Royals officially open English football’s new home

Given royal approval by Prince William and wife Kate, English

football’s new headquarters were officially opened Tuesday to boost

hopes that one of the sport’s serial underperformers can soon close

the gap to the world’s top teams.

Thirty-seven years in the making, the 100 million pound ($160

million) national football center at Burton-upon-Trent in central

England will be the permanent home for all 24 of England’s senior

and junior teams as well as a training base for aspiring

coaches.

France and Spain became world champions a decade after building

their national academies and England, whose only major trophy was

won at the 1966 World Cup on home soil, is targeting the same

result.

”Coming here and seeing these wonderful facilities gives the

same feeling as when I first went to the Olympic Park,” said

Prince William, who chatted with players and tried out the center’s

state-of-the-art facilities on a guided tour with Kate.

”It gives me great pride we have created in this country

facilities that are beyond compare anywhere else.”

Facilities were developed after extensive research into similar

centers around the world, including Clairefontaine – the

world-famous headquarters of French football – Spain’s Cuidad del

Futbol near Madrid, the Aspire Academy in Qatar and the Australian

Institute of Sport.

One of the 11 outside pitches on the 330-acre site is a replica

of that used at Wembley Stadium, where England plays its home

matches, with exactly the same mix of grass and artificial fibers.

There is also a full-size indoor artificial surface, an indoor

60-meter sprint track, reflex machines for goalkeepers, a high-wire

course and a suite of rehabilitation and sports science areas.

The idea for the center was first mooted in 1975 – finally, it

has finally come to fruition.

”I’m rather hoping that the amount of great work being put in

here will take us to that elusive World Cup,” England manager Roy

Hodgson said of the center, located in a sleepy town more than 100

miles from London and amid rolling countryside.

”It’s taken a long while for this dream to become a reality. It

is going to be very important.”

England’s record in recent years has been disappointing, never

making it past the quarterfinals of a major tournament since Euro

1996 – which was also held in England.

The team is currently fifth in the FIFA rankings but is no

longer regarded as a heavyweight of the international game, with

players’ inability to keep possession seen as the main reason for

its decline.

The hope is that more and higher-quality coaches will be

produced at St. George’s Park, which will translate to future

success on the pitch.

”It is a momentous day in our history,” FA chairman David

Bernstein said. ”What has been achieved here is breathtaking. It

is an inspirational training base for all our national teams and

for coaches an Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) of football.

”We expect to get a huge amount out of this, probably first and

foremost the development of more and better coaches.”

William and Kate initially spoke with England captain Steven

Gerrard and Hodgson before walking across the practice pitch for a

meet-and-greet with the rest of the senior squad – including Ashley

Cole, who on Friday posted an offensive tweet criticizing the FA.

William is the governing body’s honorary president.

”St. George’s Park is a concept totally new,” William said.

”It will provide more than just world-class facilities for our

national team and more than a university from which hundreds of

coaches will graduate.

”It will provide employment and a social hub for local people

and will foster community spirit and purpose and hope throughout

England.”

England squads will be accommodated in a Hilton hotel, where

players will have their own private dining area and games room.

”There is no better place to come to work,” Gerrard said.

”The place has blown me away. All the lads are buzzing to be

here.

”Now we’ve got the best stadium in the world and the best

facilities. We’re taking away all the excuses the players might use

in the future.”

The center has been in use for several weeks by younger age

groups but was first sampled by England’s senior men’s team on

Monday, ahead of World Cup qualifiers against San Marino on Friday

and Poland next Tuesday.