Football Development Officer - Sinem Cakir

City of London Logo Sinem Cakir was recruited because a pavilion was built in the Wanstead Flats area. Constructed in 2009 with £1.4m from the Football Foundation, the London Marathon Charitable Trust and the City of London, among others, the pavilion was the first stage in a plan to open up this 330-acre green space in north-east London to a wider section of the community with over 60 football pitches.

They didn’t just want bricks and mortar, they wanted to see something happen in the community, so I came with the building!

Sinem knows she has an important role in helping to unearth the next generation of players, not least by encouraging clubs to use the wide grass playing fields here rather than rival facilities.

footballers from wanstead flats

As a young woman Sinem doesn’t conform to the stereotype of a football development officer. In this densely populated part of north London her role is to target groups that are not engaging in sport, as well as those that are, and encourage them all to get the most out of the Flats through football.

We look at the pattern we’ve already got and we think about attracting females to the site, disability groups and different ethnic groups. It’s quite diverse. Sometimes I’m running tournaments and other times I’m behind the desk doing development and strategic work. It’s really good. First, I have to prove I know a bit about football, that I’ve played and coached and that I support a team, and that I know what’s going on in the Champions League. Then I’ll have a bit of a kickabout if appropriate, just to build a bit of respect and show that it’s just football at the end of the day.

Aged just 25, and having grown up in north London, she is not so far removed from this world herself and she thinks many of the kids and groups she works with can appreciate the effort she has put into her own career. She attributes that to her schooldays when she worked as a volunteer and part-time coach during the holidays, before studying at Loughborough University and eventually finding a job as a sports project co-ordinator with the crime reduction charity Nacro.

Sinem has been at Wanstead Flats since 2008, and her work here has thrown up some unexpected opportunities to travel. Last year she was invited on a four-month visit to Zambia to observe and assist with the work of a charity called Tackle Africa, which uses football coaching to promote messages about Aids awareness. Football has been her passion for as long as she can remember.

As a young girl the more people told her that girls couldn’t – or shouldn’t – play football, the more she wanted to challenge that prejudice, a feeling she says has never left her. Her primary school did not have a girls’ team but let her play with the boys.

Then they entered a girls team into a tournament and we were rubbish, but we had the same kit on as the boys and as many people came to watch us, and it just felt really nice.

At secondary school every year group had a boys’ team but there was only one girls’ team for the whole school, run by the school caretaker. This meant that Sinem could play and compete for the seven years she was there.

Despite girls’ football being one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK, the facilities and structure to sustain their participation often fall away in the mid-teens, an age when girls are arguably most prone to distraction. It’s a reality Sinem wishes she could reverse.

At my local football club you could go from age 12 right through to women’s football and I thought that was normal, but I’m now realising how hard it is to convince clubs to keep investing in girls’ football that way,” she says. “There’ll often be girls’ teams at age 13 and 14, but by the time you get to 15, the commitment levels drop.

The Post in Brief
Pay Cakir earns £27,000 a year plus London weighting.

Hours Usually a structured Monday to Friday, 8-4 pattern. “There are about 10 weeks a year when it goes a bit off kilter and I do a lot of weekends, but I can start and finish early if I need to.”

Work-life balance “My partner plays football and is pretty understanding if I need to work late.”

Highs “I got a Special Partnership award from the London FA last year, for recognition of how big the project here is, how there was nothing going on before the pavilion was built. I was nominated anonymously … It was a career highlight.”

Lows “I often have to work on my own, behind the desk. There’s a lot of admin involved.”

Contact Details
W: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/wansteadflatsplayingfields

E: Wanstead.Flats@cityoflondon.gov.uk

T: 07748335567 or 02085321010

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