History of NK Maribor

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This article is about the history of NK Maribor football club. For an overview of the club, see NK Maribor.

The History of NK Maribor football club covers over 50 years of football from the club based in Maribor, Slovenia. Established on 12 December 1960 the club would eventually become the most successful team in the history of Slovenian football.[1]


The first step in the establishment of Maribor, as we know it today, was the creation of the 1. Slovenski Športni Klub Maribor (I. SSK Maribor), on 28 June 1919, in a small tavern called Jadran on Partizanska cesta street in Maribor.[2] Their first match soon followed, when I. SSK Maribor lost against Hertha (1–4) on 19 July. The club won their first match against a fellow Maribor based club called SK Aero on 7 September 1919, (7–5). It wasn't until 1920 when the club acquired their very first pitch in Ljudski vrt. Club players also helped in preparing the pitch. During the inter-war period the Slovenian football scene was dominated by clubs located in Ljubljana and therefore Maribor managed to win the Slovenian Republic league title only three times (1931, 1933 and 1939).[3] After World War II Fiskulturno Društvo Maribor (FD Maribor) stepped in as the successor of the I. SSK Maribor. In the first match after the war, on 23 September 1945, FD Maribor met local rivals FD Železničar. The match finished with a goalless draw (0–0). In 1949, FD Maribor started to compete under the name Branik and three years later, on 12 July 1952, the club received a new pitch in Ljudski vrt where it still stands today. The club then played in the second Yugoslav division since 1953–54 season but was abolished in August 1960 due to a food poisoning affair before the match against Karlovac.[2]

Formation and early years (1960–1967)[edit]

Maribor's original kit

NK Maribor football club was founded on 12 December 1960.[1] The board of the newly established club then organized the presidential elections and Dr. Srečko Koren was appointed as the first club president, while Andrija Pflander was appointed as the first head coach and Oto Blaznik as the first team captain. Blaznik was also the one who proposed the combination of purple and white jerseys to the club board.[4] The newly established club played its first match on 5 February 1961, when they defeated city rivals Kovinar by 2–1 (0–0), with Stefan Tolič scoring both goals.[5] Despite heavy rain 1,500 spectators came to see the match. It was clear that the local fans saw the newly established club as the successor of the club that had been dissolved couple of months earlier. The team colours were purple and white from the beginning, however, the team played its first match in green and blue combination as their violet jersey's were not available in time for the first match.[5]

The first official league match was played on 12 March 1961, in Nova Gorica, when the club played against the local team and won by 2–0. The team won the Republic League (third tier of Yugoslav football) in its first season and therefore won the right to play in qualifications for the Yugoslav Second League.[5] Andrija Pflander was the head coach of the team that won the Republic league, however, he had to step down from the position of head coach right before the start of the promotional qualifications due to illness.[5] His successor became Vladimir Šimunić, a man who eventually led the team into the Yugoslav First League six years later.[5] Maribor went through as a winner in the first two rounds of the qualifications and eventually defeated Uljanik from Pula, Croatia in the final phase with the score 2–1 aggregate, therefore securing the right to play in second Yugoslav division.[5]

In 1961 the club received a new stadium called Ljudski vrt and on 2 September of the same year, football fans across Slovenia witnessed the birth of a new rivalry between Maribor and Olimpija Ljubljana.[6] The first match between the two clubs was played in Ljubljana and ended with a draw (1–1). Matches between these two clubs later became known in Slovenia as Eternal derby (Večni derbi). After five seasons, during that time the average attendance on home matches was around 8,000 spectators, the club under the guidance of coach Simunič won the second division and managed to reach the Yugoslav first league, becoming one of only three Slovenian clubs in history that played in top flight of Yugoslav football.[5]

Yugoslav First League (1967–1972)[edit]

