by Thomas Coupland
Will Norman is the latest England international to praise the facilities on offer at St. George’s Park.
Speaking after the Blind squad’s two-day training camp at the national football centre last week, Norman revealed that the response had been overwhelmingly positive.
Norman said: “The lads were really impressed by the facilities.
“There was a really good atmosphere within the squad and everyone was very excited to be at what is effectively the home of football in this country now.
“In terms of what we need for training and getting best prepared for tournaments we can’t think of anything that we would need that isn’t here.”
The team trained on Pitch 2, an outdoor 3G pitch named after England legend David Beckham. The pitch was specially adapted to accommodate the visit of the Blind squad.
Five-a-side boundaries were marked out and specialist rebound boards, goals and balls were introduced.
For Norman, access to the same facilities enjoyed by the rest of the England teams had been a major boost to the players.
He explained: “It is a boost to the aspirations and the esteem of the squad that we are sharing facilities with all of the England squads.
“It really makes you feel a part of the England footballing family and a part of something really special.
“It is a really big boost to the lads to know that the sport and this squad in particular is being taken seriously and has access to these facilities.”
The squad’s visit began with an orientation tour of the facility followed with a double training session lead by Head Coach and National Game Coaching Workforce Manager, Graham Keeley, and Marieanne Spacey, FA coach and former England Women’s forward.
Keeley and Spacey make up a new management structure within the England Blind team and have been brought in to boost preparations for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
Norman added: “These are exciting times.
“It is really valuable for all players to take on board new ideas.
“We had a firm base of principles and things we were trying to do under the old structure and this is hopefully going to build on that with fresh ideas and new principles.”
One of the new ideas introduced is that of a pre-training routine designed to promote unity within the squad and involves players sharing embraces and messages of support.
“There is a very strong bond between the players and you have to have that in this sport.
“If you are going to go out there and run around on a five-a-side pitch with your eyes shut and give 100 per cent effort, you have to have 100 per cent trust in those around you.
“The new coaching staff have brought in the pre-training handshakes to try and help foster and develop that bond even further.”
It was not the only new idea introduced by Keeley and Spacey, who also sought to develop the players’ understanding of ball-manipulation.
“The big phrase from the weekend was ball-manipulation and how we look after the ball.
“Blind football is a sport with very prescriptive biomechanics. Players tend to play in a similar way across the world in terms of how they dribble and interact with the ball.
“With the new staff we were looking at new ways we can do things and whether there are new ways we can manipulate and look after the ball, value possession and structure how we are going to play going forward.
“It was a good positive challenge for the lads to take on board new ideas and look at how we might do things going forward.”