and the second division K League 2.

2013

Korean football Pyramid

The Korean football League pyramid is not what you would expect. Compared to English football, which has 24 levels, in Korea, you only recently have 7 tiers. More so, the two top divisions, the K League 1 and 2, are the only professional leagues. Meaning, the teams that play in these leagues can never drop down the pyramid. They are safe, unlike English teams like Blackpool and Portsmouth.

What you also find in the Top tier league is the ownership differs.

Korea has three main types of clubs that impact the amount of money and facilities that the clubs can use. The three dominant types are:

  • Chaebol
  • Community
  • Military

Chaebol teams

Teams like Ulsan, Jeonbok, and Seoul are, as the name suggests, owned by vast companies like, Samsung, POSCO and Hyundai, etc. With this in mind, Chaebol clubs have access to money. We all are too aware of what money can do for you in football. More expensive players, an array of marketing, and better facilities.

Community teams

Next on the list are community clubs. Usually owned by the local governments. A lot of clubs fall into this category. For instance, Incheon, Daegu, Gwangju. The goal for the teams owned by the local governments is to win the league. But they are also a lot more family-focused and community-centric.

Military teams

Last but not least, we have the military clubs. Korea has mandatory conscription. Males who are deemed physically and mentally fit have to serve in the military. Sangju is the only top tier club that is a military team. Players are loaned from professional clubs and come together to make a different team each season.

LevelLeague
1K League 1Professional: 12 teams, One champion, two relegation and One playoff.
2K League 2Professional: 10 teams, 1 promotion, and 1 playoff. No relegation.
3K3 LeagueSemi-pro: 16 teams, No promotion, 2 relegation and 1 relegation playoff.
4K4 League Semi- Pro: 13 teams, 2 promotion spots to K3, 1 promotion playoff spot, no relegation.
5K5 LeagueAmateur: 67 clubs, 11 regions, No promotion, 11 relegation spots.
6K6 leagueAmateur: 190 clubs, 26 regions, 11 promotion spots, 30 relegation spots.
7K7 LeagueAmateur: 1002 clubs/ 160 regions, 30 promotion spots.
The present day Korean football Pyramid.

2020 K 1 League teams.

The Corona Virus dealt an enormous blow to the fixture list for the K League 1 season. The K League 1 season has 38 games. However, because of the later than planned start, the league decided that all the teams will now play 27 games. Each team will play one home, and away match, and then the league will split up for the 5 remaining games.

* An important note, there will only be an outright champion if they play 22 games.


K League 1 summary

Jeonbuk is the team to beat this season. They have won the K League three times in a row, edging Ulsan in dramatic fashion to the top spot in 2019. Ulsan will also be up there in contention this year. Possibly feeling like they want to avenge a series of blunders at the end of last season and making up for it. Incheon and Gyeongnam really struggled last season. Could it be the same this year? Well, Incheon has drawn two and lost one in three games already. Things are not looking good.

Foreign players in K League 1

Unlike the premier league where teams are awash with foreign talent, in the K League you can have up to three foreign payers, an AFC nation player, and an ASEAN professional. Some notable players in the K League to watch out for:

Adam Taggart– (Australia) – With 33 games and 20 goals to his name last season, Taggart was an absolute steal for Suwon Samsung Bluewings in 2019, costing $150,000.

Juior (Brazil) – Ulsans’s top goal scorer in the 2019 season and second overall in the league with a sumptuous tally of 19 goals.

Cesinha (Brazil) – With 15 goals and 10 assists in 2019, this Brazilian veteran added some much-needed quality to Daegu.

Stephan Mugosa (Montenegro)- Netting 14 goals in 30 appearances for Incheon last season and 19 in 32 appearances in 2018, Stephan has a proven track record for scoring.

Alexander Pesic (Serbia) – FC Seoul signed the Serbian striker on an 18-month loan back in 2019. He was the leading goal scorer in the 2017 Serbian league, scoring 25 goals in 35 games. Not bad at all.


2019 K League 1 Final Standings

PosTeampldWDLGFGAGDPTSNotes
1Jeonbok38221337232+4079(C,Q)
2Ulsan38231057139+3279(Q)
3FC Seoul381511125349+456(QPL)
4Pohang38168144949056
5Daegu FC38131694637+955
6Gangwon FC38148165658-250
7Sangju Sangmu38167154953-455
8Suwon381212144649-348(Q)
9Seongnam FC38129173040-1045
10Incheon United38713183354-2134
11Gyeongnam FC38615174361-1833(R)
12Jeju United38512214572-2727(R)
(C)- Champion, (Q) -Qualification to AFC Champion League group stage, (QPF)- qualification for AFC Champions League play-off round, (R)- relegated to K League 2.
*Suwon 2019 Korean FA Cup winners.

Current K League 1 Table

Updated league table and fixture list


2020 K League 2 teams


K League 2 summary

Gwangju FC and Busan I Park won promotion in 2019. Gwangju got an automatic promotion, not with the strongest record, but winning 21 of their 36 games and having a 50% clean sheet record. Busan also qualified their spot in the Korean League 1 by beating Gyeongam FC 2-0 in the playoff final. Jeju and Gwangju were relegated, but it seems Jeju is the bookies favorite to go back up.


2019 K League 2 Final Standings

PosTeamPldWDLGFGAGDPTSNotes
1Gwangju FC36211055931+2873(C,P)
2Busan IPark36181357247+2567(P)
3FC Anyang361510116350+1355
4Bucheon FC36149134951-251
5Ansan Greeners FC 36148144642+450
6Jeonnam Dragons36139144347-448
7Asan Mugunghwa36128164256-1444
8Suwon FC361110154955-643
9Daejon Citizen36811173147-1635
10Seoul-E Land FC36510214371-2825
(C)- Champion, (P)-Promotion to K League 1.

Current K League 2 table

Updated league table and fixture list



More Information

If I’ve sparked your interest in Korean football, or you’re curious about a team, then you should check out the websites below.

K League United

In-depth coverage of all the latest news and history about Korean football! A great recommendation if you want to learn a lot more and keep informed.

K League Reddit

Join in, and discuss the latest in the Reddit forum that is exclusively dedicated to Korean football.


Wrap up

I’ve tried to give you an overview of football in Korea, hopefully you can take away some things and enjoy the game.

If I’ve missed anything please comment below and I can update and add it. Stay safe and enjoy Korean football!