The club's first match in Yugoslav top division was played in 1967 against Vardar (1–1) in Skopje - Maras scored the only goal for Maribor.[5] The first home match was played on 27 August against Proleter Zrenjanin in front of 8,000 spectators and Maribor won with the score 3–0.[5] The goals were scored by Kranjc, Arnejčič and Binkovski.[5] During the same season, football fans across Slovenia witnessed the first match in Yugoslav first league between two clubs from Slovenia, when Maribor hosted a match against the newly established rivals Olimpija Ljubljana in front of 13,000 spectators (0–0).[7] All matches between the two clubs during this time were sold out, with crowd attendance sometimes reaching up to 20,000 and were also the only matches in Yugoslav first league between two clubs from Slovenia. The team finished its first season in Yugoslav top flight on 12th position.[5] During the five years played in Yugoslav First League Maribor played a total of 166 matches and achieved 40 wins, 57 draws and 69 defeats, with a goal difference of 166–270. Maribor's highest league position was in 1969–70 season when the club finished on 10th place in a league with 18 teams.[5] The average league placing of the club in Yugoslav top-flight was 13,8. 1971–72 was the last season spent in the Yugoslav first league as the team finished on last place with 20 points.[8]

During the five seasons spent in Yugoslav top division the club played a total of 10 matches against Olimpija Ljubljana with an overall score of two wins, three draws and five defeats and a goal difference of 14–24.[6] The last home match was played on 11 June 1972, ironically, against Olimpija Ljubljana. This was also the last match of the season in the Yugoslav first league for the club.[8] The rivals from Ljubljana won the match 6–3.[8] Maribor was relegated and never played in the Yugoslav top league again.[8] Mladen Kranjc, one of the best players in history of the club,[9] was the best goalscorer for the team in each of its five seasons spent in the Yugoslav first league, having scored 54 goals, which brought him a transfer from Maribor to, then top Yugoslav club, Dinamo Zagreb.[9]

The dark days (1973–1990)[edit]

Next season Maribor played in second Yugoslav division and finished as runner up, which meant that the team qualified for the Yugoslav first league promotional playoffs.[8] In the first qualifying round against Budućnost the team defeated their opponents after penalties and qualified in the decisive round against Proleter.[8] The first leg was played in Maribor on 8 July 1973, and is remembered as one of the most historic matches in history as it still holds the record for most spectators on the club's home match.[8] There were 20,000 spectators, 15,000 of them were already gathered on the stands close to three hours before kickoff, and Maribor won 3–1.[10] Two goals advantage was, however, not enough as Proleter won the second leg match at home 3–0 and earned the promotion with the score 4–3 aggregate.[8] In the second match when the score was 1–0 for the home team Maribor scored a goal for 1–1 in the 23rd minute, but the goal was disallowed by the main referee.[8] Later, the TV review showed that the ball had actually crossed the line and that the goal should have counted.[8]

After the dramatic playoffs against Proleter a period of stagnation begun for the club. The team finished the new season on 13th place in second division and barely avoided relegation.[8] But it was in the very next season (1974–75) that the club was relegated from the second Yugoslav division, which meant that the team was not part of the top two divisions of Yugoslav football for the first time after 14 years.[8] However, the team returned to the second division after only one season and was again close to promotion into top division during 1978–79 season when it finished on second place, six points behind Čelik. At the end of 1980–1981 season Maribor was celebrating as the club managed defeated Čelik 4–2 in the decisive last round finished on 10th place and avoided relegation, when the "Ball" (Žoga) bribery scandal caused that the club was relegated, by the disciplinary committee of the Football Association of Yugoslavia, from second division into third division.[11] The club had a secret fund that was used for bribing of the officials and opponents.[12] Some officials at the club were keeping track of the bribery expenses in their black book, which was later confiscated by the authorities.[12] From the book it is clear that Maribor had bribed a total of 31 people.[12] The club was relegated and had to play in the Slovenian Republic league (third tier of Yugoslav football) for the next season.[11] The club never fully recovered from the affair and was bouncing between second and third division up until the independence of Slovenia in 1991.[11]

From 1988 and until the independence of Slovenia in 1991 the club played in the Western group of the newly formed Inter-Republic League (third tier of Yugoslav football) with teams from Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1988 Maribor merged with a local football club, Branik, and formed Maribor Branik.[13] Although the club uses the name NK Maribor in domestic and international competitions it is, nevertheless, registered under the name of NK Maribor Branik to this day.[14] The two clubs had always had close ties as Branik was dissolved couple of months before the foundation of Maribor and, at the time, many fans that supported Branik simply switched to Maribor as they viewed the club as the successor of Branik.[13] The latter was later reestablished and, legally, the two clubs had nothing in common until the eventual merger in 1988.[13] During the same year on 22 October, Mladen Kranjc was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident in Dolnja Počehova.[9] Considered as one of the best goalscorers in history of the club, he died at the age of 43.[9][11]

