Pohang Steelers

포항 스틸러스 / Football Club Pohang Steelers

Honours

  • Best League Finish: 1st in the K League 1 (5 times)
  • Best Korean Cup Finish: Winners (4 times)
  • AFC Champions League
    • Winners (3): 1996–97, 1997–98, 2009
  • K League 1
    • Champions (5): 1986, 1988, 1992, 2007, 2013
  • Korean FA Cup
    • Winners (4): 1996, 2008, 2012, 2013
  • Korean League Cup
    • Winners (2): 1993, 2009
  • Korean President’s Cup
    • Winners (1): 1974
  • FIFA Club World Cup
    • Third Place (1): 2009

Pohang Steelers / 포항 스틸러스 is a South Korean football team currently playing in the K League 1, the top tier in the South Korean football pyramid, and has been crowned as Korean champions on five separate occasions, as well as being Asian continental champion three times in their history. The Steelers come from the port, steel-making, and shipbuilding city of Pohang / 포항시, the third-most-populous city in the Korean Republic with over 497k inhabitants, and located on the mouth of the Hyeongsan River on Korea’s eastern coast. Pohang Steelers currently play their home games at the atmospheric 17,443-capacity Pohang Steel Yard / 포항스틸야드, the first football-specific stadium to be built in South Korea when it opened in November 1990. The ground is situated south of the Hyeongsan river, next to the enormous POSCO industrial district which occupies the majority of the port section of the city.

The club was founded in 1973 as the Pohang Iron and Steel Company Football Club (POSCO FC), a semi-professional club that represented the chaebol steelmaking company (and continues to own the club) in the Korean National Semi-Professional Football League. The club became one of the founding members of the K League in 1983, where it became professional and changed its name to the POSCO Dolphins, before another amendment to their name two years later to the POSCO Atoms. The second name change would start a successful period for the Atoms with their first two K League title victories coming in 1986 and 1988, with the club finishing as runners-up in both the 1985 and 1987 seasons. The club clinched a third league title four years after their second title, when they finished just a point ahead of Ilhwa Chunma (now Seongnam FC) and confirmed their position as one of the strongest teams in the country.

A third name change occurred in 1995 when the club changed to Pohang Atoms in an effort further strengthen ties with the local region, and the club would win their first Korean Cup a year later under their new iteration when they defeated Suwon Samsung Bluewings on penalties after a goalless draw. The club would enforce a fourth and final name change to their current moniker in 1997, just in time for Pohang to start making their mark in continental competitions. The new Steelers progressed to the final of the 1996-97 Asian Champions Cup (now the AFC Champions League) where they faced K League rivals and defending Asian champions Cheonan Ilhwa Chunma. In an amazing game, the Pohang side won the tie 2-1 via a golden goal-winning penalty from Park Ji-ho in extra time to become champions of Asia for the first time. Pohang Steelers successfully defended their continental title in the following season when they beat Chinese side Dalian Wanda (later to become the defunct Dalian Shide) on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes.

It wouldn’t be until the late 2000s when Pohang Steelers would acquire further silverware after having finished as Korean finalists in both the 2001 and 2002 finals, losing to both Daejeon Citizen and Suwon Bluewings respectively. Despite a third straight final defeat in the 2007 Korean Cup final to Jeonnam Dragons, the club was crowned as Korean champions for the fourth time when they beat Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 4-1 on aggregate in the end-of-season playoffs despite having finishing in fifth position during the league phase. They would finally achieve a Korean Cup final victory in 2008 by beating Gyeongnam FC 2-0, which enabled qualification for the 2009 AFC Champions League. Pohang Steelers made their way all the way to the continental final once again and squared off against Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad, whom they beat 2-1 in the final held in Tokyo to become the first club to win three Asian continental championships.

Pohang Steelers achieved further success in 2012 when they won their third Korean Cup by beating Gyeongnam once again before successfully defending their national cup trophy in the following season by overcoming Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors via a penalty shootout. 2013 would be a hugely successful year for Pohang as it would become a double-winning campaign by achieving their fifth league title, however, it would be done in dramatic fashion. An injury-time winner against title and fierce local rivals Ulsan Hyundai allowed Pohang to leapfrog their rivals and snatch the championship in the final minutes on the final day of the season. Alas, since that high-drama conclusion in 2013, it has been the last trophy the side has won, with the club going through the longest trophy drought in its history. They did surprisingly manage to reach their fourth AFC Champions League final in 2021, but lost 0-2 to Saudi side Al-Hilal in the final. Last season, Pohang Steelers finished in a respectable third position in the 2022 K League 1 table, meaning they will be competing in the 2023-24 AFC Champions League and chasing their fourth Asian title.

