NK Maribor history 2001-2010
Unforgettable - clinching the title in Ljubljana
The start of the new millennium brought no changes at the top of club football in Slovenia. The Purples continued to dominate the domestic competition and in 2000 won the league title with a record 17-point advantage. Matjaž Kek, the former team captain, won his first league title as the head coach.
The following season ended in a spectacular fashion. The two biggest football clubs in Slovenia fought for the title on the last day of the season. It was the game of all games. The Bežigrad stadium was sold out and 3000 travelling Maribor fans saw their team clinch their fifth successive title. Nastja Čeh and Barnabas Sztipanovics were Maribor's most important figures of that match. Croat Ivo Šušak became the first foreign head coach ever to win a Slovenian league title, and he remains the only one till this day. In the two seasons that followed, the Purples once more proved too strong for their rivals. In the 2001/2002 season, the Purples won the league 6 points ahead of Primorje. In the following season, the team faced its first major crisis. The young and spirited team from Celje held the top spot until the middle of the second part of the season. Behind them were Olimpija and Maribor, who at one point were as much as 12 points behind the leaders. After the change in the club's management and the start of the financial rehabilitation process, the unburdened Maribor side started its quest. The motto of head coach Matjaž Kek was to focus on one game at a time and the players who were hungry to prove themselves followed his lead. With 3 games left, Maribor caught up with Celje and had the chance to clinch their 7th league title in the penultimate game of the season against them in front of a capacity crowd at Ljudski vrt. But that did not look promising. Celje held the lead until the 86th minute, when something amazing happened. Danijel Brezič and Damir Pekić made sure that Maribor witnessed another momentous occasion. After tears of joy, NK Maribor was faced with another difficult period in its club history - its financial rehabilitation.
Many forget - we won a European cup
The period that followed the amazing qualification for the Champions League will not be remembered through great achievements on European football grounds. The first hurdle proved too high in the first four seasons after playing in the Champions League. The biggest disappointment was the defeat against Moldavian club Zimbru, next came the Glasgow Rangers, then the Cypriot club APOEL (a club we nevertheless remember fondly since it was from this very club that, 5 years after that defeat, we acquired one of our most important players of the decade and the current team captain Marcos Tavares) and in the fourth season we were eliminated by Dinamo Zagreb. In the 2004/2005 season, the Purples finally broke the spell and qualified for the elimination round of the UEFA Cup qualifications. There, we were narrowly beaten by Italian side Parma. That was followed by a season without European football and during the season after that, we managed to qualify for the Intertoto Cup, thanks to a victory against Drava Ptuj in the very last match of the season. Victories in the first two rounds against teams from Andorra and Montenegro were rewarded with a third round matchup against the mighty Villareal, who just a few months prior to that had played in the semi-finals of the Champions League. What happened then was a huge shock for every football fan! The young team from Maribor sensationally defeated the Spanish vice champions on their own ground. Maribor was buzzing and the tickets for the return leg at Ljudski vrt were sold out in record time. The Spanish, arrogant even after their defeat, came to Maribor determined to make amends for the humiliation they suffered in Spain. But they were helpless against a stubborn opponent and an amazing crowd. NK Maribor won their first European cup. We were one of the 11 winners of the Intertoto Cup, with which we qualified for the last round of the UEFA Cup qualifiers. Our opponents, Partizan Belgrade, proved to be the luckier side on the day, but Ljudski vrt was once again full to the brim. This was to be the last big match before the reconstruction works on the stadium started.
Reconstruction of Ljudski vrt
A new milestone in the club history was the eagerly anticipated reconstruction of the legendary Ljudski vrt stadium. With the help of European funding, the Municipality of Maribor was able to guarantee the funds required for the reconstruction of the ageing stadium. The works started in August 2006 and the grand opening took place on 8 May 2008. It was an unforgettable spectacle: 12,435 fans, a sold-out stadium, Brazilian drummers, big parties in the city and in front of the stadium, live music, the kick-off ball that arrived onto the pitch with the help of a parachutist and the club legend Milan Arnejčič with the kick-off. These events will never be forgotten, which also holds true for the first goal the Purples scored at their new stadium and which will undoubtedly be remembered as the most beautiful for a long time. The then team captain, Zoran Pavlovič, unleashed a volley some 20 m from the goal and beat the helpless Nafta goalkeeper Aleš Luk. The end result of 3-1 is not that important, what we will remember for ever is the big spectacle, the happy faces on the players of both teams and on all the fans who were privileged enough to be there.
Bringing the title back home
The first full season in our new home was amazing. In the first half of the season, we clinched victories in the dying moments of the games and in the second part coolly brought the title back to Ljudski vrt. In the decisive game against Celje, all the emotions were left loose. This held true for the players, who could not hide their tears of joy, for the training staff, spearheaded by head coach Darko Milanič, who won his first career title, and for the fans who spent the last few minutes of the game standing just behind the touchlines. The celebrations a few days later provided for another momentous occasion on the platform outside the stadium. In the 2009/2010 season, NK Maribor finally resumed chasing European dreams. Two successful seasons showed in which areas we must improve to prolong our stay in the European competitions.