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Friday, 23 January 2015

Korean Joga Bonito, Part I: Busan IPark


Busan IPark (Hangul: 부산 아이파크) is a South Korean professional football club based in Busan Metropole, South Korea that currently competes in the K League Classic. Its current home ground is Busan Asiad Main Stadium, located in 344 World Cup Road, Geoje 2-dong 1299-beonji (Previous landlot number: 123 World Cup-gil), Busan Yeonje-gu. The stadium with the capacity of 53,864 spectators was used for 14th Asian Games and FIFA World Cup in 2002.

As one of the original five members of the Korean Super League, Busan IPark holds the distinction of being one of three clubs (the others being Pohang Steelers and Jeju United) to continuously compete in the K-League since 1983, the league's inaugural season. Initially, the club was simply called Daewoo in reference to the company that originally owned and financed it.

After being at the top of the league for most of the 1983 season, Daewoo finished second in its league debut conceding the title to Hallelujah FC by a single point after a goalless draw against Yukong Elephants (now known as Jeju United FC) in the Masan Series. In its sophomore season, the club turned professional, renamed itself as Daewoo Royals, and clinched its first league title after defeating Yukong Elephants by an aggregate score of 2-1 in the 1984 K-League Championship playoff. The Royals reached the playoff after winning the second stage of a league which now included the likes of Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso (now known as FC Seoul) and Hyundai Horang-i (now known as Ulsan Hyundai).

Daewoo Royals headed into 1986 K-League season as continental champions after clinching the 1985–86 Asian Club Championship, becoming the first Korean side to accomplish this feat, on January 29, 1986 defeating Al-Ahli 3-1 at extra time in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Despite continental success, the team suffered a dismal season and failed to reach the 1986 K-League Championship playoff after finishing fourth in the first stage of the league and third in the second.

After finishing at the top of the league with 46 points, the Royals clinched their second league title in 1987, but in the 1988 season, the Royals finished at the bottom of the league for the first time in their club's history. After a couple more years of failure, the Royals recaptured the league title in 1991 (making it their third) finishing ten points ahead of their closest competitor that season, Hyundai Horang-i. The Royals' momentum did not last as the club struggled in the ensuing seasons finishing at or near the bottom of the league.

At the end of 1995 season, K-League sides began the process of 'localizing', and the club became known as Pusan Daewoo Royals (부산 대우 로얄즈) in reference to its city of residence. In 1997, Pusan Daewoo Royals lifted its fourth league title becoming the first team to have won the K-League Championship four times. The Royals were also the first team to have won the league twice (in 1987) and thrice (in 1991).

Although the 1998 season marked the emergence of an exciting young forward named Ahn Jung-hwan, the Royals finished mid-table. But, the club managed to qualify for the 1999 K-League Championship playoffs after placing fourth in regular season. During the playoffs, the Royals managed to knock out Chunnam Dragons and Bucheon SK to secure the right to face defending champions, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, a club which was at the pinnacle of its meteoric rise. The Bluewings denied the Royals the chance to become the first club to win five league titles in K-League history after winning both legs of the final in an aggregate score of 4-2.

As a company-owned club, the Royals' success was invariably linked to the health and success of its owner, Daewoo corporation. In the late 1990s, the company began to suffer from major financial difficulties and parted ways with its once successful sports franchise. IPark Construction, the domestic construction division of Hyundai, secured ownership of the club acquiring all its past history and records. The new owners not only renamed the club as Busan i.cons ("con's" refers to construction; Hangul: 부산 아이콘스), but also changed the club's home colors from blue to red and moved it from Busan Gudeok Stadium, Busan Seo-gu to Busan Asiad Stadium in Busan Yeonje-gu.

Under new ownership, the club seldom challenged for the title finishing mid-table or toward the bottom of the league in the '00s. Aside from winning the FA Cup for the first time in club history in 2004 under the guidance of Scottish manager Ian Porterfield (defeating Bucheon SK in a penalty shootout), the trophy cabinet remained largely empty.

On the onset of the 2005 season, the owners changed the club's name to Busan I'Park(currently Busan IPark). After winning the first stage, Porterfield's Busan side reached the 2005 K-League Championship playoffs, but lost to a traditionally lightweight, but then-inspired Incheon United side led by Chang Woe-ryong. That same year Busan IPark managed to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League only to suffer heavy defeat to eventual winners, Al-Ittihad, by an aggregate score of 7-0.

For the 2008 season, Hwang Sun-hong took over as manager. Although Busan did not win any silverware during his tenure, he did manage to bring in players such as Kim Chang-Soo, Jeong Shung-hoon, Yang Dong-hyun and Kim Geun-cheol while injecting the team with much needed youth by giving prospects such as Han Sang-woon, Park Hee-do, and Park Jong-woo first team opportunities. In his final season in charge of Busan, Hwang managed to lead his side to the 2010 Korean FA Cup Final only to suffer a 1-0 defeat to Suwon Samsung Bluewings under acrimonious circumstances with Hwang getting visibly upset and losing his temper over questionable calls against his side and cynical play by the Bluewings.

For the 2011 season, the board appointed Ahn Ik-soo to take over Hwang Sun-hong who had left to manage his former club side, Pohang Steelers. Under Ahn (known as the "Terminator" during his player days), Busan managed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2005 after finishing fifth on the league table in regular season. Ahn's Busan side was knocked out in the first round of playoffs by Suwon Samsung Bluewings by a familiar scoreline of 1-0.

In February 2012, adjustment was made to the club's name by dropping an apostrophe making the official name read Busan IPark.