Gangwon FC

강원도민프로축구단 / Gangwon Football Club


  • Best League Finish: 6th in the K League 1 (3 times)
  • Best Korean Cup Finish: Semi-Finals (2021)

Gangwon Football Club / 강원도민프로축구단 are a South Korean ‘football ‘community/citizen’ club that currently plays in the K League 1, the top tier league in the Korean football pyramid. They are based in the northeastern province of Gangwon / 강원도 and have played in a number of stadiums in the region but play a majority of their home games at the 20,000-capacity Chuncheon Songam Stadium in the city of Chuncheon / 춘천시. Chuncheon is the capital city of the province, with a population of approximately 285k, and is located at the confluence of the Soyang and Han rivers. It is also the home city of South Korea’s captain and star player, Son Heung-min, who has a sports park named in his honour in the east of the city.

The club was founded in late 2008 by the Gangwon Provincial Government to create a professional club that represented the rural border province and brought football to the area. The Bears (which is a symbol of the province) entered the K League for the first time in 2009, and became the first debutants to win their first game by beating Jeju United 1-0 in March of that year. They then won their next four games to produce an amazing start to their K League history, although they quickly faded and ended up finishing in thirteenth position for their debut season. In the first few seasons of the club’s history, the club finished towards the bottom of the table, with the 2011 season being particularly the worst when they finished bottom of the table and 12 points adrift of Daejeon Citizen in the fifteenth spot. Eventually, the K League decided to split into two leagues for 2013 with promotion and relegation between them, and Gangwon almost suffered dropping into the newly created K League Challenge (later K League 2) in 2012 when they avoided demotion by four points, with Gwangju FC suffering relegation instead. Alas, the northeastern side was delaying the inevitable, and in the following season their luck ran out. Despite finishing in twelfth position (their highest league finish in four years), they lost in the promotion-relegation playoffs, losing 2-4 on aggregate to Sangju Sangmu.

Gangwon spent the next three years competing in the second tier. They finished in third position in 2014 and qualified for the promotion playoffs but suffered a 0-1 loss to the eventually promoted side Gwangju in the semi-finals. A seventh-place finish followed in 2015 before they qualified for the promotion playoffs once again in 2016 after a fourth-place placement. This time, their luck was with them as they defeated Busan IPark, Bucheon FC 1995, and Seognam FC over two legs to confirm their promotion back to the K League 1. A 1-1 away draw in the second leg meant the Bears earned promotion via the away goals rule.

Since their surprise promotion in 2016, Gangwon FC have competed in the K League 1, with the 2023 season being their seventh consecutive season in the top flight. During that time period, they have achieved three sixth-place finishes, their highest league placement so far, and have reached the Korean Cup quarter-finals twice, and semi-finals once. The 2021 semi-final run saw them defeat Cheongju FC, Seoul E-Land, and Suwon Bluewings, before falling 0-1 to Daegu FC in the last four. For a period of time, Gangwon were one of the most entertaining sides in the league with their brand of “Byung-soo Ball” creating many plaudits for their buccaneering style of play. Alas, manager Kim Byung-soo left the club in 2021 when the club was under threat of potential relegation from the K League 1 as Byung-soo Ball became less effective and they finished in eleventh position (their lowest league finish during this period). However, they maintained their K1 status after overcoming Daejeon Hana Citizen 4-2 on aggregate, with Gangwon winning the second leg 4-1 at home. Last season, Gangwon rectified the wrongs of the 2021 season by achieving yet another sixth-place finish in the league under manager Choi Yong-soo.

To talk about one of the mainstays of the K League 1 who will be looking to achieve yet another top-six finish this season, and potentially claim their first piece of silverware, we spoke to the excellent Nathan Sartain. Nathan is a freelance journalist who currently writes articles on Gangwon FC for the English-language South Korean football website, K League United. To find out more about him, or read his superb articles on the Bears on the KLU website, you can find his social media channels and the KLU link below:

Q. Firstly, how did you decide to start following and supporting Gangwon FC?

During the COVID pandemic, when all British stadiums were closed, I quite fancied getting into another league. The 2021 K League season was just starting at the time, and it was easy to watch in the UK thanks to I’m an Evertonian, so wanted to find a team to watch that was similar to them, in the sense of there being a struggle to win trophies, or reach that upper echelon of the league. That way I’d be able to hopefully follow a side on a comparable trajectory.

Anyway, I watched Gangwon get beat 5-0 by Ulsan Hyundai and instead of thinking “yeah, I’ll steer clear,” I kept a bit of an eye on them, partly because I like rooting for teams who are a bit out of favour. Then, when they lost 2-1 to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors a couple of weeks later because of a really unfortunate goalkeeper mistake, I settled on being a Gangwon fan. At the very least, I thought it would be fun and interesting… which it has been! Plus, I quickly developed a genuine affection for the team too, rather than a curiosity for supporting them while they were under the cosh. I’ve woken/stayed up many times now in the early hours to make sure I can watch a game, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Q. From your time following the club, who has been your favourite player, and the reasoning behind your choice?

Kim Dae-won

Kim Dae-won [26-year-old forward], for sure. In 2021, he was the player who you’d always look towards for moments of brilliance, and without him, I really think Gangwon would probably have gone down that season. Then, the year after, he managed to improve even further and developed a really good wing partnership with Yang Hyun-jun. He strikes me as a bit of a leader too, and his attitude is really impressive. I know it’s been a bit of a tough start for him so far this campaign, but I back him to come good and then some!

