The Stadion Ljudski vrt (English: People's Garden, German: Volksgarten; abbreviation: LV) is an association football stadium located on the left bank of the river Drava in the district of Koroška Vrata, Maribor, Slovenia, with a seating capacity of 12,702. The ground has been the home of NK Maribor for every season since their formation on 12 December 1960, with the exception of two short periods in early 1961 during the construction of the new stands and early 2008, when the stadium underwent a major reconstruction. Opened in 1952, it was originally the home of Branik Maribor, an association football club, which folded and was disbanded in 1960. The ground has hosted 23 Slovenia internationals at senior level, the first in 1994 and the most recent in 2015. Ljudski vrt has hosted more Slovenian Football Cup finals than any other stadium, having hosted six matches in total. In addition, the stadium was one of the four venues, which hosted the 2012 UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship.
|Owner||City Municipality of Maribor|
|Operator||Maribor Sports Facilities|
|Record attendance||20,000 (Maribor–Proleter, 8 July 1973)|
|Field size||105 by 68 metres (115 by 74 yards)|
|Surface||SISGrass (Hybrid Grass)|
|Opened||12 July 1952|
|Renovated||1960–1962, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2006–2008, 2011|
|Expanded||1960–1962, 1999, 2006–2008|
|Construction cost||€10 million|
|Architect||Milan Černigoj & Boris Pipan|
|Branik Maribor (1952–1960)|
Slovenia national football team
The area where the Ljudski vrt is situated was used for burial purposes for centuries before it was first used for football in the early 1920s. Over the course of its history the stadium has gone through various stages of renovation and development, resulting in the current configuration. The record attendance at the stadium is 20,000, which was set in a match between Maribor and Proleter Zrenjanin in 1973. This record was set before the ground's conversion to an all-seater stadium in 1998; the changes, a result of UEFA safety regulations, include greatly reduced capacity. Notable feature of the stadium includes the main stand 129,8 meters long and 18,4 meters high concrete arch that is protected by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia (Slovene: Zavod za varstvo kulturne dediščine Slovenije) as an architectural and historical landmark.
Future plans for the Ljudski vrt include the construction of a nearby underground parking garage that would solve the current parking problems and the redevelopment of the outdated main stand, which was built in 1962 and has not received a major renovation since then. The stadium is a landmark of the city of Maribor and is considered as one of the most beautiful smaller stadium in the world.
The area now known as Ljudski vrt was originally located outside of Maribor's city walls and served as a cemetery for centuries. Around the year 1358 a small parish church with a cemetery was built and remained there until 1522 when it was abandoned, with Turkish incursions being the most likely reason. By 1571 the church was completely in ruins. The site served as a cemetery again between 1783 and 1914 when it was closed by a decision of the Maribor city council. Some of the tombs were allowed to be in use until 1937 when they were transferred to a new site. In 1873, a public park (German: Volksgarten) was planted on the area from which Ljudski vrt received its present-day name. At the beginning of the 20th century, Ljudski vrt area became the recreational centre of the city and records from 1901 show that tennis was already being played there during that time. During World War I, the whole area served as a shooting range for the Austro-Hungarian Army. Similar to other Slovenian towns (namely Ljubljana, Celje, and Trbovlje) football in Maribor boomed after World War I with the establishment of new clubs, most notably I. SSK Maribor, which was founded in 1919 by Slovenian youth. Prior that, the only Maribor-based club was SV Rapid Marburg, a club founded by the German population of the city in November 1909. Football was one of the main sports departments of both clubs and in 1920 they received their first football field at the Ljudski vrt area, which was erected with the help of local volunteers and prison convicts. The inaugural football match at the area was played on 9 May 1920, when Rapid defeated Slovan from Ljubljana 4–2 in front of 1,500 spectators.
After the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, Maribor was annexed by Nazi Germany and the Nazi regime immediately disbanded all Slovene cultural and sports societies. I. SSK Maribor was particularly affected with dozens of arrests and deportations of their members. The club ceased all operations and many of their members joined the resistance movement, resulting in a death of 51 members while fighting the Germans. Those victims were later commemorated with the erection of a statue located on the northwestern corner of the stadium today. By the end of the war, Maribor was among the most destroyed larger towns in Yugoslavia and the whole Ljudski vrt area was devastated and without an organization which would renovate and later manage the sporting infrastructure at the site. On 29 January 1949, an initiative led to the establishment of Branik Maribor football club. Two years later, in 1951, they became the flagship of the new sport organization, MŠD Branik (Mariborsko Športno Društvo Branik).