New country - New league (1991–1996)[edit]

After the declared independence of Slovenia in 1991, Slovenia's best clubs were joined into the Slovenian League.[15] Maribor was one of the league's founding members and is one of only three clubs, the others being Gorica and Celje, that has never been relegated from Slovenian top division. The team played its first match of the newly formed league against Gorica in Nova Gorica, 1–1.[15] Later the match was registered as a 3–0 win to Gorica because Maribor's goalscorer Ante Šimundža was not eligible to play for the team.[15] The team had to wait until the second round when they won their first points after they defeated Koper with the score 5–0.[15] The first official goalscorer for the club in a Slovenian league match was Igor Poznič.[15] During the first couple of seasons, Maribor's rivals Olimpija from Ljubljana, which has had a long tradition of playing in the Yugoslav first league and at the time still had their squad composed of players from that era, dominated the league.[15] Although Olimpija Ljubljana was dominating the league, Maribor still managed to win the first Slovenian Cup.[15] The final match was played in Ljubljana on the Bežigrad Stadium against Olimpija. The match ended in a goalless draw (0–0) and was won after a penalty shoot-out (4–3).[15] This was the first major success for Maribor.[15]

During the next season the team played its first match in the European competition (UEFA Cup Winners' Cup). It was on 19 August 1992, when the team hosted Ħamrun Spartans from Malta and won with the score 4–0.[15] Ante Šimundža scored the first historic goal[15] and still holds the record for most goals (9) in European club competitions for the club.[16] Next season the team again played in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and achieved its biggest victory in European competitions to date, when they defeated Estonian side Norma with the score 10–0. The same match is also historic for being the first match in Ljudski vrt stadium that was played during the night.[17]

Olimpija Ljubljana won the first four consecutive championships, while Gorica won in the 1995–96 season.[18] Maribor was runner up in the 1991–92, 1992–93 and 1994–95 seasons, while ending third in 1993–94 and fourth in 1995–96 season. During this period the club managed to win another Slovenian cup in the third season (1993–94), after the club defeated Mura from Murska Sobota in two matches (aggregate 3–2).[15]

Total domination (1996–2004)[edit]

1996–97 season was the turning point in the history of Maribor. The club stormed the Slovenian League and became the national champion for the first time in history.[15] During this season the average home attendance of Maribor's matches was 5,289 spectators, still a record in Slovenian League to date.[19][20] The final match of the season was played on 1 June 1997 against Beltinci and gathered a crowd of 14,000,[21] which is another record of the Slovenian League.[22] During the course of the same season Maribor also won the Slovenian Cup, thus winning the domestic double, a feat also repeated in the 1998–99 season. The club was also very close to achieving the double in the 2003–04 season but was stopped in the final round of the Slovenian League by another rival Mura in Murska Sobota, which won the last match by 2–1 and prevented Maribor from winning their eight consecutive title.[23] The club finished third with two points behind the new champions Gorica.

One of the most celebrated matches in Slovenian league's history was played in the final round of 2000–01 season, when Olimpija Ljubljana met Maribor at their home stadium in Ljubljana. Both teams were competing for their fifth league title. The home team needed a win to secure the title, while a draw was enough for Maribor. The atmosphere was electric days before the kick-off and the stadium with 8,500 seats was completely sold out. At the end, the match ended with a draw (1–1) and Maribor started to celebrate their fifth consecutive title[24] in front of 3,000 violet fans that gathered in Ljubljana that day.[25] Croatian coach Ivo Šušak became the first and the only foreign coach to date with the Slovenian league title.[25] Altogheter, the club has won seven consecutive league championships and three cup titles in eight seasons between 1996–2004.

