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Official Review by Sasa Grujic, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
National Arena Philip II of Macedonia (Национална арена Филип II (втори) Македонски) is a multifunctional sports arena in Skopje, FYR Macedonia. A variety of concerts and other events have taken place here, but it is mostly used for soccer matches. Besides the Macedonian national team, also FK Vardar and FK Rabotnicki play their home matches in this arena with most European games of other clubs in Macedonia being played here also.
FK Vardar is the most popular brand in Macedonia and renowned soccer club. Founded in 1947, the club is proud of their 10 national titles and six national cups, one of which was won in the former Yugoslavia. Interestingly, the color of their jerseys (red and black) dates from 1963. Prior to that time the club wore a red-and-white combination, but after the disastrous earthquake that struck Skopje that year, the club´s white color was changed to black.
FK Rabotnicki is also one of only a few Macedonian soccer clubs who ever played in First league of Yugoslavia. That club’s color is red. Founded in 1937, FK Rabotnicki has won four titles and three national cups in their history. While FK Vardar has fans everywhere, FK Rabotnicki is the proud small club from Debar Maalo neighborhood. Both clubs are regular members of the best Macedonian league.
National Arena Philip II of Macedonia was built in 1947. Over the years it has been renovated several times, and was totally renovated in 2011 and reopened in 2012. Now its total capacity is 33,460 of which 32,580 are for soccer fans, 386 are for press, and 494 in VIP boxes. It is an all-seater stadium with 80% of the seats under the roof. Before the name change in 2009 in honor of the ancient king Philip II, the stadium was known as the City Stadium (Градски стадион).
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
It is not allowed to sell or distribute alcohol by law inside the stadium. Depending on who organizes the match, there may be sales of beverage or some kind of food just outside the stadium. The only safe option is from "the basket," which contains mainly seeds and peanuts.
If you are hungry or thirsty is the location, then grab something before or after the match. City Park on the quay by the river has food stands and restaurants offering many options.
The atmosphere is kind of ruined with the presence of an old nemesis of every soccer fan, a running track. If you try to sit behind the goals you will be very, very distant from what is happening on the pitch.
The stadium has a really nice bowl-shaped look from outside, although are still in progress with finishing some work on the north side. Four large staircases on each corner of the stadium, at the top of which are the gates, lead in the interior of the stadium. Inside the stadium appears to be larger than it really is. The pitch extends in an east to west direction. The wavy roof leaves a memorable impression and the stands are famous due to their steepness. But that steepness will guarantee that the atmosphere will be excellent even if the stadium is not sold out, which is very often the case. Two big LED scoreboards are installed on both the East and West stands.
The stadium is predominantly red and yellow (Macedonian national colors) with a blue running track. Moving around in the stands is easy and seats are comfortable. Stands are quite distant from the playing surface, so moving to the front of each section provides a better view point. With 80 percent of the seats covered, there is no reason to worry about bad weather conditions.
The stadium is located in a very beautiful part of City Park on the quay by the Vardar River. The location itself offers the option to have a drink with a view of the river and the fortress Kale in the distance while expecting the start of the match.
Right next to the stadium is situated the Vardar Youth Academy with the fan shop whose opening is planned for 2017. Only a few hundred meters across the boulevard you'll find Debar Maalo, the charming old neighborhood with an endless supply of restaurants. At both entrances on the south side you can find restaurants, one is low-budget and the other is located within a 4-star hotel. On the north side of the stadium, along the river, there are two lounge bars. Prices are varied, but mostly ranging from 50MKD for drinks and 200-800MKD for food ($1 = 54 Macedonian Denar). Along with grilled foods, "Tavche Gravche" (beans in a skillet) is one of the most popular dishes in Macedonia.
In downtown, the Square Macedonia is dominated by a huge monument to Alexander the Great, the historic conqueror and the son of Philip II, after whom the stadium is named. Across the river, situated on the highest point of the city is the Kale Fortress. Beneath it are the narrow streets in the Old Bazaar. Right there is the old and famous "kebapcilnica" Destan, where I would strongly suggest trying their "kebap" (meatballs). All this is only a mile away from the stadium.
If you have a longer stay in Skopje, try to visit the Millennium Cross situated on the top of the Vodno mountain 10 miles away from the center. The view from there is magnificent. At night the cross shines down over the city and is visible from every part of the city.
The city offers countless possibilities for lodging, from hostels to 5-star hotels. Prices range from $10 up to $120 per night.
There are rare occasions when the stadium is "almost" filled to capacity. With the exception of the national team, clubs have average attendance in the league.
The average attendance in comparison to stadium capacity is quite bad. Most of the club's matches are played in front of only a few hundred spectators, with the exception of a couple of derbies (e.g., FK Vardar vs KF Shkendia) where attendance might rise up to 11,000. When the stadium plays host to the national team, there are usually between 3,500 and 11,500 spectators, while in 2015 against European champions Spain drew almost 29,000.
FK Vardar supporters are known as Komiti and through history with their support they have become known as the 12th player of the team. They follow home games from the West stand. Also FK Rabotnicki supporters group, Legija V, supports the players at every game. Both groups stay involved throughout the game, but they are in small numbers and they do exactly what you expect hard core fans to do.
The stadium is quite accessible both in terms of getting to the stadium and moving around once inside.
The main train and bus station is located two miles from the stadium and at exactly half way is the very core of the city. There is no direct bus line between stations and the stadium, but if you prefer the bus you have to count on a little walk after a cheap ride in double-decker bus (30MKD). The nearest airport is Skopje Alexander the Great Airport, located about 15 miles away.
Very few parking lots are close to the stadium, and there seems to be a special regime during matches. The solution is street parking on the other side of the river and then across the pedestrian bridge to the north side of the stadium, at least until the completion of the parking garage.
For national team matches, ticket sales are available on the internet, but there won't be a problem buying your seat on the day even just a few hours before the match, as well as for the clubs who play here.
The main concourse is wide and traffic flows without problems to the seating area, but there is no view of playing surface from the concourse.
Overall, the price is just about right for the experience that you should expect when seeing a game at National Arena Philip II.
Tickets are cheap, on average 100MKD or less than $2, with the slightly higher price in the case of the renowned opponent. With food and beverage pretty inexpensive around the stadium there is hardly an option for someone to pay less to see a sporting event.
On August 8, 2017, the 2017 UEFA Super Cup will be played at the Philip II Arena. That is an annual football match organized by UEFA and will feature the winners of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions league and the UEFA Europa league. This will be a great opportunity to see this facility at its finest.
Skopje is a modern city, and also is a very attractive tourist destination with its fortress, cultural opportunities, and historical monuments. If you have not been in Skopje and you are also a sports fan, this is the right time to visit.
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ul. 106, br. 4
Partizanski Odredi 62
Skopje, Macedonia 1000
Skopje, Macedonia 1000
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