Construction and early yearsEdit
The renovation and construction of the sports infrastructure at Ljudski vrt and throughout Maribor was the primary objective of the new sports organization during most of the late 1940s and early 1950s and on 12 July 1952 the Ljudski vrt stadium was opened. At the time, the main pitch was fully enclosed by banking, surrounding the athletic track, with concrete terraces and seats located on the western side. By 1958 the concrete terraces, in length of 248 meters, were constructed throughout the banking around the pitch and served as the standing area for over 40 years. Milan Černigoj was the main architect of the stadium and in the late 1950s he was joined by Boris Pipan with whom they designed a new main stand on the western side of the pitch. The construction began in May 1960 and was completed in 1962, with the new club offices, dressing rooms and gyms located beneath it. Notable feature of the stand includes 129.8-metre (425 ft 10 in) long and 18.4-metre (60 ft 4 in) high concrete arch that is protected by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia (Zavod za varstvo kulturne dediščine Slovenije). The primary user of the stadium and the new club offices was to be NK Branik, however, the club was dissolved in 1960 due to a food poisoning affair. After that, the city of Maribor was left without an association football club that would play on a professional level, which was one of the reasons why NK Maribor was established on 12 December 1960. The new club found their home at Ljudski vrt and on 25 June 1961 they played their first match at the stadium, with the then main stand still under construction. After the opening of the main stand in 1962, the stadium's capacity was increased to over 10,000. However, as most of the stadium had only concrete standing terraces it was possible to accommodate as much as 20,000 spectators during the club's important matches.
Ljudski vrt was to remain in much the same state for another thirty years with no major developments until the early 1990s and the independence of Slovenia. The wooden benches on the main stand were replaced by plastic seats in 1994. During the same year, on 24 August, the stadium received four floodlight pylons and the first match at night was played between NK Maribor and FC Norma Tallinn as part of the 1994–95 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, won by Maribor 10–0. The capacity of the stadium was greatly reduced four years later, as a result of UEFA safety regulations, with the ground's conversion to an all-seater stadium. During the 1999–2000 season, Maribor became the first and to date the only Slovenian club to qualify for the elite UEFA Champions League. As a result, the stadium received its first major redevelopment since 1962 with the renovation of the main stand's VIP box and dressing rooms and club offices beneath it. The terraces ring opposite of the main stand was enlarged and the total capacity of the stadium was brought to 10,160 seats, making Ljudski vrt the largest football stadium in the country at the time.
NK Maribor results in domestic and international competitions during the 1990s were the reason for political and sports officials in the city to start considering a new stadium. In 1996, the OFIS Architects "Project Ring" was selected with a plan to fully redevelop and modernise the stadium. The project included the refurbishment of the main stand and the surrounding area, removal of the athletic track and the concrete terraces on the northern, southern and eastern side of the pitch and their replacement with the brand new covered stands. In addition, the project also included new club offices, gym's, dressing rooms and commercial premises such as shops and bars located beneath the new stands. However, it would take nearly a decade for the project to become a reality when in 2006 the City of Maribor and MŠD Branik, with the help of the Government of Slovenia and the European Union, finally amassed enough funds to start the first stage of the project.
The first stage of improvements, worth about €10 million, saw the removal of the athletic track and the demolition of the existing uncovered stands that surrounded the pitch from the north, east and south. Those stands were replaced by new covered stands, built only a couple of metres from the pitch. Construction began in August 2006 and was finished by May 2008. One of the improvements included the replacement of the turf, which also included the installation of the underground heating system. During the reconstruction, Maribor played a few matches at the Ptuj City Stadium in Ptuj, about 30 kilometres from the city of Maribor. In addition, this was the first time that Maribor had played home matches outside of Ljudski vrt since the opening of the main stand in 1961. The new stands, which increased the stadium capacity by over 2,000 seats, were opened on 10 May 2008 during a league match against Nafta Lendava. The match was played in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,435 spectators and Maribor won 3–1. The second stage of the project started in 2010 and saw the completion of the premises under the eastern and southern stands. It included new club offices, dressing rooms and two gyms. In addition, the total capacity of the stadium was brought to its present 12,702 seats.
In 2014, the stadium barely passed UEFA stadium regulations for the international competitions due to insufficient condition of the west stand. In August 2015, the first redevelopment plans for the new west stand were announced. Three years later, in August 2018, NK Maribor and the City Municipality of Maribor presented a complete documentation of the proposed west stand redevelopment. The new stand was designed by OFIS Architects and would have a capacity of 3,265 seats at the cost of €6.9 million, with the expected completion in September 2019. However, the redevelopment was later postponed to 2020 due to miscalculations of the project cost, which increased to €8 million.
