Few would question the idea that Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are Korea Republic's most successful club in terms of silverware. They have collected no fewer than 16 trophies, including seven national titles in their relatively short history. With Seongnam celebrating their 20th anniversary this season, FIFA.com takes a closer look at the perennial candidates to win the K-League.
Birth of an institution
When Ilhwa Chunma FC was founded as the sixth member of the Korean Super League on 18 March 1989, its hometown was the capital city of Seoul. Though the league was starting to prosper, many owners still regarded the club merely as a means of publicising company product. But the Ilhwa Company, a manufacturer of food and beverage, might not have expected that Chunma (winged horses) would later enjoy more success than its steady selling drinks.
After a sluggish start in their first three seasons, Chunma finished runners-up in the league and won the League Cup, their first trophy, in 1992. With veteran coach Park Jong-Hwan's attacking football winning the hearts of Seoulites, Chunma went on to clinch the league title the following season, which they successfully defended for two more years. As if the three consecutive championships were not enough, they rounded off a vintage year in 1995 by winning the AFC Asian Club Championship in December.
Despite the early success at Dongdaemun Stadium, Chunma had to leave Seoul for Cheonan in accordance with the league's decentralisation policy before the start of the 1996 season. Their stay in the mid-western city was to be relatively brief, with the club claiming the FA Cup in 1999, before moving out again later that year. Since then, Chunma have been based in Seongnam, a satellite city of Seoul located southeast of the capital.
Making of a legend
Their first year in Seongnam ended in the unluckiest manner imaginable for Chunma, as they finished runners-up in the K-League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup in 2000. But that near-success helped kick-start a new era of unprecedented success. Midfield stalwart Shin Tae-Yong, who had been voted the Most Valuable Player six years previously, again played a crucial role as Chunma reclaimed the championship in 2001. In fact, the inspirational captain was virtually an ever-present, with his side winning three straight league titles including a domestic treble in 2002.
But on the Asian stage, Seongnam were not so successful. In their first season in the revamped AFC Champions League 2002/03, Chunma fell at the first hurdle after finishing second to Chinese champions Dalian Shide in the group stage. The following season saw them reach the continental final for the third time, but luck was not on their side. Having won the first leg 3-1 against Al-Ittihad in Jeddah, Seongnam were on the verge of bringing the trophy back home. However, it was the visitors who inflicted a 5-0 rout on the favourites to snatch an unlikely victory.
Captain Shin, who had to endure the heartbreaking moment from the bench, left the club shortly afterward. During his 13 seasons with Chunma, Shin scored 99 goals providing 68 assists across 401 games - all club records.
Two years later, Seongnam won their seventh league title by beating Suwon Samsung Bluewings 3-1 on aggregate in the championship series. But their habit of winning titles back-to-back came to a shuddering halt in 2007, when they lost 4-1 on aggregate at the hands of Pohang Steelers in the play-off final despite winning the regular season in style. Having finished third before being eliminated from the play-off in the first round last year, Seongnam desperately needed a saviour to revive their fortunes. The club changed to Seongnam FC in 2014 and claimed their first silverware under their new name in November that year.
Located in the centre of Seongnam between the old city and the new district of Bundang, Tancheon Sports Complex opened its gates on 1 April 2002 and has been home to Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma since the 2005 season. The 15,000-seater main stadium is currently under refurbishment to the floodlight towers and a new roof to cover all areas of the stands, with the club expected to return there for the second half of this season.