I mentioned at the weekend that we’ve had difficulty finding opposition fans to take part in Sixy Talk since we got relegated to the Championship and I really didn’t fancy my chances of finding anyone from Slovenia to answer some daft questions about tomorrow’s game with NK Maribor. Or at least I didn’t fancy it until someone pointed out the obvious fact that they have football message boards over there too and it didn’t really matter if I couldn’t speak or type Slovenian, I wanted someone who could speak English anyway.
So off I trotted to http://www.nkmaribor.com/forum/ to ask whether anyone fancied answering a few questions. Lo and behold not only did I get a volunteer, I managed to prove one of the great ironies of the modern ‘connected’ generation (that it’s easier to talk to someone on the other side of the world than it is to speak to your neighbour) by getting three people.
First up there’s Sašo, he’s been a Maribor fan for as long as he remembers, knows things that are going on with his club and was hoping to give us a new aspect on the game. Next was Jože who studies English Language and literature in Maribor and works as a football commentator at one of the sports televisions in Slovenia. He likes to write, read and talk about football and follows football from across Europe, although his job stops him getting down to watch Maribor as much as he’s like.
Finally, there’s Matevž who I know little about other than his name isn’t Ivan (although his email address suggests otherwise). I’d like to think that’s because he’s a mysterious, shadowy Eastern European with secrets to hide, but I suspect it’s just because he missed the bit of my email where I asked for the guys to tell me a bit about themselves.
Anyway, we’ve got enough to be getting on with, without me going on about nothing, so let’s find out what pastry products our visitors like best…
1) Had you even heard of Wigan Athletic before this season? What’s our image like in Slovenia?
Matevž – Yes, of course, we watch English football matches every week on TV. Wigan is seen as a smaller English club, always on the border between the Premier League and Championship
Jože – I started following the Premier League intensively in the beginning of new millennium so obviously I know Wigan pretty well. During those years in the Premier League I admired Wigan for their reluctance to go down despite being relegation-threatened on several occasions. As your club’s chairman Dave Whelan is not some money-throwing oligarch and seeing that Premier League is one of the most competitive leagues in the world, I had a feeling that sooner or later your club would be relegated (I mean, you can’t always have a last-minute escape) despite playing some nice football under Roberto Martinez and nurturing some of the players who are now plying their trade elsewhere such as Antonio Valencia, Wilson Palacios and Lee Cattermole.
It is safe to say that an average football fan in Slovenia has little knowledge about your club; most of the people following the PL are fans of United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool, those clubs also have fan clubs in our country. You do find exceptions but they really are just that, exceptions. Being in the same group as Maribor will obviously help Wigan’s image here.
Sašo – As a regular Barclays Premier League follower (viewer) it would be impossible not to know Wigan Athletic football club. You are a small but thorough club, which caused many problems for bigger clubs for the past few years. Especially your cup win against City cannot be overlooked. But I must admit that here in Slovenia there is not many Wigan supporters. At least I haven’t heard of any. United, Liverpool and Arsenal fans are in majority here. And as a gooner myself, don’t care about Chelsea and Tottenham supporters :). But still, we believe that you have a good team with some great individuals and positive mentality.
And what do Slovenians think of English football in general?
Jože – English football is very popular in Slovenia as there are multiple matches live on TV every weekend and popularity of English clubs that I mentioned before is on par with that of Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern and other European giants. I would say that in general public, there are still some clichés about English football, like your teams being much more physical than continental sides, English clubs depending on corners etc.
English football is admired because of full stadiums every weekend and because of match-going culture (not only in the PL, also in lower leagues) which is literally non-existent in Slovenia. When there is some incident in the stands at our league matches (but that happens very rarely, as stadiums are usually more empty than not and we have only one real derby match, Maribor vs. Olimpija Ljubljana), England and its football crowds policy is always brought up in the media as the bright example of how things should work here.
Sašo – English football, especially Premier League is widely accepted by Slovenian football fans and it’s definitely the most popular one. This is partly caused by sport channels, which favour the Premier League with plenty of live broadcasting, at least 5-6 games per week-end. But mainly because of the quality of football, probably number one in the world. We have plenty of supporters groups, most active is Arsenal Slovenija and Manchester United supporters club.
And to give you a better picture, some of my colleagues rather prefer English clubs before their local.
Matevž – Football fans in Slovenia watch Premier League games every week, they know quite a lot about it, but we do think that it is sad that almost no English players are seen in English clubs. City, Chelsea and some others sometimes don’t have an English player in the first 11, which is so strange and also one of the reasons that your national team fails over and over again. It’s very difficult to imagine our clubs having so little home players in the squad.
So there you go, Slovenia isn’t that different from England. With all those United and Liverpool fans it sounds like most Wiganers would feel right at home in downtown Maribor.
3) Tell us your favourite piece of trivia about your football club.
Jože – NK Maribor was founded in 1960 and the story goes that the new club’s colours (purple and white then, now mainly purple, with some yellow) were inspired by shirts of Fiorentina as club’s board didn’t want the club to be associated with the old one (black-white) or any of the other clubs in Yugoslavia (red and white are the colours of the town but Red Star Belgrade also play in it). Another interesting fact is that Stadium Ljudski vrt stands on site where the old town cemetery was located.
More recently, one of the most interesting stories is the one with now Fiorentina player Josip Iličić, who was a member of our club only for two months in the summer of 2010.
