Often Partisan

A Mad Mission to Maribor

When I was at university, oh so many moons ago I grew tired of drinking in the same old watering holes in town, and thus my friends and I decided to undertake “mad missions” whereby we’d go to another city (as far away as we could), get legless, and then get home – all without sleep, and all within 24 hours. Maribor, well… it was just like that.

It meant an incredibly early start: I was awake at 3:30am and at the airport an hour later. After checking in and settling in the waiting area for the flight to board, I wasn’t overly surprised to see Blues fans hitting the bars at 5am to start what would be for some an absolute marathon drinking session. The thing I noticed straight away was just how excited everyone was about going – Madeira was difficult for many to get to and so for many people (including me) this was their first trip into Europe with Blues.

After landing at the smallest airport I’ve ever known – Maribor airport had two gates, let alone different terminals, and the immigration department was a white marquee that could have been borrowed from the St Andrews Tavern – it was only a short coach journey into the city centre. Maribor isn’t the biggest of places, and it meant even as we arrived in town it was easy to spot the Blues fans that already landed there. Walking through the streets I saw loads of bluenoses; clearly there was a party vibe going on – and it was still only 11:30!

Most noses I saw were congregated in Grajski Trg (Castle Square), where there were lots of bars open selling cheap beer, with smiling Slovene waiters speaking perfect English to deliver it to your table so you didn’t even have to get up. There were lots of flags up and about, and some good-humoured banter with the locals – people exchanging scarves, having pictures taken and the like – in short, the relaxed and fun kind of vibe that I think most of us are looking forward to abroad. It was also good to see Mike Wiseman mingling with the crowd, having his picture taken with various fans, and showing that at least one person at the top was prepared to do the good PR thing for Blues.

I also have to make mention of the Slovene old bill; they may have been dressed like robocop but there was no bother at all with them. Instead of showing up mob-handed they were stood discreetly to one side of the square, where they could keep a watchful eye on things but weren’t overly interfering with things. It made the whole thing seem much less intimidatory, and I think helped to ensure that there was no bother that I could see.

A few bottles of Lasko (the local beer) later, I headed up to the stadium, to drink in the atmosphere up there. I have to admit the Ljudski vrt is a beautiful ground – you can tell that it’s been recently rebuilt but it looks very graceful from the outside. It’s kind of like a miniature version of the Reebok in Bolton in looks, but unlike the Reebok there are three stands joined on the North/East/South sides, with the large West stand being seperate. The first pleasant surprise was when I got to my seat to find it wasn’t really a seat so much as a marked spot on a plastic bench which was moulded to the concrete terrace. In fairness, I didn’t sit down anyway so it didn’t matter – but as a gentleman of additional weight and girth it’s nice to sit somewhere that gives a bit of elbow room and these bench affairs certainly did.

I can’t tell you that much about the game; in truth if you watched it on ESPN Classic you will probably have had a better idea of what was going on and certainly would have seen the goals better than I – I didn’t even see how Wade Elliott’s goal had gone in. I certainly did see Spector’s horrific backpass (it was right in front of me), and I’ll have to be honest and say that I thought it was as much his fault as it was Doyle’s.

Crowd-wise, the game was a good illustration of the difference between Eastern European and British crowds; they go in for the synchronised clapping to a drum, the waving of shiny bits of card in the air, and I think I even saw a “Poznan”. On the other hand, the Blues fans just sung their hearts out; particularly once we scored. Our way is a lot less organised, and a lot more anarchic but I also think it’s more organic – we sing together as a brotherhood, a tribe – not because we’re being choreographed. The take on our yo-yo existence (singing Blues go down together with an added “come back up, go back down, come back up…” and matching pointing to the stars and floor was particularly fun. Even though there were some robocop looking police officers behind us, not one of them moved to stop the lads who were on top of the fence (how the one never fell off I still do not know) – which helped keep things sane and happy – much to the coppers’ credit.

It was a great result in the end, and I think I would be lying if I said that the result didn’t have that much bearing on how people were enjoying themselves in the stands. That being said I think I understood just how special these trips are, and I have to say now that if you can get to Bruges or Braga you should go – even if it’s to just sit in the bars with the fans and have a few beers. There is a camaraderie, a vibe, even the pure essence of being a fan in going to matches like these. This is part of the enjoyable bit of being a fan – the trips to foreign shores, the feeling of being part of something bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around to party as the coach was waiting outside the stadium post match, and I was back on the plane and in the air within a couple of hours of the final whistle. Still, despite the massive queue to get through immigration at Birmingham Airport it still meant I got home before 1am and was tucked up in my own bed not long after that. I’ve got to give massive thanks to Sportoptions.com for running the trip – they’re going to do one or maybe two to Braga and I heartily recommend them for their faultlessly planned itinerary and the ease of travel.

I’ve got some pics, which I will post up as soon as I can get them off my phone. I can’t wait for Bruges now – I’ve truly got the Euro bug.