In the 1999–2000 season, the club under the guidance of Bojan Prašnikar defeated Genk (5–1, 0–3) and Lyon (1–0, 2–0) and managed to qualify in the elite UEFA Champions league in the group with Dynamo Kiev, Bayer 04 and Lazio. Maribor started their Champions League campaign with a win as the team managed to pull an upset in Kiev against the Ukraine giants Dynamo, Ante Šimundža scored late in the game for the final score 1–0.[15] After that Maribor did not won any points in the group until the final round when the team played in Leverkusen against Bayer 04 and managed to hold on to a 0–0 draw, thus preventing the German side into qualifying to the next round.[15] To date, Maribor is one of only four clubs, the others being Dinamo Zagreb, Partizan and Hajduk, from the SFR Yugoslavia region that participated in UEFA Champions League since partition of the country in 1991.[26][27][28]

2002–03 was the season that started to announce the end of Maribor's domination. Celje was the team leading in the championship table and Maribor started to encounter with the first financial and result crisis in over a decade.[25] The team was behind first place for as much as 12 points when, with the new head coach Matjaž Kek, the chase for the title begun.[25] Maribor caught up with the team from Celje three rounds before the end of the season and played the decisive match against them, at home, only one round later.[25] The match was played in front of 10,000 spectators in Ljudski vrt stadium and Celje was leading 0–1 until the 86 minute when Danijel Brezič and Damir Pekič scored late in the match and Maribor won 2–1, thus securing its seventh consecutive title.[25]

Financial difficulties (2004–2008)[edit]

The 2003–04 Slovenian cup title was the last trophy won by Maribor before the darkest era of the club begun. Between 2004 and 2008 the club was struggling with financial difficulties and the abolishment of the club was seriously considered at one point.[29] Luckily the club did not follow their rivals Olimpija Ljubljana and Mura Murska Sobota on that path.[29] Due to a high financial debt, which at one point reached as high as four million euros, the club could not afford to buy new players. As a consequence, the first team consisted mostly of youth team players together with a couple of foreign players brought to the club as free agents. In autumn 2006 the club changed its leadership with the debt still consisting over three million euros and it was not until January, 2011, when the club announced that the debt has been paid for in full.[30]

Despite the huge financial debt the club managed to defeat Villarreal, a club that played in the semifinal of the elite UEFA Champions League only couple of months earlier, in the UEFA Intertoto Cup at the start of the 2006–07 season.[25] UEFA acknowledges Maribor as one of the 11 winners of Intertoto Cup in 2006.[16] However, the trophy itself was awarded to Newcastle United, a team that advanced farthest in UEFA competitions that season.[31] With the victory over Villarreal, Maribor managed to qualify into the UEFA Cup, where they were defeated after a dramatic second leg against Partizan Belgrade (3–2 aggregate).[25] The second leg match against Partizan (1–1) was the last match at the Ljudski vrt stadium before its major renovation.[25] During this period Maribor was never better than third in the league and was a runner up in the Slovenian cup twice.

Zlatko Zahovič era (2007 to present)[edit]

From the 2007–08 season onwards, Slovenian football legends, Zlatko Zahovič as the sports director, and soon afterwards, Darko Milanič as the head coach and the club's former player Ante Šimundža as the assistant coach were appointed at the head of the club's sports department.[32] On 10 May 2008, the club reopened Ljudski vrt stadium, which underwent a major reconstruction that lasted almost 20 months.[33] The first match played on the new stadium was a league match against Nafta Lendava, which was won 3–1 in front of 12,435 spectators.[33] At the start of 2008–09 season Maribor went into history as the first club that has won 1,000 points in league's history. This was achieved in the second round against Rudar in Velenje, Maribor won 2–1.[34] In the same season the team again went far in the Slovenian Cup, reaching semi-finals. They were defeated by Ljubljana based club Interblock (4–5 on aggregate).[35] Their home defeat 3–2 was their first ever domestic defeat on the renovated stadium. With a 1–0 home victory in front of 9,500 fans against Celje on 9 May 2009, the club managed to secure their first title after six years. The scorer of the goal that brought the side its eight league title was Dalibor Volaš.[36]

At the beginning of 2009–10 season, the team have won their first Slovenian Supercup title, the only domestic trophy missing among club honours.[37] The club had also reached the final of Slovenian Cup, which was hosted on their stadium in May 2010, and won their sixth cup title after extra time, defeating Domžale. David Bunderla scored the decisive goal in the 120th minute of the match.[38] With the latest trophy Darko Milanič became the first coach to have won all three domestic trophies in Slovenian club football.[39] He has achieved that in only two seasons as the head coach of Maribor.

