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Official Review by Botjan Černenek, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Stadion Ljudski Vrt (translation: People's Garden Stadium), the home of the ten-time Slovenian Champions NK Maribor, is the second largest stadium in Slovenia. The first pitch on the current stadium's ground was opened in 1952, but the stadium itself was completed 10 years later, in 1962.
The main stand, known for its nearly 20 meter high concrete ark, is considered a architectural and historical landmark of the city of Maribor. Ljudski Vrt is considered one of the most beautiful smaller stadiums in the world.
The stadium didn't undergo any major renovations until 2008 when the capacity of the stadium was increased by adding three covered stands. The all-seater now has a capacity of 12.994.
In addition to hosting games played by NK Maribor, Ljudski Vrt also is the home venue for the Slovenian national football team.
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".
Like in most European stadiums, food isn't a priority. There are several food stands located in the stadium area but you won't be impressed by the menu. You can choose from the usual fast food options like hamburgers and hot dogs, but that's about it.
When it comes to drinks you will probably be even more disappointed. After you reach the gates of the stadium there will be no alcoholic beverages, because laws in Slovenia prohibit the use of beer and other alcoholic drinks in stadiums and sport halls. You will, however, be able to buy non-alcoholic beer and choose from a large selection of other soft drinks.
Before you go through the gates, and after the game when you leave the stadium area again, you can buy all the beer you like, which makes the decision to not sell it in the stadium, well, interesting. The prices are pretty cheap as you will get beer or soda for about 2 and food for roughly 3-5.
Even though the stadium is rarely sold out, the atmosphere is almost always fantastic, especially in games played by NK Maribor. The club's ultras group, called Viole, lead the chanting and the rest of the stadium follows. The atmosphere is especially electric when NK Maribor faces NK Olimpija Ljubljana in the Večni Derbi (Eternal Derby) and in European competitions.
The fact that Maribor is currently playing by far the best football in the country assures that fans visit their games in large numbers. The stadium has numerous times been praised for its excellent acoustics which even further improves the atmosphere.
With the removal of the athletic track around the pitch in the last renovation the fans sit very close to the pitch, adding to the impressive mood as fans sit mere feet away from the players. There is also a tradition in Maribor (like in many European stadiums) that the public announcer only announces the first names of the home players and the fans will chant the last name, and when there is a sellout crowd the noise in the stadium is simply astonishing and can rival much bigger stadiums.
Ljudski vrt is located near the very center of the city Maribor on the left bank of the river Drava. Because of its location you are within walking distance of all major landmarks of the city. The must visit locations when in Slovenia's second largest city include: the house of the oldest grapevine in the world (Hia stare trte) - estimated to be around 440 years old, the Franciscan Church and the Maribor castle.
Also worthy of a special mention are Pohorje, a mountain range where FIS organizes Alpine Skiing World Cup races, the Maribor Synagogue and the Plague Column. There are also plenty of shopping centers and restaurants nearby. Restaurants will offer you a wide selection of traditional Slovenian dishes.
Most of the landmarks mentioned above are within a 15 minute walk from the stadium, but to visit Pohorje you will have to use the city's public transportation system. There are plenty of taxis to choose from, but Maribor has well organized bus routes that will get you to pretty much anywhere (and back) for a mere couple Euro - much cheaper than a taxi.
When talking about NK Maribor you have to differentiate two types of fans. There's your "casual" fan that will go to the game, cheer his lungs out and won't cause any problems.
And then there are members of what is the largest ultras group in Slovenia, Viole, that will chant every minute of every game, but they sometimes get carried away and cause some minor problems. You generally don't have to worry about them because they have their own section of the stands and they are constantly under a watchful eye of the men in blue. But it has to be said that without the members of Viole that the atmosphere of the stadium just wouldn't be as good as it is.
There are many different ways to reach the stadium. The main bus and train stations are nearby from where you can take a little walk to the stadium or you can take a city bus that will drop you off less than a hundred meters from the gates.
When going to the game by car you will do most of the trip on highways, except the last couple miles, but the closer to the stadium you get the more traffic you will encounter. However, the traffic isn't a big problem, finding a parking space is.
Ljudski vrt doesn't have dedicated parking facilities which leads to a long search of a free space in the city streets. On the bright side any parking space you find will be free of charge and you should easily find one that is within a 10 minute walk from the stadium.
The parking problems should be solved at some point in the near future as plans for a parking garage near Ljudski vrt already exist.
In the age when money appears to be king, it is rare to get such quality football at such a low price. For any seat in the house you will only have to pay 10, and for children until the age of 15 it is only 5. For games in European competitions the tickets prices are of course higher, but they are still much cheaper than in other stadiums where they can reach up 100, or even more.
Because there is no athletic track around the pitch the view is very good from all seats. Also, because Maribor play football at a very high level, especially by Slovenian standards, you will very rarely witness a boring, goalless game at Ljudski vrt. In fact, chances are very good that you will actually witness a high scoring affair.
Apart from good football and an impressive atmosphere, Ljudski vrt doesn't offer much more. The best thing about the stadium is that even though it's almost in the center of the city, you're still just a short walk away from being wherever you want to be, be it a shopping mall, a restaurant or in the middle of a forest on a hike.
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