NK Celje was formed in 1919 as SK Celje. Soon after The Second World War, in 1946, the club changed its name to NK Kladivar (expressionistic term in Slovene for a blacksmith). In 1964 they qualified for Yugoslav Second League where they played for two years in a row.
In 1992, year after Slovenia gained independence from Yugoslavia, the club again changed its name, this time to Publikum. They reached the finals of Slovenian Cup in 1993 and 1995, but lost on both occasions, having been beaten by Olimpija Ljubljana and Mura. In 2003 NK Celje was in a title race with Maribor until the very last, but in the end finished second and also lost Slovenian cup finals against Olimpija Ljubljana in the same year. Two years later in 2005 the club reached Slovenian cup finals for the third time and this time they finally lifted their first trophy, beating ND Gorica with 1–0 in front of their own fans on Arena Petrol. NK Celje were also in the finals the next year, but lost to FC Koper after the penalty shoot-out.
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