Play Football

One group of Moscow residents have a particular interest in the Champions League final -- the weekend warriors of the Moscow expat football league. The league, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, serves as a sporting and social outlet for "over-30 expats." "The league was formed as a way to get some exercise," said coordinator David Nitzsche-Bell, "but there's always joking around on the sidelines. It's a very social league, which is not to say that it is not a very serious league. People are out to win."

"The quality of football now limits the number of people who can play," said league founder Nick Rees. "We have a lot of people who only get a few minutes per game because the league is so strong."

From a humble beginning of two teams, the organization has expanded to eight teams involving 145 players from more than 30 countries.

As the league grew, so did the group's activities. "Part of our unwritten charter is trying to give back to the community that we live in," said Nitzsche-Bell. The league sponsors a charity ball every summer to raise money for the children's charity Diema's Dream and the charity Dogs as Assistants for Disabled People. Rees estimates that the league has raised $50,000 for charity.

The league has two seasons, and while the winter season can be quite serious, games in the summer tend to have a more laid-back atmosphere that can appeal to families. On summer Saturdays, free shashlik, beer and soft drinks are available on the sidelines throughout the afternoon.

The players' love of football isn't limited, of course, to their own weekly matches, and the league members are thrilled to have the Champions League final in Moscow. "The players often leave our matches and go to watch Premier League or Champions League matches," said Nitzsche-Bell, "so some of them will definitely be getting together to watch the final." Rees added that the emphasis at the moment was on pre- and post-match entertainment, with many local players planning to meet up at popular expat bars like Rosie O'Grady's or Hemingway's before heading down to Luzhniki. Nitzsche-Bell couldn't say whether Chelsea or Manchester United boasted the largest number of fans in the league. "There are a fair number of supporters on both sides," he said.

Some players, including Rees, are hosting fans coming in for the match. He expects to have 15 guests arriving, a mixture of fans from both teams from a variety of countries, including a friend who is flying in from Nigeria.

The Moscow expat football league is looking for players to help build new teams, and those interested in getting involved can visit www.moscowfootball.com. The summer season begins in June.