By Peter Glynn
The wait is over.
Eleven years after the 330-acre site was first acquired, St. George’s Park, The FA’s new national football centre officially opens on Tuesday. English football will have reached a landmark moment.
When the Burton Upon Trent site was first purchased in 2001, Howard Wilkinson, then FA Technical Director, outlined a vision for the site as the “Oxford and Cambridge University of Coach Education.”
It has now been realised. English football has a home to raise the profile of coaching in this country and a new training hub for England’s 24 teams.
Many of football’s great and good have visited the facility, as the rolling greenery of the Staffordshire countryside has been transformed into a symbolic venue for the future of our game.
FA Chairman David Bernstein has hailed the results and said: “It’s absolutely beautiful.
“I was looking at what will be the same as the Wembley pitch, the Desso pitch, and it is absolutely fabulous.
“It is going to be the best in the world. It should be a centre for English football, English coaching and it should take us on well into the 21st Century.”
The concept of the park had been mooted for many years, with initial discussions dating back to 1975. A long wait ensued.
But the green-light came in January 2011. Approximately 18 months later in July 2012, with both deadline and budget met, FA Learning, the governing body’s educational department, moved their Wembley office to the Burton site.
The turnaround time has astounded David Sheepshanks, Chairman of St.George’s Park.
He said: “This has been built, I can’t believe it, in 74 weeks. It is something we have never done before in this scale and within our own resources.
“This is a real coming together of football in this country. There will be many benefits because it will be a place for the game to congregate, to come together, for the game to share best practice. This will become the focal point for development of English football.”
The £100m complex has evolved after exhaustive world-wide research into the best sporting facilities. FA staff visited Clairefontaine (France), Zeist (Holland) and Coverciano (Italy) as well as Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Other high performance centres including the Aspire Academy in Qatar and the Australian Institute of Sport were also consulted. The results are impressive.
The centre features the very best medical, sports-science and rehabilitation facilities. It is no surprise that athletes and teams from other sports are attracted by the prospect of using the facility.
Michael Johnson, USA’s four- time Olympic gold medal winner, visited the national football centre earlier this year and was amazed at what he saw.
He said: “This type of centre and this type of initiative is extremely important for the development of athletes and to continue to develop athletes far into the future.
“Coaches are big part of that development phase, so when you have facilities like this that are largely focused on the development of athletes, on the development of good coaches, then you will see results in the future.”
For more information on St.George’s Park visit www.TheFA.com/sgp
By Peter Glynn