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Official Review by Sasa Grujic, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Stadion Gradski vrt (city garden) is a multi-use stadium in the eastern Croatian city of Osijek, the fourth largest city in the nation. It is home to two Croatian football clubs, NK Osijek and women`s club Fortuna NVO Osijek.
The official opening of the stadium was in 1980, but soccer was played in the same place with slightly different infrastructure since 1958. NK Osijek was founded in 1947 and throughout its history has not won a trophy, but the club has mostly played in the highest ranks of the Croatian competition.
In 1977 construction began on the new stadium on the site of the existing one, and the new stadium opened in 1980. The eastern and lower west stand experienced a reconstruction, while a big upper west stand was imagined, but never completed. In 1998, Stadion Gradski vrt got seats and shortly after floodlights. The current capacity of the stadium is 17,876 seats with an additional 980 standing places. The stadium also has a blue running track surrounding the pitch.
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Inside the stadium and the surrounding area are not allowed to sell or distribute alcohol by law.
In any case, at Stadion Gradski vrt there is no possibility for any kind of sale, except, from the "basket." In the basket there are mainly seeds, peanuts and soda in tetra pak, everything for 5 HRK (1€=7.62HRK). If you are willing to pay for the VIP entrance, you will usually have catering available.
For others there is a buffet outside the east stand which suddenly becomes full of fans at the half time. If you're thirsty, you can buy "Osječko" beer (what else?) for 12 HRK. Do not worry if you exit out of the stadium, admission during the second half is free.
As with most multi-purpose stadiums, the atmosphere for soccer games is somewhat lost due to the pitch being surrounded by a running track. Moreover, at the time when I was at the game (October 2015) hard core fans boycotted matches. The match was played in the ghostly empty and quiet Gradski vrt.
City Garden has an unattractive octagonal shape. The west stand is not completed and only opens when the Croatian national team plays at Gradski vrt (the Croatian national team is undefeated in nine matches in this stadium through October 2014). Moving around in the stands is easy, and seats are as comfortable as they appear. Stands are quite distant from the playing surface, so moving to the front of each section provides a better view point.
The stadium is predominantly blue (running track and stands) with white signs reading "NK Osijek" and "The City on the Drava River" to the east and the west grandstand.
The stadium is located in the southern part of the city, in an area called the Gradski vrt (City Garden). When you move from the city center to the south ring road, the first thing you see is a sports hall, and then a large grandstand and the floodlights of the stadium. Sports Hall Gradski vrt is designed as a multi-purpose gym and it opened in time for the 2009 World Handball Championship.
Part of the sports hall is a cafe and pizzeria. It is possible to order a variety of dishes. In addition to pizzas, the menu includes meat plates, fish, grilled and roasted dishes and even sandwiches. However, going to the city center or on the river bank contributes to the feeling of true Osijek. Coffee on the Osijek promenade with the cry of gulls or a plate of fish stew is must do when you are here on a visit. My strong recommendation is restaurant "Slavonska kuća" and their mixed fish stew (Croatian: fiš paprikaš) with a price of 45 HRK.
Two major attractions of Osijek are located in the center of town. The first is the Osijek Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul the Apostle, and the other is Tvrđa, the Old Town of the city of Osijek. Osijek is not a big city so everything is close to each other. Within 5 miles from the stadium on the other bank of the river there is a Zoo, the biggest in Croatia.
Overnight prices for hotels are moderately high, so it is hard to find a room, per person per night, for less than 200 HRK, while the prices of the two best hotels start from 500 HRK.
The stadium is home of a group of hard core supporters called Kohorta. Impatient to see them in action I was disappointed when I found out they were boycotting the matches.
In recent years, the stadium had a pretty good attendance of about 7,000-8,000 spectators.
The stadium is very accessible with a car, but although the Osijek public transport is well organized and covers the entire city, there are no departures after midday on weekends. The positive thing is that all important points are close to each other and they can be seen on foot.
The stadium itself does not have arranged car parking, but plenty of space around the stadium is available, as well as parking at the Sports Hall.
The procedure for purchasing tickets is very simple with a personal document on any gate. Entry on the stadium is fast, after the usual search of safety.
Navigating inside the stadium is easy. From all areas of movement you have a view of the playing surface. The positive thing is the ability to change stands in second half free of charge. In the southwest is the entrance for those who need assistance with mobility.
This is first division soccer at a low price. For any seat in the stadium you will only have to pay 30-40 HRK (4-5€). For eventual matches in European competitions and national team the tickets prices are little higher, but they are still cheap compared to many other European countries.
Cheap admission, with cheap food and beer around stadium, parking free of charge. There is no need to save money for this experience.
Except for that feeling of coming to a new stadium and seeing the pitch, Stadion Gradski vrt doesn't offer much more. However, one extra point for friendly staff.
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