James McCourt, from Belfast, Ireland, is one of five co-founders of the international football club Leiden FC. After moving in November 2017, he started the club, hoping to create a community of football-loving internationals.
What brought you to Leiden?
I was in a long distance relationship with my girlfriend who was living in the Netherlands. When I made the decision to move to Holland, I suggested to my girlfriend that we move to Leiden. The atmosphere of the city, and the fact that it looks like a big city but feels really small attracted me.
How do you like living in Leiden so far?
It’s a really cool city. I like the people and I feel I’ve found a home-away-from-home here. Every day I’m still finding new parts of the city, meeting different people and getting to know different lifestyles. The international community along with the local community hand in hand make Leiden a really interesting and evolving city.
What made you want to start a football club here?
When I first moved from my home country, I was a bit afraid to step out there and meet new people. This made me feel quite alone and I fell into a depression. I was used to having a lot of friends and leading an active lifestyle, so moving here sort of hit me like a slap in the face. So I thought to myself, what can I do to pull myself out of this?
I posted in the Leiden Expat Facebook group, asking if anyone wanted to come play football, hoping for 5 or 6 people to come. The response was incredible, we had 30 people that wanted to play on the first day! We met a lot of people who were going through what I went through, and I wanted to get others and myself out of that. So with a group of guys (Ricardo, Jose, Nathan, Ledian, and I), we eventually turned this into a football club for the community of Leiden. Eventually, we were able to offer 11-a-side, 5-a-side, indoor football, and more. It’s a way to bring together the international and local community.
How does Leiden FC give internationals a community?
It was something that I felt the city needed, especially the internationals. A lot of our members have said that the club has given them the confidence to make friends and given them a social community where they can feel at home right away. Football is like an international language, it really brings people together. We’ll be talking, playing, and having fun all while getting fit.
What’s the demographic of people who join Leiden FC?
We didn’t want to be selective and keep it very broad to include as many people as we could. We have girls and guys from all over the world. Members range from 18 to 75. At one point we had a 75-year-old man playing with us! We never segregate skill levels and always integrate everyone together. Some of us started at a young age, and some of us have started at a later stage.
If people want to join Leiden FC, how would they go about that?
Basically, just message me. If they message the Leiden FC facebook group, we can then tell you when to come, so just drop us a message! We’re very welcoming. You can choose to only train with us, or also play games. There’s no pressure. We’ll probably go drink a beer or coffee after and just have fun. It’s football, but it’s also building up a huge family.
What advice would you give to someone that just moved to the Leiden region?
Always have a goal. Don’t let it be overwhelming when you move. Soak up your new environment and adapt. Try not to isolate yourself like I did, as it ruins your confidence. As cliche as it sounds, adapt but don’t change yourself. Be yourself, and the people of Leiden will respect that. Stick to who you are and enjoy the ride.
Expat Centre Leiden