NK Maribor history 1991-2000
Goodbye Inter-Republic league, hello Slovenian league
This decade saw the end of the Yugoslav football league. By participating in the Inter-Republic league in the 1990/91 season, we ended one part of our history and turned a new page, and we ended it with a victory. The last matchday saw Maribor win 1-0 at home against Zadar, thanks to a Gagić own goal.
What followed was a normal summer break and a new beginning. With the independence of Slovenia, we also acquired our own national football league, which was not split into divisions as it had been the case in Yugoslavia. We wrote the history together with 20 other clubs and this is just one of the facts that makes this inaugural season something special. The first game in Nova Gorica saw NK Maribor play with the following squad: Dabanovič, Petrovič, Lukič, Tarana, Hadžialagić, Križan (Damiš 46', Volk 81'), Šimundža, Emeršič (Binkovski 75'), Poznič, Kotnik, Bakula. The game ended in a 1-1 draw but there was to be an epilogue. Ante Šimundža, who scored Maribor's first goal in the national league, was not eligible to play because of a suspension from the previous season when while playing for Železničar. Thus, the match was registered as a 3-0 win for the team from Nova Gorica. The first match in front of the home crowd was a lot more successful. Koper was swept away with 5-0 and Igor Poznič became the first player to score at Ljudski vrt in the Slovenian league.
Winning the first trophy in Ljubljana
At that time, Maribor had a young team that consisted mainly of players from the city and its surrounding areas, with the four foreign players (Hadžialagić, Bakula, Tarana, Sušić) providing some much-needed experience. But even so, the team could not compete with Olimpija and its team of seasoned players with the experience of playing in the toughest matches in the Yugoslav First League. Nevertheless, the team proved they could outplay a team regarded as a favourite in a matchup in which the trophy winner is decided by a single match: Maribor became the first cup winner in independent Slovenia. And the fact that it happened at the Bežigrad stadium in Ljubljana only made it that much sweeter. Nobody at Olimpija had any doubts they would win the double, but Marin Bloudek's players had plans of their own. A brave showing paid off and with no goals scored in the regular time, the game went to penalties. Edin Hadžialagić remained calm and scored the decisive penalty that brought the cup trophy to Maribor.
Europe meets the Purples
Maribor was now on the road to becoming a big football club. We started winning trophies. And we started to make our mark in European competitions as well. NK Maribor played their first international game on 19 August 1992. Our first European opponent were the Hamrun Spartans from Malta and the players who faced them were Dabanovič, Šterbal, Ratkovič, Tarana, Lukič, Križan, Šimundža, Binkovski, Bičakčić (S. Gajser), Križanič (Dvoršak), Bakula. The game ended 4-0 and Ante Šimundža was the first player of a Slovenian football club to get on the scoresheet in European competitions. He then scored another goal before Tarana and Binkovski sealed the victory on this historic day. Despite a 2-1 loss in the return leg in Malta, we progressed into the next round where we faced Atletico Madrid. Schuster, Futre and other members of the team in the famous red and white striped jerseys understandably proved too powerful, but the game against Atletico turned out to be the first of many against the giants of European football in the Styrian capital.
Crazy, unforgettable - Beltinci!
In 1994 we won our second cup title and after that we set our sights on winning our first league title. The dream came true on 1 June 1997. The city was on its feet. With just one game to play, Maribor was 2 points ahead of the second placed Primorje. And this is when the magic story with the name Beltinci happened... Maribor's last opponent of the season was the club from Beltinci, affectionately known as the most football-crazy village in Slovenia. Ljudski vrt saw a capacity crowd of almost 14,000 people attend the match. In an amazing atmosphere comparable with the South American football grounds, head coach Bojan Prašnikar selected the following team: Simeunovič, Židan, Milinovič (Fridl 40'), Bulajič (Šterbal 52'), Kek, Križan, Fricelj, Nikolić, D. Gajser (N. Čeh 60'), Drobne and Pačo. The home side triumphantly won the match with 5-1, with Damjan Gajser and Viktor Pačo each scoring twice and Nastja Čeh adding the fifth. Maribor won its first league title!
After the first league title came the second, and the third. In the meantime, the squad was gaining experience in European competitions and in summer of 1999 this was crowned with the biggest achievement in the history of Slovenian club football. A story in purple: Maribor in the Champions League! We took it one step at a time. In the matches against Besiktas we peeked through the gates of paradise in our first attempt among the European elite. In our next attempt against PSV we were already half-way there. But the boys finally managed it on 25 August 1999 when they eliminated Olympique Lyonnais. After winning the game in Lyon with 1-0 (thanks to a Filipović goal), it was almost impossible to get a ticket for the return match at Ljudski vrt. Many fans spent the night waiting in line in front of the stadium, passing the time with blueberry liqueur, wine and playing cards. Only the most persistent got tickets and Prašnikar's boys did their best to thank the fans for their never-ending support. Goals from Ante Šimundža and Stipe Balajić brought the French champions to their knees for a second time and the celebrations began. Here’s the unforgettable team that faced Lyon: Simeunovič, Židan, Vugdalič (Filekovič), Čipi, Galič, Šarkezi, Balajić (Karič), Sešlar, Djuranovič, Šimundža (Filipović), Bozgo. The draw in Monte Carlo pitted Maribor against Lazio, Dynamo Kyiv and Bayer Leverkusen in Group A. But the miracles did not end there. Thanks to a goal by Šimundža, we won the game in Kyiv with 1-0, which meant we were the group leaders after the first matchday. After that we drew the game in Leverkusen and ended our unforgettable Champions League adventure with our heads held high.