The Expat Football League

The Expat Football League has been running for 12 years, and has hundreds of members.
This is the largest expat sports  group in Moscow, yet not everybody knows exactly how the League operates and  how to join. Moscow expat Life talked to Juan Lopez, the League’s Highest scorer ever!

How did the League start?

The expat League started out in about 2001, with just a few guys who wanted to play football every week and to have a bit of fun. Then gradually more and more people became involved, and we started the League.

Eventually we got to 8 teams, each of which has 20-25 players, currently we have 7 teams.

In each squad there are enough players to have one team playing another team?

Every week there’s a fixture, apart from holidays. We use a Round-robin scheduling, so we play each other alternative weeks. There are people from all walks of life: UK, Irish, Italian, Spanish, American, Turkish; not many Russians because we try to keep it as expat as possible. Those Russians that are in it are there because they have been part of it since the beginning, or they are American, British or some other nationality. There are a lot of Turks, they supply three of the teams. There is a fair turn out of Brits and Americans.

At the moment there is no major sponsor of the league. It pays for itself with a little bit of help from a couple of guys who put in a lot of money each week. We pay to play, normally about 1,000 roubles a week per person, because the pitches are expensive and it depends on how many people turn up. We play on very good pitches, normally at Luzhniki and previously MGIMO. We play inside during the winter season which normally runs from late October to April. We play at Spartak Moscow’s indoor stadium during the Winter.

But the good thing is that in Moscow there are enough places around to allow us to play indoors or outdoors if we need to change places.

The League is mainly for people over 30 years of age, because the guys who started it were mainly over 30 now. Now the age limit is 28 and over. You don’t have to be experienced, you are more than welcome, but you probably won’t play much because it’s gone from being fun only to very competitive.

I’m 39, I still find that I can compete with the younger guys but need a warm bath after playing or a nice Banya to relax as it’s hard to play against players who are 10 years younger than you.

Is it a problem that people may feel that they aren’t good enough to play?

It depends on the person, sport is a very competitive environment. When you get an element of youth coming into the league, it makes it that bit more competitive, because for players who have played at a very high standard, they want to play against other players at the same standard. Most of us have been here playing for 10 years. The Turkish guys have come and made it very competitive and therefore I think the league has gone on from there and is only getting stronger!

Do you have a shortage of people?

It varies from week to week, from team to team. One week a team can have 11 players, the next 18. It is mostly businessmen, and students who are mainly from Africa. The Students are often subsidized, by other members on their teams to play. It’s not really an issue, as we all chip in, plus helps keeps the numbers.

You don’t have a women’s team?

No, the expat league is just Men. I think due to the nature of the game we play, it would be difficult to introduce women in to the league. I like women’s football, there are some women’s league’s around Europe and back in the UK where the standard is very high, but football is a game different from many others, much like rugby (it’s the physical nature). I think to play tennis, golf or another sport where the physical side is not a major obstacle to the players it can be more enjoyable for both sides.

Is there a yearly competition to determine the top team?

There is one league and we have two seasons (Winter/Summer) and normally once a year we have a cup competition in the summer. The most successful team to date has been the Moscow flagons they seem to have a habit of winning.

Each team has it’s own name, and at the end of each season we have a special event where we award the winning trophies for the winning teams, and for the best players. Normally we organize a Ball and the proceeds go to charity.

If someone wants to join, how do they get allocated to a particular team?

Each captain recruits himself. I know a couple of people advertise, but normally it’s through a friend or somebody they know. But if somebody wants to play and they don’t know anybody in the league, we can put them in touch with various teams. Basically you won’t be paying 1,000 roubles a month if you are a complete beginner. Players have usually played somewhere else before. The standard is high; it’s not walking into a park on a Sunday afternoon knocking a ball around with a few guys.

Having said that, anybody is more than welcome to come down and join us, you need to buy soccer boots and shin pads, we supply the rest of the kit, sponsored by certain people in each team. Normally we play every Saturday, sometimes we have games on Sundays. You are welcome.

The Expat Football League’s website is: www.moscowfootball.com