Set alongside the park of the same name, established by the eponymous local bishop who had this area of greenery landscaped and opened to the public in the late 1700s, the Maksimir has hosted soccer for over 100 years.
Organised football was first played here in 1912, the year the Croatian FA was formed. Of the city’s top three clubs of the pre-war era, Građanski, Concordia and HAŠK, it was the latter who considered the Maksimir as their home ground.
As for the nascent Yugoslav national side, then representing the country known as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, when in Zagreb they mainly used the Stadion u Kranjčevićevoj, now home to NK Zagreb.
But when Dinamo were formed from the disbandment of the city’s big three in June 1945, Maksimir became their home and the main focus for football in Zagreb.
It was here that Dinamo staged three successful Yugoslav League campaigns (the 1948 side still played at Građanski’s Koturaska), and here that The ‘Plavi’ overcame Leeds in the first leg of the successful Fairs’ Cup win of 1967.
And it was here, one sunny May afternoon in 1990, that Dinamo’s notorious Bad Blue Boys took on their equally notorious counterparts from Red Star Belgrade, the Delije, fans fighting on the pitch at a Yugoslav league game between the two. The riot is seen as a symbolic prelude to the full-scale war that would break out between Serbs and Croats a year or so later. It is also known for the kick that Dinamo hero Zvonimir Boban aimed at a policeman (who turned out to be a Bosnian Muslim), springing to the defence of a Dinamo fan.
Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, despite a number of name changes, Dinamo have dominated the independent Croatian league. Only big international matches, derby games with Hajduk Split and occasional European games, see the Maksimir in its pomp. Everything else is routine and, with the BBB displeased with the Dinamo management, routine played out before low crowds.
For the Croatian national side, games with Serbia (October 1999, a 2-2 draw that sent the visitors to Euro 2000) and England (October 2006, a hilarious gaffe by goalkeeper Paul Robinson) have proved the most memorable – the Maksimir is the de facto national stadium.
Renovations went on for over a decade. In the wake of Croatia’s success at the 1998 World Cup, an ambitious plan for a complete overhaul only got as far as the rebuilding of a new North Stand. Ten years later, another, cheaper, blueprint was reviewed. The 2011 installation of a new turf and seats was the first step in a gradual, more modest programme of redevelopment.
But with Croatian league attendances below an overall average of 2,000, travelling support for domestic fixtures is modest at best. Sadly, the Maksimir hardly fills for Croatia internationals, either – and rental for regular hosts Dinamo is steep. In 2014, the club announced plans to move out and build a new stadium at Kajzerica in Novi Zagreb, the proposal gaining traction in the wave of enthusiasm after the 2018 World Cup.
The Maksimir comprises four stands: the main West one (Tribina Zapad) and the Tribina Istok (East) facing it along the sidelines; the home North end and the South one opposite, where the handful of visiting fans are generally gathered.
Take tram Nos.4, 5, 7, 11 or 12 to the stop right by the stadium, still shown on most maps as Bukovačka, recently renamed Park Maksimir. Nos.11 and 12 run from the main square, Trg bana Josipa Jelačića; No.4 runs from the train terminus, Glavni kolodvor. Some regional trains stop at Maksimir, the small station behind the stadium a ten-minute walk to the ground through a tangle of residential streets.
There’s a ticket hut (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) in the stadium’s main forecourt. For a Dinamo derby with Hajduk, prices are set at 100kn for best seats in the West Stand, 70kn in the East Stand opposite, and 50kn in the home North (sjever) end.
For Champions League matches , prices are usually set around 200kn. Details can be found here but registration is required.
Prices drop considerably for lesser league fixtures, when 30kn should secure you a ticket.
As you approach the stadium from town, sundry bars line Maksimirska cesta. Kocka (No.104), Boro’s (No.119) and Storm (No.123) are closest to the stadium. Further along, immediately below the stadium, the BBB fan bar is decked out in Dinamo history but a no-no on match days. Also on this side of the road, just inside the park gates, the Restoran Maksimir is a lovely restaurant and terrace bar, tables spread out on a wide, gravel space backdropped by trees. There’s a full Croatian menu too, including the Zagreb specialities of štrukli pastry (25kn), breaded meat (68kn), plus a hulking great house platter (190kn) for two hungry carnivores.
Across the road, at the junction of Maksimirska cesta and Donje Svetice by the stadium car park, Caffè Royal and Maksimilijan are standard Croatian café-bars. The latter has a TV and slightly more atmosphere. Further down, Daba is more comfortable.
On this side of the stadium, turning left at the Svetice transport stop, the Ožujsko Pub Maksi on Budaka Divka is a league above, a large, modern sports bar/restaurant with beer brewed on-site.
Within the ground, Plavi Korner kiosks serve snacks and, depending on the fixture, Ožujsko beer.