Lee Jeong-hyeop

As an honourable mention though, I really like Lee Jeong-hyeop [31-year-old striker] too. He mightn’t be the most prolific striker in front of goal, but you can’t fault his work ethic, and he really does put everything into his performances.

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

Similar to the last answer, it has to be Kim Dae-won. With his 12 goals and 13 assists last year, he really showed off his ability, and it played a massive part in getting Gangwon to the top half. He’s a threat when taking set pieces, fast, creative, and fairly prolific, so it’s hard to pick anyone else really.

As a bit of a fun fact, Kim Dae-won is already the fourth-highest goalscorer in Gangwon’s (admittedly short) history.

Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?

Yang Hyun-jun
[IMAGE: Gangwon Website]

Midfielder Yang Hyun-jun is the obvious answer. At age 20, he’s already been spoken about for a big move, and some people will remember he grabbed headlines with an excellent substitute appearance against Tottenham during their pre-season tour of Korea.

He got 8 goals and 4 assists last year, won the KFA Young Player of the Year award, and really sticks out for being a strong dribbler, though his finishing could do with a bit of refining!

Kim Jin-ho
[IMAGE: Gangwon Website]

Personally though, I also really like Kim Jin-ho. He’s a bit older at 23, but the right-back was really impressive when coming into the side last year, and looked pretty much undroppable at stages. He’s struggling for game time a bit now that Yu In-soo has arrived, but I’m sure he’ll still be a regular fixture in some capacity.

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

This is a hard one because they don’t really have any! There’s the “orange derby” with Jeju United, but that’s purely because of the colour of both teams’ kits, so I definitely don’t think that counts. From a personal perspective though, I always have a bit of extra investment when Gangwon play Ulsan Hyundai because Gangwon haven’t won in that fixture since 2012!

Q. From your time following the club, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?

The best game, result and performance probably all goes hand-in-hand with this one: Gangwon FC 4-1 Daejeon Hana Citizen in the 2021 promotion/relegation playoff second leg.

After struggling for near enough the whole year, Gangwon sacked Kim Byung-soo with barely any time left in the season, then brought in Choi Yong-soo for the final two games. Despite slightly improved performances, Gangwon couldn’t prevent themselves from being drawn into the promotion/relegation playoff, and then they lost the first leg 1-0.

At that point, it all felt a bit bleak, so when Daejeon took the lead in the reverse leg, I was ready to resign myself to the fact that my first season following Gangwon would be one that ended in relegation. However, what quickly followed the setback was an inspired, resilient performance that included three goals being scored in five minutes, then a euphoric Hwang Mun-ki goal right at the end to seal things. So definitely that! I’ll always remember that game I think.

Q. What do you think of the situation in Korean league football currently? Are there any improvements you would like to see happen?

I think the league is starting to get more competitive, which is only a positive. However, and I know this is becoming a bit of a popular opinion anyway, as well as that Suwon FC’s Lee Seung-woo has tweeted his opinions on the matter too, but I’d like to see the U22 rule tweaked a bit.

Admittedly, I don’t know the answer to how you deal with it, but it can be a bit deflating to see young players used as part of a way to get five subs. Some teams do use their young players well, though.

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

The 2022 K League 1 table.
[IMAGE: Wikipedia]

This season hasn’t quite been great, but while things started to look concerning, two wins in a row have ensured that there’s still room for optimism. Right now though, performances are still a little below what they were at the peak of Choi Yong-soo’s powers which came about last summer, and we’re yet to see the attack firing on all cylinders. Still, Yang Hyun-jun has really worked hard to get himself back into form, which has been a massive help.

[IMAGE: Gangwon Website]

Still, I do think that the club is in fairly good health, even if there are some early worries this season. Choi Yong-soo has proven himself capable of handling the squad, and while budget-wise it’s improbable the Bears can compete with some of the top-tier clubs in the league, some signings like Galego [26-year-old Brazilian winger brought in from Moreirense in 2022 first on loan in 2022, and then made permanent this year] provide the quality that’s needed to remain competitive in the top division. As long as Gangwon gets over this poor run, which I trust they will, I think things will play out just fine going forward.

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

I think the best thing about being a Gangwon supporter is that you do feel like you’re rooting for a bit of an underdog. Plus, with them only forming in 2008, it’s easy to get acquainted with all that’s happened in Gangwon’s time as a club (not much), and then in turn become invested in their future. That does sort of double-up as a negative, though, because if you’re looking for a club laced with rich history, this isn’t it. That, and there does seem to be a bit of a ceiling to where Gangwon can go, which isn’t exactly enticing if you like your teams to be in with a shout of regular trophies.

I would say though, at least while players such as Kim Dae-won and Yang Hyun-jun are here, that Gangwon are worth more than a passing glance. It’s always nice to have star players so fans can build an attachment to them.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Gangwon FC?

Stability. It might sound like it’s a statement lacking ambition, but for me, it’d be nice for Gangwon to become a consistent fixture around the middle of the table, and have them comfortably avoid being pulled into relegation trouble. 2021 has scarred me in a way, so I’m always fearful of a repetition of that year whenever a winless run comes about.

The 2021 K League 1 table.
[IMAGE: Wikipedia]

A massive thank you to Nathan Sartain for answering our questions on the K League 1 side Gangwon FC. Remember you can find their social media accounts 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 or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s