Maribor players celebrating the club's ninth league title in 2011.

Maribor played in another Supercup final at the beginning of the 2010–11 season, but failed to defend the title at the home ground, losing to Koper after penalties.[40] The team had an impressive run in the UEFA Europa League where it played a total of six matches, defeating Videoton (1–1, 2–0) and Hibernian (3–0, 3–2) before losing in the play-offs against Serie A club Palermo (0–3, 3–2).[41] On the very next day of the second match against the Italians, it was confirmed that Palermo had acquired Josip Iličić and his teammate Armin Bačinović from Maribor for a permanent move.[42] After 15 rounds of the new season the club set a record for the best start in Slovenian league history.[43] With eleven wins and four draws the team won an impressive 37 points and improved the previous record held by Domžale (35 points) and also improved the club's record of the generation that played in the UEFA Champions League 11 years earlier (34 points).[44] On 12 December 2010, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary.[45][46][47] One month later on 13 January 2011, the club announced that their financial debt, that accumulated between 1999 and 2000s, has been paid for in full.[48] On 6 March 2011, Maribor played a home match against Gorica and lost 2–1, which was their first defeat in domestic competitions since April 2010.[49] Although Maribor lost the 2010 Supercup final against Koper, the match officially counts as a draw, as the game finished with the score 0–0 after regulation and was decided only after penalties. Therefore, the undefeated run of the team lasted a total of 33 matches in 326 days.[50] With the 2–1 away victory over Primorje, on 21 May 2011, Maribor secured its ninth Slovenian league title.[51] Four days later the team played the Slovenian cup final at Stožice stadium and lost to Domžale, 4–3.[52] Marcos Tavares was crowned as the best goalscorer of the 2010–11 season, with 16 goals.[53] For his performances during the course of the same season he was voted as most valuable player by the 1. SNL players[54] and the media.[55]

At the start of the 2011–12 season, Maribor played in the 2011 Slovenian Supercup against Domžale on 8 July 2011 and lost with the score 2–1 after regulation.[56] This was the second consecutive loss for Maribor against Domžale in domestic cup finals in five weeks, after losing the Slovenian cup in May 2011.[56] After narrowly loss against Maccabi Haifa[57] (2–1 in Haifa and 1–1 in Maribor) in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers, Maribor caused one of the biggest upsets in the UEFA Europa League play-offs. They were drawn against the Scottish team Rangers. The first leg in Maribor ended in 2–1 win for the home side,[58] while the second leg at the Ibrox ended 1–1.[59] This was the first time after the 1999–2000 season that Maribor reached the group stages in one of the main UEFA competitions. Maribor was drawn against the title holders Braga, Club Brugge and Birmingham City.[60] After losing the first two games (2–0 away to Brugge[61] and 1–2 defeat at home against Birmingham[62]), Maribor get their only point at the home turf against Braga (1–1).[63] However, Braga heavily beat them 5–1 in Portugal, leaving Maribor without any chances to qualify for the knockout stages.[64] In the last home game, Maribor played against Brugge. The Slovenian champions were leading 3–0 with only half an hour left, but then Brugge scored four goals and causing one of the biggest comebacks in the history of the competition.[65] The last game was played against Birmingham away, which ended in 1–0 win for the English side.[66] This season, Maribor won their tenth league title with a record numbers of points (85). The league title was confirmed in the game against Triglav Kranj on 22 April 2012 with an 8–0 win.[67] Furthermore, they won the Slovenian domestic cup on 23 May 2012 by defeating their Styrian rivals Celje after penalties, securing their seventh cup title.[68] This was the third time that Maribor managed to win The Double, first time after the 1998–99 season.