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21 Responses to “A Mad Mission to Maribor”

  • Nick V says:

    Quality post, Just reading it makes me more excited for the Brugges trip. Its going to be crazy.
    Great result for the Blues and lets just hope we repeat it against Forest.

  • Tony D says:

    I remember going on the pre season tour to Norway a few years ago. Michael Wiseman was there then, mingling with Blues fans and generally being a thoroughly top bloke.

    Can’t go to Bruges (I’ll be in Yangon, Myanmar – so there!) bur I hope to make it to Braga.

  • leigh says:

    I am afraid I only saw the highlights on telly, and I half agree with you. Spector put Colin Doyle in an impossible position, and I blame Colin not a jot. Spector should carry the can on his own.
    But what a fabulous turn around, well done lads..

  • Paul says:

    Great that the lads that went were well behaved.

    I’ve been with England at France 1998, at the European Championships in Lisbon and in Cologne for the World Cup match vs Sweden and on all 3 occasions it has been spoiled for me by a general air of neanderthal thuggishness from some Ingerlund fans.

    Quite why they feel the need to ruin the party for everyone is beyond me.

  • Liz says:

    In complete agreement with you about SportOptions.com – all went well and super smooth and we even got the result! Am now exhausted, it was more tiring queing through immigration than the rest of the trip put together. Thanks Blues!

  • mark says:

    Great blog, this team is getting better hope doyle stay in goal for the forest game. Funny things happen in games glad blues turned it around….. KRO

  • Blue Michael says:

    Really nice, atmospheric and evocative account. Thanks.

  • david Moloney says:

    Top blog. How much was the trip if you dont mind me asking and where are they based. Also what time did you get to Slovenia?

    • almajir says:

      Trip was £295, arrived in Slovenia at about 10am local time and it took an hour to clear immigration etc and get into town.

  • DoctorD says:

    What a great match and trip report. You’re my first port of call now for all Blues news. It sounds like you had a perfect trip and what you say the fans got up to make you proud to be part of the Blues, even if we weren’t actually there.

  • GoodyBlueShoes says:

    Great post – great result.

  • […] delayed I’m a little slow with this one (you can blame the titanic hangover and exhaustion post-Maribor), and if you’re already aware then I can only […]

  • Eric Jones says:

    I travel close to 12000 miles each year to see Blues. I am from Victoria Canada. I am getting old – I remember our first adventure in Europe. I no longer enjoy away games as Blues fans all stand up. I have had a stroke and back surgery and need to sit to watch a game (except when we score). If I ask fans in front of me to sit I get ignored or swore at. Can this quality post ask fans to be sensitive to those of us that want to sit to watch a game. Stewards at away games usually do not enforce the rules. Your notes on away games in Europe reminded me of this. I will be at Club Brugge home game so KRO Bluenoses and please respect us old folk that need to sit.

    • almajir says:

      Eric

      That sounds bad, I’m sorry to hear that you have to sit down because of that. May I suggest that the best thing is to get in touch with the disabled supporters liaison (I’m very sure you’d qualify for their help) to see if they can help get you seats where you’ll not have an obstructed view by standing fans? The guy who runs the disabled supporters section is a sound guy (I saw him in Maribor) and I’m sure that they could help you.

  • Mike Bledsoe says:

    Good article hope Blues fans behave in Belgium and dont make fools of themselves and Bham .Pity we dont play in Europe every season beats British Leagues .

  • neil says:

    mad mission? 5 of us went, not everyone had £300+ for an organised trip, so, einstein here arranged something different! we too left at 0330, i drove to leeds bradford airport, we flew to venice landing at 1100, hired a car, drove to maribor with four drinkers, sang in the square, sang in the match, head down in car for an hour before drinkers came back, drove back to venice throughout the night (including a police check of drivers licence when they found five blokes asleep somewhere near the italian border) flew to leeds at 1130, left there at 1330 got back to meriden at 1600 just in time for daddy day care as the missus went to work! best, if tiring, trip ever….KRO…
    was anyone else nearly as stupid???

    • almajir says:

      Dude, that deserves a round of applause.

      I met two fellas in the ground I know from twitter, and they’d driven all the way from Manchester.

  • john says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the blog; local’ made you feel welcome, and as you say, the local boys in blue helped the occassion with their laid back approach.
    Overall an excellent day out + we won.

  • NorthernBlue says:

    Totally Agree – quality post and making me have goose bumps for Brugge already!!

  • skareggae72 says:

    Sounds a great trip,and i still hope we can get through to the next phase,although we will probably have to win in bruges or braga(tough).
    On Spectors back pass,isnt the `official coaching rule`-if your going to pass the ball back to the keeper then put it wide of the goal,so if the keeper misses it the ball goes wide,and not into the net-(eg,Enkelmann ha ha).Spector did put it wide of the goal.

    • almajir says:

      It wasn’t so much the direction, it was the fact he lofted it – it bounced awkwardly as Doyle went to leather it. He should have rolled it along the ground.


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