Palace for Life's Cigdem Turkan

This Is Surrey Football: Cigdem Turkan

As part of our #ThisIsSurreyFootball campaign we spoke to the newest member of our Inclusion Advisory Group.

Our Inclusion Advisory Group [IAG] has been growing from strength to strength since the arrival of Riz Rehman as Chair just over a year ago.

Cigdem Turkan becomes the eleventh member of the group and brings a wealth of experience to the table having worked with multiple football clubs, foundations and sports organisations. She currently works at Palace for Life Foundation as their Education, Training and Employment Manager and Race Equality Lead.

As part of our ongoing #ThisIsSurreyFootball campaign, we spoke to Cigdem about her roles at Palace for Life Foundation and what they entail, what she hopes to achieve being on our IAG and what kind of changes need to be made to see more people from minority ethnic backgrounds working in the game.

When did you first get involved in football?

“Football is a really big part of our family life. In terms of me, it goes back to watching Sunday league games at Hackney Marshes. Anyone from this part of the world will know what I’m talking about. My dad was really actively involved in the Turkish community and the Turkish community football league. He was a coach, then become a Chairman and at one point he was leading two teams. I just remember him having two teams on either side and him being stuck in the middle with footballs flying around.

I have some really great experiences and memories growing up with football and because we built such good memories around football, it’s something that I then went onto play myself and my brother plays football [too]. I remember always being around his games and I had my first actual experience of the coaching and business side of football with his football team, so I was really grateful for that because it’s a real male dominated environment but it gave me that confidence to then do that away from football with family and friends I was quite comfortable around.

In terms of me taking a step into football – there wasn’t actually a girl’s football team at my school, so me and a couple of friends had to set it up ourselves even though there were three or four boys teams. We’d arrange fixtures with other schools and then we would have to ask one of the teachers to accompany us because we couldn’t go alone.

Those kinds of experiences made me think that I wanted to pick PE at A-Level. My mum was in disbelief that I actually wanted to study sport at university as well when we come from a family of business people and lawyers. So it was something that I had to fight for because even though we had it in our life [from a] social perspective and being really avid fans as well as coming from a Turkish/Cypriot background -Turks are crazy about football - it’s always been there in our family but it was a little bit different for someone to say they want to have a career out of it. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to achieve and having the support of our family along the way has been really incredible for me.”

What is your role at Palace for Life and what does it entail?

“I’m currently the Education, Training and Employment Manager at Palace for Life Foundation and very recently I was appointed the Race Equality Lead as well.

In terms of the Education, Training and Employment role, we work with secondary schools and young people and meet those young people who are sixteen to nineteen or nineteen plus, who are out of education or unemployed. We then try to talk them back into those positive progression routes.

It’s very rewarding and something I have worked in for several years. Prior to my role at Palace, I was at Chelsea and again we did some really great work there as well. I think for me at the core of it is being able to use the power that football has to engage people and be able to harness that community feel to get people onto those right paths. It’s about bringing opportunities to them which they may not feel are available to them in the first place.

We always hear those stories about people seeing an opportunity and not wanting to apply for it because they don’t think it’s for them or that they wouldn’t feel comfortable in that environment. From the Foundation’s perspective, it’s something that we’re able to do. We can bridge that between the football club and the communities that are based around [it]. It’s not uncommon to find that the bigger fan base of the football club isn’t the immediate community that the club is within. That’s something that the foundations do really well, bridging that gap between the clubs and their community.

I don’t actually support palace. I’m from North London and we also don’t support the closest club to us, I have to admit that. We support Arsenal and we live in Tottenham, but I appreciate that community vibe that Tottenham does bring to the area.”

What made you want to join our Inclusion Advisory Group?

“I’ve heard a lot about what Surrey FA and the IAG does. I work really closely with the Chair, Riz Rehman and we work on several projects together through his role and my role, but also through personal interest. We work together on the Zesh Rehman Foundation, which was set up by Riz and his brother, Zesh.

I think a lot of our values aligned and the more I heard about the work that Surrey FA are doing and want to do, the more it was something I really wanted to get involved in. I’m really glad we’ve been able to formalise that, and I am looking forward to getting to know the other members and the Surrey FA itself along with the community that it serves.”

What do you hope to achieve as part of our Inclusion Advisory Group?

“I know that the IAG has been trailblazing. They are leading the way in terms of the standard being set and I like that competitive feel. I like that they are leading the way, and it’s something that I’m looking forward to being a part of.

I hope that I can bring a different perspective to it. I am one of very few people that are from my background, gender and ethnicity [working in football] but I hope that my added perspective can encourage the engagement of people like myself and people that can relate to me. I also hope that my various experience, whether that’s within the grassroots side of football, coaching and teaching equality and diversity, or even my expertise about matchday experience having worked in various matchday roles.

I hope that the combination of what I’ve mentioned can really help broaden the engagement that we have.”

Have you experienced challenges working in football, as a female from a minority ethnic background?

“We get asked these sorts of questions a lot and it’s not uncommon even for Riz actually to use me as the only female from a minority ethnic background to talk about my experiences.

I think now that I reflect on it, and I have come a long way from my school days when I first said I want to study sport, to justify that and carve a career out of it [is something] I am very proud of.

I think my biggest barrier and challenge has been myself and the confidence I had in myself. I put a lot of expectation on myself in terms of other people accepting me and it shouldn’t have been that way, it should’ve been me saying this is what I am, this is how I come, this is the perspective and experience I bring to the table and that should be what you want to hear from me.

There’s definitely been barriers and the only upsetting thing about it is that I know there are other people facing those barriers that I did. Where I’ve been able to, I’ve definitely spoken up about it and I want to empower people to do that. If they need to reach out to people, they should know that there are people like myself. I’m sure the other members on the IAG would be happy to help and discuss the experiences we’ve had so people can learn from the route we took as well as some of the difficulties we faced.

One of the things that gets missed a lot is that it’s not just those almost physical barriers to our development, but those challenges and barriers also have such a massive social and emotional impact as well. The psychological side of dealing with those barriers is massive and that’s something that I hope we can start to manage a lot better. Again, if there’s any support I can provide then that’s something that I’m happy to do.”

What kind of changes do you feel are needed to see more people from a minority ethnic backgrounds working in the game?

“Role models is one of the key things and one of the more obvious things that we hear a lot of people talking about. It shouldn’t just be the physical presence of a role model; it should be what those role models stand for.

I guess using myself as an example, I don’t think I would’ve been the greatest role model 3-6 years ago because I wouldn’t have spoken up or provided anyone else with the support because I couldn’t support myself. Now that I have grown and learnt from my life and professional experiences, I understand the meaning and support that the role model needs to provide.

As I mentioned in terms of that wider engagement as part of Surrey FA and The FA’s work, it’s about how we can broaden those perspectives. Yes, we have the role models but what is it that they are bringing and what are we allowing them to bring to the table? And then how are we using that to tap into those new perspectives and new communities to make sure we are building that engagement from a grassroots level and making the sport accessible for all. We need to make sure it’s a sport people really can love and that they feel comfortable and confident to keep it as part of their lives whether it is on a recreational level or they choose to work in the sport like we have. I really do hope that it will become an even more positive and welcoming environment for more people.

I do think football is on the up. There is a lot happening in UK and British sport and in the Premier League, I think we’re getting there but we just need to make sure that we keep the momentum going and that positive steps are made at the right time and continued.”


Surrey FA are committed to ensuring everyone who is involved in football in the County has a great experience – regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability or disability, faith or age.

If you’d like to find out more about the Inclusion Advisory Groups and its members, click here.