Pohang Steelers are one of the most successful clubs in Korea Republic and the oldest in the K-League. They have won the league title four times, the Korean FA Cup twice and have also claimed two Asian Club Championships so far in their 35-year history.
Pohang have also produced more than 50 internationals for the national team, including the likes of Lee Hoi-Taek, Choi Soon-Ho, Hong Myung-Bo, Hwang Sun-Hong and Lee Dong-Gook. The club's distinctive colours - red-and-black horizontal stripes - have become the symbol a team respected and feared throughout the country and the continent.
Birth of an institution
Like most K-League clubs, the Steelers were established by a corporation. The man behind their inception was the inaugural president of Pohang Iron and Steel Company, Park Tae-Joon. This was a man so eager to have a football team of his own that he founded a semi-professional side even before his company completed its first production line of crude steel, in April 1973.
The following year saw the POSCO Dolphins, as they were initially called, win the 22nd President's Cup, before they clinched the Korean League (second tier) in 1982. Despite a disappointing debut in the top flight, finishing bottom, the Dolphins turned professional in 1984 and changed their name to Atoms the following season.
The Atoms duly won their first domestic title in 1986, and under the guidance of club legend Lee Hoi-Taek they added their second and third pieces of silverware in 1988 and 1992. The dominance of Pohang in the domestic scene continued as they went on to win the Korean League Cup and FA Cup in 1993 and 1996 respectively.
Making of a legend
However, it was not until they changed their name once again, this time to Steelers, in 1997 that the club began to make waves in the wider continent. It was then that the Pohang outfit, now coached by another legendary former striker in Park Sung-Hwa, reached the final of the 16th Asian Club Championship, where they met compatriots and defending champions Cheonan Ilhwa Chunma.
On 9 March 1997, the stage was set in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Having played a goalless draw in the group stage, the sides were again locked at 1-1 deep into the extra time. However, it was the Steelers who were to have the last laugh, converting a match-winning penalty with only three minutes of the 120 remaining.
Little more than a year later, Pohang lifted their second continental trophy in Hong Kong after a goalless draw and a penalty shootout victory (6-5) over Chinese champions Dalian Wanda in the 1998 final. These back-to-back triumphs were widely attributed to the influence of Pohang's formidable trio of sweeper Hong Myung-Bo, winger Park Tae-Ha, and forward Hwang Sun-Hong. With this triumvirate in the form of their lives, the Steelers were able to enjoy a golden era.
Once these talismanic veterans left the club, Pohang's star began to fade with the dawning of a new century. Indeed, the Steelers struggled in mid-table for five years after Park stepped down as coach during the 2000 season. Former Korea Republic international and Pohang striker Choi Soon-Ho was called upon to revive the club's fortunes, but the decline continued as the Steelers finished as low as ninth, their worst performance to date in the Korean top flight.
Nevertheless, Pohang were still regarded as a national powerhouse as they reached the final of the FA Cup in 2001 and 2002, before finishing second in the league two years later. Despite this evidence that green shoots of recovery were beginning to appear, Pohang decided to make a change in the dugout the following season, replacing Choie with their first foreign-born coach, Sergio Farias. The attack-minded Brazilian justified this faith, introducing his own style of attractive football and in 2007, his third season in charge, the Steelers won their fourth K-League title.
Under the guidance of Farias, Pohang went all the way to the 2009 AFC Champions League final in Tokyo and became the first Asian club to have won the continental crown three times. The Steelers finished third in the ensuing FIFA Club World Cup in December, but that turned out to be the beginning of another era as the Brazilian subsequently left the post and Hwang Sun-Hong arrived at the Steelyard the following season. The former Korea Republic international led the Steelers to their third Korean FA Cup victory after a pulsating 1-0 win over Gyeongnam in the 2012 final, and they retained their crown the following year.
The Steelyard opened its gates on 1 November 1990 as the first-ever purpose-built football stadium in Korea Republic. Constructed in the heart of the POSCO Steelworks Complex, the 25,000-capacity arena is home to a passionate Pohang support famed for the atmosphere they generate. In 2005, the stadium underwent major refurbishment, from the pitch to the dressing rooms and the PA system. The steep second tier of the stadium enables the crowd to watch the games from close to the action regardless of where they are seated.