When Ferhat Ciçek took over Alésia F.C. six years ago, his goal was to change lives in his neighbourhood.
"It was football that built me", says Ferhat Ciçek, the director of Paris Alésia Football Club.
Now, Ferhat is using football to build his own community through Paris Alésia F.C., which he took over in 2014. He grew up in Paris's 14th arrondissement, where the club was founded in 1916 and continues to play today, at the Elisabeth Stadium. We met with Ferhat and the team last winter and as he walked the streets of his neighbourhood, pointing to the windows of his parents' house, he stopped to reminisce about how, as an immigrant from Turkey, football became his lifeline.
"To be honest, I had many school difficulties, and because my parents didn't speak a lot of French, there was no one to help me", recalls Ferhat. "It was difficult because when you arrive after the other [students], unfortunately, you are left behind."
He continues, "It was at that time that I started football. I started to make my first friends, who are still by my side even nowadays. Football was a way of escape, to feel freer and not feel put aside."
Ferhat wants football to play a similar role for the kids in his community. In the last six years, he's expanded Paris Alésia F.C. from 80 kids to more than 700. And last season, they introduced a unique girls' programme in the city, which focuses on players 12 years old and younger, and is completely led by female coaches. Football, he says, brings everyone together and teaches them lessons for life, lessons he's learnt on the pitch himself.
"Football brought life to this stadium. Football changed the life of many kids. Football changed my life", says Ferhat. "Football is a form of expression, and that's all we tell them: 'Here, you are going to grow'."
In our new series, "From the Grounds Up", you'll meet people from all over the world who know that they can change their communities and the world through football and sport.
Watch the third episode above, read more from the people of Paris Alésia F.C. below, and check out previous episodes on Hackney Wick F.C. and Fitzroy Lions SC.
"It's great to show them that they can do anything. There are no barriers. I had my first international selection last week, at 31 years old, and it's a way of telling them that if you believe in yourself before others believe in you, you'll get there."
"I train on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Saturday I have matches. I want to be a footballer because we work as a team, because we have great skills. And a taxi driver. Because it's nice to take care of people."
"The club is my second home. Every day I make my bed, I clean the flat and then I leave for the clubhouse. I make meals for everyone—kebab, kefta, Italian pizza, Turkish pizza—everything! I have a restaurant now. I feed the whole club."
This story was reported in December 2019.