Kelley Smith MBE, an International player with the England womens football team, and Henry Winter, the Telegraph’s football correspondant, have recently visited St. George’s Park and were hugely impressed !!!
Kelley Smith MBE, England International:
Just spent the day at St. George’s Park, The FA’s new National Football Centre. What a facility it is. Two hotels, twelve pitches, spa facility.
Henry Winter, the Telegraphs football correspondant:
The FA’s £120million St George’s Park provides the perfect setting for English football to open a new chapter.
When Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole and the rest of England’s footballers emerge from the dressing room of their new training home, St George’s Park, they will be greeted with the message given to all the Team GB Olympians by Sir Clive Woodward.
In the hi-tech gym, the words of Muhammad Ali dominate one wall: “I hated every minute of training but I used to say ‘don’t quit’. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’’
A two-hour tour behind the scenes at St George’s Park yesterday, taking in everywhere from Roy Hodgson’s bedroom to a treadmill designed by Nasa, revealed the remarkable scale of the FA’s £120 million commitment to the future of the national team. A complex of two halves elegantly designed by Red Box Design Group, the first section encountered in this rolling Staffordshire countryside comprises two hotels.
At first glance, these Hiltons resemble any sleek modern hotel. Look closer and there is Sammy Lee’s old England tracksuit hanging behind a glass front in reception. Examine the walls and there are scribbled memories of famous England goals, of John Barnes against Brazil, Alan Shearer against Holland and Michael Owen against Argentina.
Sneak a peak in the bedrooms, and there are pictures of Frank Lampard scoring a penalty against Switzerland and Gary Lineker darting ahead of Alex McLeish.
There is the Kevin Keegan Suite, the Glenn Hoddle Suite and the vast Sir Bobby Charlton suite, home from home for Hodgson and boasting a large balcony that until recently had its own birds nest. Many books can be found in the players’ meeting room, including the life stories of Usain Bolt, George Best, Paul Gascoigne, Bobby Moore and Gary Lineker. Equally useful is a tome on how to handle anxiety in sport. Downstairs is a 90-seat auditorium which, players take note, has already been soundproofed for karaoke.
Legends of the game had rooms named after them. Yesterday, the Brian Clough Room was hosting a coaching course on “strikers”. The Sir Trevor Brooking Room has a superb photograph of the midfielder in his pomp. Outside, a coach in an Everton tracksuit strode past.
St George’s Park has not officially opened yet but it is up and running. Celtic and Fulham played an under-21 game last weekend. Notts County have taken a one-year contract to train here. Burton Albion use it. The attraction is obvious. Head into the second part of the National Football Centre, and the extent of the FA’s ambition becomes even clearer. The facilities are so good that it is easy to understand rumours that Stuart Lancaster will relocate England from Pennyhill Park to St George’s Park.
Areas promoting the pursuit of excellence are everywhere. There’s a hydrotherapy pool that films players running on treadmills underwater, a three-lane sprint track, an indoor pitch the size of Wembley, a machine with lights to be touched when they flash. Joe Hart and Jack Butland will work on this.
“Lewis Hamilton uses one for his peripheral vision,’’ said David Sheepshanks, the chairman of the NFC, as he marched through this structure he has done so much to turn from idea to reality.
“Everyone has been talking about the Olympics and sportsmanship but the important message of the Olympics for me was the rewards from sports science. Look at the cyclists and rowers. It’s phenomenal. In many years to come St George’s Park will help England win. It’s a place to build on strengths and challenge underachievement. It’s an educational hub.
“Sir Trevor Brooking has talked often about developing a new generation of young players who are not only technically adept but are also decision-makers. We achieve that by investing in the teachers. It will take time for them to grow up and deliver on a world stage.”
One of the many flaws inhibiting English players in recent years has been the failure to take responsibility in pressure situations. “We used to hear Bobby Robson and Alex Ferguson always pointing to the fact that they had half a dozen leaders in their team,’’ continued Sheepshanks.
“But so many times recently we’ve heard managers bemoaning too few leaders. People say ‘that’s society nowadays’ but we have to react to it. We’re investing in leadership development.’’ There’s even an outdoor leadership training centre where stars can walk on a high-wire. Whisper that quietly around club managers.
“The academy initiative was a very good one but one of the side-effects was we pampered young players,’’ added Sheepshanks.
“They have been paid too much money and did not have to do the hard work that apprentices used to. Then we wonder when they are in their mid-twenties why they are not motivated to go on investing in themselves. Training becomes a drudgery as opposed to an opportunity. We need to create more leaders and fewer followers.’’
Sheepshanks kept weaving through the corridors, past a large room which the League Managers’ Association was moving into on Monday. Richard Bevan stood next to a stack of boxes. Howard Wilkinson talked in a corridor. Unfortunately, the technical director’s office was empty.
Gareth Southgate should have been in residence, particularly after the FA spent 18 months training him for such an important role, but he backed out. Dan Ashworth, West Brom’s highly regarded director of football, is now favourite to accept the challenge of ensuring the next generation are remembered well.
“How do you want to be remembered?” read the note that the British Olympic Association’s director of elite performance left in their rooms at the Olympic Village.
So how do English footballers want to be remembered? Winners with their clubs but penalty-missing underachievers with Three Lions on their hair-shirts? The National Football Centre was conceived in 2001, mothballed in 2003, but now opens for England business on the eve of the Oct 12 World Cup qualifier against San Marino.
The aim is to end all those years of hurt by accentuating players’ preparation and also training the coaches who will enhance the skills of the next generation.
The writing’s been on the wall for England for so long but now it makes inspirational reading.
The Olympic legacy is inescapable at St George’s Park. As they journey from the magnificent dressing room that comfortably tops Wembley’s, England’s players will see maxims from past masters of the five-ring circus. There is the credo of Jesse Owens: “A lifetime of training for just 10 seconds”. The thoughts of Daley Thompson: “I trained every single day, including Christmas Day, in order to achieve what I wanted. I never wanted to leave any stone unturned.”