He came basically for free from Interblock Ljubljana, having not played there a lot and losing confidence in his football skills, it is rumoured he was close to quitting his career. His move to NK Maribor paid dividends for him and for our club immediately as he found his desire for the game once again and became the team’s main player.
In those 11 matches he played for Maribor he was so good that Palermo decided to splash the money on him and pay more than 2 million euros for his services, which was and still is a lot for a club of Maribor’s financial stature. It’s safe to say I’ve never
seen anyone turn their career around as quickly as Josip did.
Sašo – Maribor FC has a long football tradition but their best results were produced in this modern era. We have 11 league trophies, one Champions League and three Europa League participation, far the greatest team in Slovenia. We are a phenomena while beating and competing with bigger club with such a small budget, striving to be better than what reality dictates us to be.
Our captain and best player Tavares has one leg shorter than the other and I say thank god for that. If not so he would be playing for world biggest clubs today.
What can we expect from Maribor on the pitch on Thursday evening?
Matevž – Our manager was just sacked on Monday, so nobody knows what to expect. We hope that the shock therapy will have a positive effect, but it’s anyone’s guess. We would be extremely happy with a draw.
Sašo – I wonder… Due to lack of good results, internal problems, sacking a head coach and bad performances last month I’m not being very confident ahead of this game. But if the players will step together, find some magic that we know they hide and be fully aggressive and 100% concentrated I believe we pose a great threat to Wigan.
We know that Wigan is not really a top team, lately struggling in form and we have beaten bigger teams in the past.
Jože – It is very hard to say. A tough month is behind the club and the team, both result and atmosphere-wise. Old coach Ante Čačić was replaced by the younger Ante Šimundža, who has experience of working at the club, he was an assistant and coach of Darko Milanič who lead the team in Europa League group stage twice in a row.
Rumour has it that the relation between the team and Čačić completely broke down, despite the club achieving the group stage of EL for the third time in a row and leading our domestic league. In last couple of weeks the team’s performance dropped drastically and we kind of expected Čačić to be sacked sooner or later.
Šimundža is a young coach, with little experience at this level as a coach but he did play for our club in many European matches, being one of the main players in season 1999/2000 when Maribor reached the group stage of the Champions League. Thursday’s match will be Šimundža’s debut as coach of Maribor.
The first and hardest task for Šimundža at the moment is getting our defensive line to play better. In the first match against Rubin the Russian side didn’t appear to be as superior as the result would have you thinking but they knew how to expose any of Maribor’s deficiencies in the back line, scoring 5 in 7 attempts on goal.
Both goals that Rubin scored in the first half were consequence of defensive mistakes made by our team. Maribor will surely look better than in last couple of domestic league matches as European matches are our club’s bread and butter and also the main chance for our players to showcase their ability in front of foreign scouts. But as I said, new coach means the new beginning and it is very hard to predict how the purple team will line up. You can expect four in the back line but everything else is unpredictable.
I expect both teams will try to gain an advantage by bigger possession of the ball. Seeing that Zulte dominated the ball in the first matchday, Wigan will probably looking to dominate Maribor who did a good job at that against Rubin but failed to take their chances. Looking at your team, there is loads of Premier League experience there and I hope that Coyle will once again try to give some rest to some of your players who are carrying the load in league matches.
And what can we expect from the fans off it? Are many of you travelling? What are you expecting Wigan to be like?
Matevž – Maybe 100 people will travel, they’ll wear our club’s shirts and scarfs. I believe Wigan is a normal, quiet city.
Jože – My prediction is there will be a bit more than a hundred, maybe 150 of Maribor fans there. As Wigan is not so attractive for tourists and the match is in the middle of week, you can mostly expect those die-hard fans whose loudness might surprise you.
Sašo – Well I expect that they will show and give you a lesson how to properly support your team. Viole Maribor have always produced some magic and sure they are loud and energetic. They are a proper ultras team, small numbered but still loud. I honestly believe that there will be at least 200 Maribor supporters in Wigan.
Amongst other things, Wigan Is famously associated with pies, although you might be better off avoiding the ones in the stadium. Can you get a good pie in Slovenia and what’s your half time snack of choice?
Matevž – Hamburgers and hot dogs are our choice, but you can get great apple pies here also (not in the stadium however).
Sašo – We are not really a »pie land«, but sure we like to prepare some at home, so the best pie is the one, made by grandmas :). But you cannot find any pies at Ljudski vrt stadium or any other Slovenian stadium, just regular burgers, hotdogs, popcorn. But definitely you can ask for some pie in a bakery store, but you can try something more Slovenian, for example Potica 🙂
Jože – Here’s a difference between England, a country with football tradition, and Slovenia, a country where you can’t buy beer in stadium because “it is a threat for your safety”. Your traveling support in December won’t have many options to buy half-time snacks, expect to choose between a hamburger and a bag of chips.
I know British “pie at the stadium” culture and it is one of many things which make your football what it is. Some countries found out long ago that a football match is not just a game of two halves and that you must offer much more to people at the stadium. In Slovenia, we are not on that level yet. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a good pie in Slovenia, just not in the stadium.
I’ll tell you what, with all that talk of plastic United fans, small budgets, smaller away followings and moaning about crap stadium food, there might be more in common between Latics and Maribor fans than you’d think. Maybe we should look into twinning the two clubs? Or maybe we should wait to see whether we can pinch six points off them in the group stages first?
Still, thanks for your time guys and good luck for the season back at home. Don’t be sad if we beat you tomorrow, just remember that you’re likely to be back in the Europa league next year, we’re just making the most of it whilst we can.
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