Few countries are as football-mad as Korea. The national team’s fans, known as the Red Devils, have won worldwide acclaim for their vociferous and passionate support. And with players like ex-Bundesliga star BeumGeun Cha, former Man Utd midfielder JiSung Park and current Tottenham winger HeungMin Son, the country has no shortage of football stars both past and present. The country even co-hosted the World Cup in 2002, reaching the semi-finals.
However, despite its reputation as a football-crazy nation, Korea actually had no large-scale, purpose-built stadium until relatively recently. Although the World Cup saw a flurry of stadia built across the country, including the 66,704-seater Seoul World Cup Stadium, POSCO’s Steel Yard predates the lot.
Home of the Steelers
Constructed 12 years before Korea would host the World Cup, the Steel Yard is the home of Pohang Steelers FC, one of the most successful Korean professional teams of all time. The club has won three Asian Champions League titles, five K-League Classic trophies and has bagged the FA Cup on four occasions, with the bulk of the club’s success coming after the Steel Yard’s construction.
Unlike many other K-League grounds, a number of which feature running tracks, at the Steel Yard only a few meters separate the pitch from the stands. This means that fans here get a lot closer to the players – and the on-field action – than anywhere else in the K-League. If you like your football up-close-and-personal, say fans, nothing in Korea comes close to the Steel Yard.
The experience is reminiscent of grounds in the UK, where multi-purpose stadia are rare and football-specific grounds are the norm. The Steel Yard was the brainchild of POSCO founder TaeJoon Park, a keen football enthusiast who founded the club as a company team called the POSCO Dolphins back in 1973.
The stadium opened to the public in November 1990, with a curtain-lifting friendly between the home team, then known as the Pohang Steelworks Atoms, and a Korea University XI. Fans across the country were wowed by the new stadium, which instantly won acclaim among Pohang residents and visiting away fans alike.
Galvanized by the new stadium and the 17,000 fans it could accommodate, Pohang Steelers went on to achieve great things in the football world, clinching the 1992 K-League title. By the mid-1990s, the club was arguably the most dynamic force on the continent, sweeping to Asian Champions League glory in 1997 and successfully defending its title the following year.
The Steel Yard was not selected as a World Cup venue in 2002 due to the fact FIFA standards judges the ground’s capacity to be too low to host major international matches. This was bemoaned by media professionals and fans alike. Website Football Tripper say the Steel Yard “would have been one of the finest venues in the tournament if it had been chosen” to host World Cup 2002 matches.
In the early 2000s, the Steel Yard underwent a major facelift, expanding its capacity to the 20,000-25,000 mark, and adding a new sound system, scoreboard and a brand new, ultra-playable pitch.
Again, possibly thanks in part to the upgraded stadium, the Steelers went on a run, taking the K-League title in 2004 and later climbing – once more – to the summit of Asian football.
Few Pohang fans will ever forget the sight of the vibrant Steel Yard urging the team to a thrilling extra time 4-1 victory in the 2009 Asian Champions League quarter-final. The home side’s rivals on the day were a Bunyodkor team that featured World Cup winner Rivaldo and was coached by fellow World Cup-winning manager Luis Felipe Scolari.
The Steelers went on to win the subsequent semi-final, with a 2-0 win against Qatari team Umm-Salal at the Steel Yard. They followed this up by travelling to Tokyo for the final, which they won 2-1 against Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.
The Steel Yard has won over plenty of fans in the international media in the years since its inception. Writers at website StadiumDB say the ground has a “special meaning to football in South Korea,” while Sydney Morning Herald says it is “is often held up as the best boutique stadium in Asia,” praising its “motivational” qualities.
For football fans keen to experience the Steel Yard for themselves, the K-League season is still going strong, and crowds of up to 16,509 have flocked to the stadium to see Pohang in action. Although the 2016 campaign has been up-and-down for the Steelers so far, there is still plenty to play for, with potential ACL spots up for grabs.
As the K-League comes towards a thrilling conclusion, and with clement autumnal weather on its way, there is no better time than Fall 2016 to head to the Steel Yard and see why the ground is known as the “pride of Pohang.”