To talk about a side that has been the Korean champions on five occasions and Asian continental champions three times in their history, we spoke to the excellent Pohang Steelers EN Twitter account. They are an unofficial fan account for Pohang Steelers, detailing all news and all things going on at the club in the English language. They have also started to contribute to the English-language South Korean football website and podcast, K League United, where they’ll be producing articles or talking about Pohang. To read their articles, you can find the KLU website link, as well as their social media channels at the links below:

Q. Firstly, why did you decide to start following Pohang Steelers?

A Pohang Steelers game was the first football match I’ve ever seen in person. Being able to watch them play in the Steelyard and being able to see them in such close vicinity left a lasting impact on me since I was young. Personally, my parents and grandparents live in Pohang, meaning they are also the most local club to me in Korea.

Q. Who would you regard as Pohang’s best player, and coach/manager of all time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Kim Kwang-suk

Two players come to mind for the best player; the first being the all-time leader in appearances for the club, Kim Kwang-suk [defender who played for Pohang between 2003 and 2020 and made 364 league appearances for the Steelers]. A lot of fans might also agree with Hwang Ji-soo [central midfielder who played for Pohang between 2004 and 2017], who is currently the U-18 manager for the club, but with the exception of three years or so of his professional career, Kim was a one-club man for Pohang. He’s somebody that you associated with the club, and, as a centre-back, was someone that you could always rely on to perform and expect to show up. Being a former captain, I would argue that his leadership is still missed now, two years after he left for Incheon United.

Hwang Sun-hong

Picking Kim Gi-dong [current manager employed since April 2019] as the best manager of all time would be recency bias, so I would name Hwang Sun-hong [Pohang manager between December 2010 and November 2015]. Hwang, a former player for the club, was a popular figure not just in Pohang but in Korea as a member of the legendary 2002 World Cup squad. The way in which his squad won the 2013 K League, on the last matchday in stoppage time against the club’s fiercest rivals [beating Ulsan Hyundai 1-0], will forever be remembered by fans.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ for the club in the present squad?

Kwon Gi-pyo

I would point to [25-year-old right-back] Kwon Gi-pyo as the cult hero of the current squad. He’s a youth graduate, which already brings enough support amongst supporters, but he played a big part in our 2021 AFC Champions League Runners-up campaign. For the past few years, he’s never been a first-choice player but has always given his all when given the opportunity in the team.

Q. Of the current squad, who would you think is the best player at the club and why?

Shin Jin-ho

Without a doubt, [34-year-old attacking midfielder] Shin Jin-ho. He is the heartbeat of the team and without him, the team is not the same. Since he rejoined [in 2021], he’s been the spiritual and physical leader of the squad. Not only does he have the leadership, but he also has the talent. His poor performances are few and far in between.

Q. Are there any players at the club who you think we should be focusing on for the future?

Go Young-joon

The obvious answer is [21-year-old midfielder] Go Young-joon, but he’s already been a senior player for so long that it’s almost an awfully kept secret. I’d point to Lee Gyu-baeg, the centre-back. He’s already been playing for the U-20 national team and is admired by the manager. If he gets the right opportunities and develops well, he could be one of the best defenders in the league.

Q. Who would you regard as Pohang’s biggest or historical rivals?

There’s only one correct answer to this question and it’s Ulsan Hyundai. The Donghaean Derby (East Sea Derby), as it is called, is the game that I always stay up late or wake up early for, no matter what.

Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this past season has gone?

Things are looking up, but it’s very easy to be caught up in recent happenings when assessing the club’s performance. The fans (including myself) have always been upset with the lack of investment, and a number of transfer decisions in recent years, but the best way to look at things would be that we’re a club that can operate on a budget. There are a number of transfer decisions that give the feeling of the club being run like a business, but we’re always competing at a top level, which is exciting as a fan.

Q. Looking at the club’s history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?

2013, matchday 40 against Ulsan Hyundai at the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium. I briefly mentioned it before, but this game is deserving of its own deep dive-style documentary. Scoring to win the league in stoppage time of the last game of the season at your fiercest historical rival’s stadium? There’s no greater way to become champions, in my mind.

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?

The lack of investment, as mentioned before, is probably one of the worst things. It’s frustrating to see talented players sold to the highest bidder or star players have their contracts expire because we don’t want to pay them what they want (Song Min-kyu and Kim Kwang-suk are two recent examples). The best thing is that there is a strong sense of community. The club does a lot of charity work around Pohang, but in a footballing sense, there seems to be a great comradery among former Steelers players. We bring in former players all the time and a lot of our managers are former players.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Pohang Steelers?

Despite being such a historically great club, every fan gets the sense that we’re starting to slip behind. The big two in the K League are Jeonbuk Hyundai and Ulsan Hyundai, and I really hope that the front office of the club can do whatever it can to make that a big three, whether that be further investment or a change in the executive decision making.

The 2022 K League 1 table.

A massive thank you to Pohang Steelers EN for answering our questions on the K League 1 side Pohang Steelers. Remember you can find their social media accounts, and articles on K League United in the links towards the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s