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
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
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 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.