Ljudski vrt has hosted a total of 23 international matches of the Slovenia national team. The first was a friendly match against Cyprus on 27 April 1994, which Slovenia won 3–0. The first competitive game was played on 7 September 1994 in the UEFA Euro 1996 qualifiers, when Slovenia hosted Italy in a match ending in a 1–1 draw. On 18 November 2009, the ground hosted a 2010 FIFA World Cup play-off against Russia, in which Slovenia won 1–0 in front of 12,510 spectators and therefore qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the second time in the country's history. Most recently, on 17 November 2015, Slovenia drew 1–1 with Ukraine in the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying play-offs. Games involving the Slovenian under-21 team have also been played at the stadium.
In 2012, the stadium was among the venues which hosted the 2012 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. Ljudski vrt is also set to host four matches at the 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
Music and cultureEdit
Aside from sporting uses, the stadium has been occasionally used as a music venue for concerts and other cultural performances. One of the first musical events on the renovated stadium was the Greek Zorba musical in June 2008, which had an attendance of around 6,000 people. Ljudski vrt was also a venue for an annual concert Piše se leto, organised by Večer newspaper. In September 2009, Ljudski vrt hosted the main ceremony of the 150th anniversary of Anton Martin Slomšek's arrival in Maribor and the tenth anniversary of his beatification. At the ceremony, Spanish prelate Santos Abril y Castelló gave a speech in front of about 10,000 spectators. In November 2018, Ljudski vrt hosted a live television debate between the 17 candidates for a new mayor of Maribor.
|1||Maribor v. Proleter||8 July 1973||20,000|
|2||Maribor v. Beltinci||1 June 1997||14,000|
|3||Maribor v. Olimpija||26 November 1967||13,000|
|4||Slovenia v. Ukraine||17 November 2015||12,702|
|5||Maribor v. Sevilla||20 February 2014||12,700|
|6||Maribor v. Chelsea||5 November 2014||12,646|
|7||Maribor v. Spartak||13 September 2017||12,566|
|8||Maribor v. Schalke 04||10 December 2014||12,516|
|9||Slovenia v. Russia||18 November 2009||12,510|
|10||Maribor v. Liverpool||17 October 2017||12,506|
The highest attendance recorded at Ljudski vrt is 20,000, for Maribor's match against Proleter Zrenjanin in the first leg of the promotional playoffs for the Yugoslav First League, on 8 July 1973. The stadium also shares the record with Stožice Stadium for the highest attendance achieved in a Slovenian league match. This was set in the final round of the 1996–97 season on 1 June 1997, when 14,000 spectators were present for Maribor's match against Beltinci, which secured the club's first league title. The record modern (all-seated) attendance is 12,702, for the second leg of the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying play-offs between Slovenia and Ukraine, on 17 November 2015. In addition, Ljudski vrt holds the record for the highest average attendance during the Slovenian league season to date (5,289).
Maribor did not lose a league match at Ljudski vrt during the 1960–61 (Div 3), 1965–66 (Div 2), 1966–67 (Div 2), 1970–71 (Div 1), 1972–73 (Div 2), 1977–78 (Div 2), 1980–81 (Div 2), 1981–82 (Div 3), 1983–84 (Div 3), 1985–86 (Div 3), 1987–88 (Div 3), 1991–92 (Div 1), 1992–93 (Div 1), 1998–99 (Div 1) and 1999–2000 (Div 1) season. They won all their home games during the 1983–84 and 1985–86 seasons. Maribor's longest winning streak at home extended from October 1993 to November 1994, a period encompassing 17 league games, in which Maribor scored 52 goals and conceded 10.
Ljudski vrt's public transport links include rail and bus services, but it lacks dedicated parking facilities. The stadium is about 1,5 kilometres (1 mile) away from the Maribor bus station and the Maribor railway station, which lies on the Pan-European Corridor Xa (connecting Zagreb to Graz) and on Pan-European Corridor V, which connects Venice and Kiev (Ljubljana - Budapest). Several bus lines pass directly by the stadium with the nearest bus stations located less than one hundred meters from the ground. The connection to the A1 motorway, that links to the Slovenian motorway network, is located about 3 kilometres to the east, while Maribor Edvard Rusjan Airport is located about 13 kilometres to the southeast of the ground.
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