Football followers in Korea Republic may be unaware that King Jeongjo of Joseon Dynasty once tried, albeit in vain more than two centuries ago, to transfer the capital from Seoul to Suwon. But most of them, especially the citizens of Suwon, believe that the city has become, as they call it, ‘the football capital'.
This owes much to the emergence of Suwon Bluewings as one of the country's most popular and successful teams. FIFA.com investigates the history of the four-time K-League champions.
Birth of an institutionSuwon Bluewings became the K-League's ninth member in 1996, when, coincidentally, league officials decided to decentralise the congested capital area by relocating three clubs based in Seoul to its satellite cities. The newcomers were quick to absorb the franchise, and began to win the hearts of local fans with impressive performances in their first season.
Led by Kim Ho, a father figure who had coached Korea Republic at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™, the Bluewings took the domestic stage by storm, winning the second half of the 1996 campaign. Although they failed to lift the trophy at their first attempt, losing 3-2 to Ulsan Horangi on aggregate in the final, the Suwon outfit established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, finishing runners-up in that year's Korean FA Cup as well.
Making of a legendIt took only three seasons for Suwon to win their first championship, when they exacted revenge on Ulsan by winning the 1998 title. Having won the away leg 1-0, the Bluewings held on to a goalless draw in front of a then-record 36,456 crowd to become champions. With midfield maestro Ko Jong-Soo pulling the strings, Suwon were simply unbeatable as they went on to defend the crown the following season, as well as winning the Super Cup and League Cup.
All-conquering Suwon set their sights on the continental stage, but their first season in the AFC Asian Club Championship ended in disappointment as they were knocked out by eventual winners Al-Hilal in the semi-finals in 2000. However, the following campaign saw the Bluewings reach the final, in which they beat Japanese champions Jublio Iwata 1-0 to win their first Asian honour. Forward Seo Jung-Won again played a crucial role en route to the decider in 2002, when Suwon edged out arch-rivals Anyang Cheetahs [now FC Seoul] on penalties in Tehran's Azadi Stadium. Back-to-back successes were becoming a habit for Suwon, who also won two Asian Super Cups in as many years.
While challenging on the continental front, Suwon lost their grip on the domestic competitions with the departure of key players and Kim Ho by the end of the 2003 season. Korea Republic legend Cha Bum-Kun was appointed coach, and the new-look Bluewings made an instant impact the following year as they won their third K-League title after a dramatic penalty shootout against Pohang Steelers in the final.
After finishing runners-up in both the K-League and the Korean FA Cup in 2006, Suwon bounced back in style last year, winning the regular season on the back of a record-breaking 11-match winning streak. And despite a 1-1 stalemate with bitter rivals Seoul in the first leg of the championship series, the Bluewings won 2-1 in the return leg at home to add the fourth star on top of their crest.
The Suwon World Cup Stadium has been home to the Bluewings and their supporters group, Grand Bleu, since the 2002 season. The stadium hosted three group-stage games, as well as the Round of 16 match between Spain and Republic of Ireland, during Korea/Japan 2002. Affectionately dubbed 'The Big Bird', the 43,959-seater is a landmark of the city of Suwon with its unique wing-shaped roof over the west stand.