Population: 2.1 million
Official Language: Macedonian
Borders: Kosovo (north west), Serbia (North), Greece (south), Albania (west)
GNP per Capita: $9,163 (83rd in world)
Main Airport: Alexander the Great airport – Skopje
Macedonia (Macedonian: Македонија), officially the Republic of Macedonia (Република Македонија) is a country in the central Balkan peninsula in Southeastern Europe. It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991. It became a member of the United Nations in 1993, but as a result of a dispute with Greece over its name, it was admitted under the provisional reference of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, sometimes abbreviated as FYROM.
A landlocked country, the Republic of Macedonia is bordered by Kosovo[a] to the northwest, Serbia to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south and Albania to the west. The country’s capital is Skopje, with 506,926 inhabitants according to a 2004 census. Other cities include Bitola, Kumanovo, Prilep, Tetovo, Ohrid, Veles, Štip, Kočani, Gostivar and Strumica. It has more than 50 lakes and sixteen mountains higher than 2,000 m (6,562 ft). Macedonia is a member of the UN and the Council of Europe. Since December 2005 it has also been a candidate for joining the European Union and has applied for NATO membership.
The First Macedonian Football League (Macedonian: Прва македонска Фудбалска Лига – Prva Мakedonska Fudbalska Liga) is the highest professional football competition in the Republic of Macedonia.
The league consists of 12 teams. The teams play against each other 3 times. The winner of the league enters into the Qualifying Rounds of the Champions League, while the second and third placed teams are entered into the Qualifying Rounds of the UEFA Cup along with the winner of the Macedonian Cup. At the end of the season, the bottom 2 teams are relegated to the Macedonian Second League while the 9th and 10th placed teams enter a play-off with the 3rd and 4th placed teams of the Macedonian Second League.
The following eleven clubs will be competing in First League during the 2009-10 season.
Club Season 2008-09
Makedonija GP 1st
Teteks 1st in Vtora Liga
Sloga Jugomagnat 2nd in Vtora Liga
The championship has been won by the following clubs since the league started in 1993.
1998-99 Sloga Jugomagnat
1999-00 Sloga Jugomagnat
2000-01 Sloga Jugomagnat
2008-09 Makedonija GP
FOOTBALL IN SKOPJE
Skopje – The Gradski Stadium – 20,000 All Seater
About the Gradski Stadium
The stadium is dominated by the very steep main stand that has over 12,000 seats. This stand offers protection from the elements, although the wind blowing across the river can be a bit biting during cold nights. The remaining three stands are open and consist of 8-10 rows of plastic seats bolted direct to the old terraces. There is a small perimeter fence around the pitch as well as a 6-lane running track.
Views are ok from most stands, although from the first few rows it is not the best. The seats at the back of the stand are also quite steep and so if you do have a ticket for this area then try not to drink too much before the game in order to prevent a nasty fall on the way up.
Who plays there?
The stadium is the biggest in the country and is home to FK Rabotnicki and FK Vardar as well as the national team. FC Rabotnicki are currently Macedonia’s top team, having won the last three Macedonian Championships. The club were originally formed in 1937 as the Railway workers club. Under the rule of Yugoslavia the club never got further than the 2nd division, until independence was granted from them in 1991. Since then they have played in the UEFA Cup on a number of occasions. Their Champions League adventures in the past two season have been unspectacular, although last season they did beat Dudelange of Luxembourg and Debrecen of Hungary before losing to Lille – a game that would have taken them into the Group stages and a match versus Manchester United.
FK Vardar may have slipped down the pecking order in recent seasons, but they are the biggest and most successful club in Macedonian history. They are also the only club from the Macedonia to have ever won the Yugoslavian Championships which they did under Darko Pancev in 1987. Since independence they have won the Macedonian title on five occasions, as well as four domestic cup finals.
Their European history has also been mixed – in 2003/04 they reached the final Qualifying round in the Champions League before losing 5-4 to Sparta Prague. The previous season they had lost to Legia Warsaw in the 2nd round.
How to get there
The stadium is located slightly north west of the city centre, close to the River Vardar and in the City Park area. The area close by the stadium is certainly where all of the action is, with the major nightclubs (Colosseum, Cabrio and Havana) located across the road from the ground, as well as the Zoo and Natural History Museum being within a 2 minute walk.
From the north of the Vadar, and in the region of the Swan English Pub head north up Stiv Naumov away from the river and then turn left onto BD Goce Delčev. Follow this past the Kale and across the river, where you can then turn right onto the riverside path to the stadium. The walk should take 15 minutes at the most.
If you are south of the river, in the region of the Holiday Inn, Irish Pub or the main square then just simply follow the river westwards, past the Stone bridge and you will reach the ground in about 10 minutes. Allow an extra 15 minutes if you are coming from the main station (follow BD Jane Sandanski towards the river where you will see the riverside walk).
Getting a ticket
The stadium has sold out twice in Macedonia’s history – both times when England were the visitors. For most domestic matches, crowds rarely break the four figure barrier and so buying tickets in advance is not necessary. Tickets for the main stand are a good bet as the views both over the pitch, and over the city to the east are excellent from the top.
For national team matches, tickets can be reserved in advance (depending on the opponents) from the Macedonian FA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The city itself is small enough to be walk able – the furthest distance you will need to travel will be from the stadium to the main railway station which is around 3km or 30 minutes at the most. Taxi’s are plentiful in the city centre and can be hailed on the street. A minimum fare in the city centre will cost around 50p. You can order a taxi from the English speaking taxi company by dialling 9177 from any phone.
Buses run in most directions although it is difficult to actually track down a map or timetable. Instead just hop on one going in the general direction and keep your fingers crossed! Buses start and terminate at the bus station opposite the main station. Buses between the main towns of Ohrid and Bitola also run frequently although these can get very crowded in peak hours.
Skopje International Airport is located around 8km southwest of the city centre, and served by local buses which take around 30 minutes to complete the short journey to the centre. It was relatively unaffected by the 1963 earthquake, which allowed the airport to be used as a base for humanitarian aid. In 1987 a new terminal was opened allowing an expansion of the services offered daily to the capital. There are currently no flights direct from the UK – although you can easily get a connecting flight via Prague, Zurich and Amsterdam (Macedonian Airlines). The airport has recently been renamed Alexander The Great airport.
One other option is to fly into Sofia in Bulgaria which is located around 100miles north east of Skopje, and then get a coach into Macedonia. British Airways fly three times a week into Pristina in Kosovo which is around a 3 hour drive to the north of Skopje.