Prince, Kate help open English soccer’s new home

Given royal approval by Prince William and wife Kate, English

soccer’s new headquarters were officially opened Tuesday to boost

hopes that one of the sport’s underperformers can close the gap on

the world’s top teams.

Thirty-seven years in the making, the $160 million national

soccer center at Burton-upon-Trent in central England will be the

permanent home for all 24 of England’s senior and junior teams and

the training base for aspiring coaches.

”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.”

France and Spain became world champions a decade after building

their national academies. England, whose only major trophy was won

at the 1966 World Cup on home soil, is hoping for the same

result.

Facilities were developed after extensive research into similar

centers around the world, including Clairefontaine – the

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

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

Institute of Sport.

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

of those at Wembley Stadium, where England plays its home matches,

with exactly the same mix of grass and artificial fibers. There is

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 first came about in 1975 and 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 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 field.

”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 Gerrard and Hodgson before

walking across the practice field 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,” England captain

Steven Gerrard said.

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

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

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

and Poland on Tuesday.