Expat Football League Hosts Charity Ball

Only a few hours before, the men of the Expat Football League of Moscow were moving the ball down the field and shouting words of encouragement to their teammates. At the Fourth Annual Summer Ball on Saturday, however, the only reminders of the game were the sunburned faces, the jovial atmosphere and the championship trophy reserved for one of the eight teams.

The charity ball, held at a Holiday Inn near the Sokolniki metro station in northeast Moscow, has been going on since the league was founded in 2003 to bring expats together for camaraderie and networking.

"We currently have about 200 players on the league -- all expats from all over the world," said Darren Keane, the league's co-founder.

As guests enjoyed champagne and drinks at the reception before dinner, their conversation created its own cocktail of languages: English and Russian, with a bit of French, Italian, and Chinese mixed in.

Later at dinner, the players were treated to performances by a Latin band and Latin dance troupe Bomba. Also performing at the ball was British band Croupier, whose lead singer plays on one of the teams. The party lasted past 4 a.m.

"I love it," said Keti Chanturia, manager of the Expat Salon. "It's my third time, and every year there's something new."

During the awards ceremony, co-founder Nick Rees presented a trophy to the winning team, the Four Squares Flagons. Other prizes included awards for the top goal scorer, goalkeeper of the year and the most improved player.

"That's an award for someone who used to be really bad, and now is just bad," Keane said.

Though they originally conceived of the ball as a way to celebrate each season and show appreciation for the players, Rees and Keane had other goals in mind.

"When we did the first ball, the question that we asked was, 'Is there anything we can do for Russia?'" Rees said, "I've been living here 12 years, and I wanted to give something back."

The festivities included a lottery and an auction, the proceeds of which will go to Moscow charities. Some of the items auctioned off included a jersey signed by Pele, two return flights to Europe and a trip for two to Egypt.

Last year's event raised over $20,000 for charity.

The recipients of the league's generosity were Diema's Dream, a foundation that provides help for disabled orphans, and Dogs as Assistants for Disabled People, an organization that trains dogs for guidance and therapy.

The money was used to pay for a roof that Diema's Dream is building for disabled people once they grow too old for orphanages in a village 250 kilometers south of Moscow, and to provide two guide dogs for two blind residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Anya Orochko, a volunteer for the guide dog organization, attended the ceremony to express her appreciation to the league and announce the plans for this year's proceeds.

"We plan to build a kennel and a training room," she said. "We're also looking into Moscow parks where we can locate our center. Then we'll have a better place to train and work with the dogs."

Rees, who was the master of ceremonies at the event, encouraged guests to open their wallets for the lottery and auction.

"You're touching so many people you'll never meet," Rees said to the crowd. "But it means so much to them."

The league plays every Saturday at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in southwest Moscow.

Informally known as the "Over-30 Expat League," it boasts players from 28 to 58 years old.

Since 2003, the league has grown from two to eight teams, and Keane said that his dream is to see that number grow to 20, the size of a standard English league.

He also said the league develops a sense of community in other ways than helping charitable institutions. In the summer, it is a family-friendly event where parents can bring their children to have a barbecue and watch the game.

"It gives someone something to be a part of," he said.