Thursday, October 25, 2012

NK Maribor FC

NK Maribor 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1 - UEFA Europa League, Group Stage

Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia with 95,200 inhabitants as of 2011. It is also the largest city of the traditional region of Lower Styria and the seat of the City Municipality of Maribor. Maribor is, jointly with Guimarães in Portugal, the 2012 European Capital of Culture. Many Medieval structures still stand. Of the remains of city walls, the most prominent are the Judgement Tower, the Water Tower, and the Jewish Tower. The Maribor Cathedral was built in the Gothic style in the 13th century. The Town Hall was constructed in the Renaissance style. Ruins of the first Maribor castle from the 11th century and a chapel from the 19th century are situated at Piramida Hill which dominates the northern border of the city. The hill offers an easy-to-reach view of Maribor and its southern hinterland with the Drava River.

The Old Vine, the oldest vine in the world
NK Maribor FC was founded in December 1960, and is one of only three football clubs in the country who have never been relegated from Slovenian top flight. The most successful club in the country, having won ten Slovenian PrvaLiga titles seven Slovenian Cups and two Slovenian Supercups. The club's most successful period was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when they were led by managers Bojan Prašnikar, Ivo Šušak and Matjaž Kek and overwhelmingly dominated domestic football, winning seven successive league titles and three national cups. Maribor also has a loyal and passionate fan base and the club has the highest average all-time attendance in Slovenia.

An early afternoon departure from Stansted enabled us to reach the centre of Ljubijana for just after 5:00pm, having taken advantage of a reduced price offer of a taxi from the airport to the railway station for 5 Euros. We opted not to go straight to Maribor in favour of a visit to Kratochwill. This restaurant/bar is located in a street opposite the main entrance to the railway station. It proved to be an inspired choice for both food and drink. There are two homebrew ales on draught, both of which are very nice. The Light beer (4.9%) is refreshing and sharp to taste whereas the Dark Porter ale is deceptively strong with a smooth sweet taste. Ciderman opted for Goulash and this Pieman chose the Balkan Speciality – an enormous burger type presentation of chopped meats served in doughy bun with raw onion and sauces.

We caught the 7:45pm InterCity Slovenija service which arrived at Maribor just after 9:30pm. Our hotel was located on the opposite side of the River Drava to the main part of town but we were able to walk there in around 25 minutes. There was very little open by way of bars and it is fair to say that a Wednesday night in Maribor is not as lively as many places.

The following morning, after a decent breakfast, we ventured back across the river. Our first port of call was Stadion Ljudski vrt where we managed to gain access and take some daylight photographs. After this we had a stroll around town and also went to see what is reputed to be the oldest vine in the world! Later on at the stadium an hour before the scheduled kick off, we gained entry via the turnstiles only to find that this was for the home fans section.  Not daunted by this, we opted to remain in this area as it afforded a better view and we knew we would be able to leave at the conclusion of the match.

Hot Dog!
The capacity of the all seater stadium was surely exceeded as there were many fans standing in aisles around the stadium. Not sure what happened but this Pieman would not be surprised if this were a regular occurrence for the occasional big matches at the stadium. Another unconvincing performance from Spurs saw them fall behind to a scrambled effort shortly before the break. Just before the hour, Spurs drew level and the London side achieved a 3rd successive draw in the group. After the match, we managed to find ourselves at a reception taking place in a sports hall immediately adjacent to the main stand. A complimentary beer was consumed before we headed off in to the night air.

The local beer in the Maribor area is Lasko, brewed in the town of that name. The largest brewery in the country produces a decent beer and one that we sampled on a number of occasions whilst in town. We also enjoyed Union, which is brewed at Ljubijana. Our journey to Maribor had been in darkness. Therefore it was an absolute delight to travel back to Ljubijana in daylight. The scenery for much of the journey is breathtaking and it is easy to see why many people describe Slovenia as a beautiful country. Before heading off to the airport we took the opportunity to revisit Kratochwill for further refreshment. This Pieman can recommend the pork chops in pepper sauce washed down with more homebrew ale.

Attendance: 12994
Admission: 15 Euros
Programme: 72 pages 4 Euros (covers all three home matches for the group stage)

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