MARIBOR – NK OLYMPIJA (1:0)
STADIUM: STADION LJUDSKI VRT
Three months is a long time since my last venture abroad so i was raring to go for this fixture, one that has been dubbed by some as “the mini Belgrade derby”. It was to be my first match in Slovenia although i had visited the country before but that time no football was involved. I had seen a few articles, photos and videos about this one, i knew it was a quite a hotly contested affair and really fancied it.
My flight path was Aberdeen-London Gatwick-Ljubljana, this gave me the cheapest route but also meant a 6 hour wait in Gatwick until my connecting flight into Ljubljana. This was fine as it meant i could have a few beers and it gave me the chance to update this very blog you are reading.
I knew it was not going to be terribly warm in Ljubljana so packed accordingly but it was a little shock discovering thick flakes of snow descending from the night sky at the terminal building upon arrival. I scurried to my prebooked taxi shuttle (would highly recommend www.goopti.com) which cost only €9, otherwise the standard bus at around €2 is another cheaper option.
I had no preconceptions about Ljubljana so my first observation was that it was a pretty modern and vibrant city. The architecture was a good mix of old and new buildings and the streets look clean and free of litter. Asking for directions the people seemed friendly and helpful as i made my way on foot to my accommodation.
It was meant to be a quiet night so i could get up early and do some sightseeing the following morning….but sometimes it never works out that way. There was a live band in the lobby of my hotel and the beer started to flow, before i knew it i had made some new friends and found myself a few streets away in the Club K4, a heady mix of hypnotic techno and house music. It was there that many more beers were sunk and without a care in the world i eventually staggered out of the club at 4am.
I heard trumpets when i awoke, the window was open and i could hear music and people outside. The sun was shining bright as i looked out and saw it was some sort of carnival atmosphere, i was surprised that i felt semi ok in light of me only having 5 hours sleep but got dressed and went to investigate. I had 3 hours until my train to Maribor so did a bit of exploring in the city.
Ljubljana is a beautiful city with a small centre which is easily accessible by foot. The streets were packed full of people and it was then i discovered it was carnival weekend, people of all ages had dressed up and there was a procession over the Zmajski Most (Dragon Bridge) into the main square. There was live music on an open stage by the Ljubljanica River, singing and dancing were going on sporadically and there were plenty of food stalls dotted along the riverbank. I sampled the local Pljeskavica, it was nice but you can’t beat a Bosnian version! I listened to the live music on stage….traditional it was…certainly not Club K4 style!
With time still on my side I wandered to the old Bezigrad Stadium about 20 minutes north of the main train station. Built in 1935 and closed in 2008 it was home of the old incarnation of NK Olympija. The stadium is a large open bowl shape that once welcomed the likes of Iron Maiden and Metallica but now the only rock in the stadium are crumbling ones. Overgrown trees, weeds and broken concrete is now the norm for this venue but it still has an amazing atmosphere largely due to the impressive large stone structure behind one end of the goals which looks like something from greek mythology. Neglected and dirty one can imagine it in it’s hey day bursting with people. It is eerily quiet now as i roamed the perimeter, there was no way in unfortunately so my photos were taken through gaps in the wall or holes in a fence. It was a lovely cold but sunny morning which showed it off in it’s splendour.
A walk back to the station seemed quicker than i had thought and i jumped on the train marked Maribor to head for the derby. I was meeting some other grounhoppers in the centre and once arrived i navigated my way to meet them in a small side street next to the River Drava. It was Saturday evening and i was surprised to find the streets very quiet, no traffic jams, not many people and it felt a little like a ghost town. My first impressions were not that good but as soon as i sunk my first beer the football and groundhopping chat was in full flow. After a couple of refreshments we walked to the Stadion Ljudski Vrt home of Maribor. Floodlight heaven greeted us as we approached. At an angle they pierced the night sky at 45 degrees, i just love a night game i thought.
We split up as we had tickets in different parts of the stadium and agreed to meet after the match. Just as well we were in good time as queues had formed and there was a 15 minute delay upon entry. My ticket was one of those e-tickets which i am not in favour of but with a bit of elbow shoving i made it inside and found my way to my seat which gave me a good view of both ends behind the goals. The home end was on my right and away fans, the Green Dragons, to my left.
It was busy with not many seats left, the atmosphere was electric when the teams came out then the pyro erupted 15 minutes into the half, fireworks projected over the field from the home end like a mini Belgrade derby sprung to mind. Smoke covered the stadium, play was stopped and the teams and officials congregated around the dugouts. After a 5 minute delay play started again but had to be halted shortly after, once again, when more flares were thrown onto the field from the home section and a large boom blew up a few seats and littered debris into the air near the corner flag sending fans scurrying away. I found out later a smoke bomb had injured some of their own fans. Finally a goal and it was Maribor who scored on 51 minutes which had been coming for a while as they were clearly the better side.
Over in the away sections the fans were pyroless so far preferring to use their voice. This was to change dramatically midway through the second half when as things usually do erupt out of nowhere the game was stopped for a third time as the Green Dragons lit up the night sky with an attractive illuminated display before lobbing them all onto the field. If your team are losing and don’t look like scoring the only thing left to do is to is to unleash your fireworks!
The game was finally over with Maribor squandering a few late chances and settled for the solitary goal victory which sent the fans home in a happy mood. There was no sign of trouble anywhere just good natured banter between two city rivals, plenty of signing and pyro. The prefect dish for a grounhopper. I met the others at the corner of the street outside the stadium, the temperature had dropped to -3 and we rather coldly scurried back to the warmth of the pub for some pre match drinks. This one was not a late one (for once!) as we had to be up early for our train to Zagreb