At the beginning of the 2012–13 season, Maribor played in their fourth successive Supercup final. The match was played on 8 July 2012. Unlike the last two seasons, they managed to win the trophy this time, beating their "eternal rivals" Olimpija 2–1 at Ljudski vrt.[69] This was their second Supercup title. In the UEFA Champions League campaign, Maribor eliminated Bosnian team Željezničar Sarajevo in the second qualifying round by beating them twice, 4–1 at home[70] and 2–1 in Sarajevo.[71] In the third qualifying round, they played against Dudelange from Luxembourg, who caused major upset and eliminated Red Bull Salzburg in the previous round. Again, Maribor won both matches (4–1 at home[72] and 1–0 away[73]). This was the first time since 1999 that Maribor reached the last qualifying round before the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. They were drawn against another former Yugoslav team, Dinamo Zagreb, who they already played in 2003. They lost the first leg in Zagreb 2–1.[74] The second leg was played at Ljudski vrt in front of record attendance in the club's European competitions (12,420 spectators). Again, Dinamo was too strong, defeating Maribor 1–0.[75] As one of the losers in the play-off round, they gained their place in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League. This was the second year in a row, in which Maribor qualified to the Europa League main stages. They won their first ever match in the Europa League group stages on 20 September 2012, when they defeated Greek side Panathinaikos 3–0 at home.[76] In the second round, they played against Lazio in Rome, and lost 1–0.[77] This was the third defeat against Lazio, as teams already met each other in the 1999–2000 Champions League group stages, when Maribor lost both games 4–0.[78] Maribor bounced back in the next round, as they managed to hold Tottenham Hotspur to a draw at the home turf. Maribor even took the lead at the end of the first half, but The Spurs equalised in the second half.[79] In the fourth round of the Europa League group stages, they didn't manage to surprise Tottenham at the White Hart Lane, as they lost 3–1, with Jermain Defoe scoring a hat-trick.[80] They later lost both remaining games in the group, 1–0 in Athens against Panathinaikos[81] and 4–1 against Lazio at Ljudski vrt.[82] Maribor confirmed their eleventh league title in May 2013, after defeating their eternal rivals Olimpija Ljubljana 2–1.[83] In the 2013 Slovenian Cup Final, they again defeated Celje. With this win, they secured their second Double in a row, and the fourth one in the history.[84] On 3 June 2013, Darko Milanič resigned.[85] He won nine trophies in the five seasons, which makes him the most successful NK Maribor manager in the history.[85] On 5 June 2013, Ante Čačić became the new head coach.[86] Maribor won another Supercup title on 7 July 2013, when they again defeated Olimpija, this time in Celje.[87] On 29 September 2013, the club announced the termination of Čačić's contract.[88] He was replaced by Ante Šimundža, who was an assistant manager at Maribor between 2008 and 2011.[89] In this season, Maribor reached the Round of 32 in the 2013–14 UEFA Europa League after they secured the second place in the group stages, defeating Wigan Athletic 2–1 in the last, decisive match.[90][91] In the Round of 32, they were eliminated by Sevilla with an aggregate score of 4–3.[92] Maribor confirmed their fourth consecutive league title by defeating Triglav Kranj 2–1 on 13 May 2014.[93][94] However, they failed to win their third consecutive Double as they lost 2–0 in the cup final to Gorica on 21 May 2014.[95][96]

Maribor playing against Chelsea in October 2014.

In the 2014–15 season, Maribor reached the group stages of the Champions League for the first time since 1999 after eliminating Zrinjski Mostar, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Celtic in the play-offs.[97][98] They were drawn into the Group G alongside Chelsea, Schalke 04 and Sporting CP.[99][100] Maribor managed to obtain three points in six games after drawing with Sporting CP and Chelsea at home and Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen, with all games finishing 1–1.[101] Other results include a heavy defeat at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, where Maribor lost 6–0, and defeats against Sporting CP and Schalke 04 (1–3 and 0–1, respectively).[101]

In the 2015–16 season, Maribor was eliminated from the European competitions after just two matches, being defeated by Astana in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, meaning the club failed to advance to the third qualifying round of the competition for the first time after the 2003–04 season.[102][103] In the same season, Maribor sacked two managers, Ante Šimundža and Krunoslav Jurčić,[104][105] and failed to win the domestic title for the first time since 2009–10 after finishing in the second place behind their rivals Olimpija Ljubljana.[106] However, Maribor managed to win their ninth cup title in that season after defeating Celje in the final once again, like in the 2011–12 and 2012–13 seasons.[107]


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