Maribor is a city in the north-east corner of Slovenia just south of the Austrian border. At its southern boundary sits the River Drava and at the northern one a steep hill known as Pyramid Hill. With a population of almost 95,000, it is Slovenia’s second largest city after the stunning capital of Ljubljana.
Many medieval buildings remain in the city but the pride of Maribor’s waterfront is a vineyard – said to be the oldest vine in the world and one which has been producing grapes for 450 years. Specially designed bottles of more kavcina or ‘velvety black’ (a wine that is often given as a gift on state occasions) come from Maribor.
Evidence of wine growing in this area of Slovenia goes back to 1091. Wine is said to have existed in this region since the time of the Celts and Illyrians tribes long before the Romans would introduce winemaking.
With the decline of the former Yugoslavia, the city suffered greatly as its manufacturing links declined. Between the 1950’s and 1970’s many areas of the Styria region had undergone rapid industrialisation and Maribor became amongst the most important industrial centres of Yugoslavia.
Today the manufacturing has largely gone but the city again makes good use of its proximity to Austria and the larger city of Graz. Thanks to a location in the northeast of the country Maribor has developed into a major transit and cultural centre for northern Slovenia. Its football team has become known as the strongest in the former Yugoslavia after Dinamo Zagreb from Croatia.
NK Maribor was established in December 1960 and Maribor successfully took part in the Yugoslav Second League set up playing its first ever football match on 5 February 1961 when they defeated city rivals Kovar 2–1. In total, the club played over 25 seasons in the Yugoslav football set up including 17 in the second league where they were reasonably successful and 5 seasons in the first league.
Since its inception, NK Maribor has developed a passionate and dedicated fanbase and the fans are considered to be the best and most passionate in the country. While the fanbase at Olimpija has declined considerably over the years the supporters at Maribor have increased in numbers as well as in organisation. The club has a well-known fan group called Viole Maribor which was established in 1989 and provides the club with lots of noise and colour at home matches.
Maribor’s biggest football rivalry is still with Olimpija Ljubljana against whom they have long contested the eternal derby or Večni derby match as it is known in Slovenia. The additional intensity to the rivalry is given by the fact that both Maribor and Olimpija have support from the two biggest ultras groups in Slovenia namely Viole Maribor and the Green Dragons who support Olimpija.
The most notable feature of the Ljudski vrt stadium is the main stand which was one of the first of its kind in the former Yugoslavia. Its distinctive concrete arch is protected by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia as an architectural and historical landmark.
Despite its colourful appearance, the stadium remains the property of the Municipality of Maribor with the club only a tenant.
Described by the club as natural, cultural, architectural and a ‘sporting landmark of Maribor’ the stadium is a trademark of the city of Maribor. Ljudski vrt has hosted football matches since 1961 and was named after a public park that had been planted in 1873 on the territory of the present stadium. The park was later transformed into a military firing range until 1920 when the first football ground was built.
The present football field was built in 1952. The main stand, with its famous arch, was constructed ten years later and stands at 18.4m high.
In 1994 the wooden benches in the stadium were replaced by plastic seats and in 1998 concrete stands in uncovered areas of the stadium were redeveloped.
By the time the team debuted in the Champions League in 1999 the stadium was redeveloped according to the requirements of UEFA.
A new lease of life has been given to the stadium after more recent renovations (which started in 2008) made the Ljudski vrt a modern stadium.
Today the stadium has a capacity of 12,994 more than enough for the requirements of the club in both domestic and European football.
June 25, 1961: The first match is played at the Ljudski vrt (NK Maribor v Mladost Zabok: 3-2)
July 8, 1973: The match with the greatest number of spectators: 20,000 (NK Maribor v Proleter: 3-1)
August 24, 1984: The first football match under lights (NK Maribor v Norma Tallinn: 10-0)
August 25, 1999: UEFA Champions League debut (NK Maribor v Olympique Lyon: 2-0)
May 10, 2008: The first match at the newly refurbished stadium (NK Maribor v Nafta: 3-1)
You can see the photo set from Maribor here