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 in Burton-Upon-Trent, is open.
Purchased in 2001, the Staffordshire site – a location justified for its position in the geographical centre of the country – would be transformed into what Howard Wilkinson, then FA Technical Director, described as the “Oxford University of Coach Education”. English football would have a centre where generations of future English coaches and managers would be developed.
A long wait ensued; the construction of Wembley stadium was prioritised and progress on the Football Centre halted. The green-light came in January 2011. Eighteen months later on July 16th 2012, with both deadline and budget met, FA Learning, The FA’s educational department, moved their Wembley office to the Burton site.
£83 million pounds of investment have brought impressive facilities: 12 full-size training pitches - including a full-sized indoor 3G pitch and a grass replica of the Wembley surface - an indoor Futsal sports hall as well as multiple gymnasiums, rehabilitation, medical and sports science areas.
The site is equal to the specification of any equivalent across Europe. Video analysis technology is equipped throughout –course candidates, coaches and teams having the opportunity to receive video feedback on conclusion of a practice. Two on-site hotels will house guests, including those from businesses and other sports who will be actively encouraged to use the site.
The centre is not solely the preserve of The FA: The League Managers’ Association [The LMA] and the Professional Footballers’ Association [The PFA] both have office space. With these major stakeholders all under one roof it is hoped partnerships will be strengthened and developed.
How the multi-million pound facilities are utilised will prove telling. Described as a prospective nerve-centre, a hub of coach education and a think-tank for prospective coaches and managers, there has been much talk of creating a coaching culture. Before his departure, Gareth Southgate, The FA’s former Head of Elite Development, told the The Boot Room that the opportunity to bring coaches from all levels of the game together to share ideas, experiences and watch other coaches work would be the ingredients to building a prosperous learning environment.
The site will be the training home for England’s 21 national teams - including England’s women’s and disability teams . It will not, however, be a Lilleshall-styled residential training centre for the country’s most talented players. Instead England players will use the centre to prepare for International fixtures. All national coach education courses will be held at the centre, providing a base for the further development of The FA Youth Award and other additions to the FA coaching pathway including positional specific courses and the Elite Coaches’ Award.
For Sir Trevor Brooking, FA Director of Football Development, the purpose is simple: the centre must become the centre-point from which The Future Game, which outlines a playing and coaching philosophy for English football, is brought to life and communicated to the whole game.
“To achieve technical progression in the game, we need all those involved in the game, at every level, to help communicate The Future Game philosophy,” explained Brooking, who will have an office at the centre along with England Manager, Roy Hodgson, U21 Head Coach, Stuart Pearce, and Hope Powell, Women’s Head Coach.
The Future Game playing philosophy encourages teams to play out from the back with the goalkeeper and defenders comfortable beginning attacking moves. Retaining possession is fundamental, as is an awareness of opportunities to pass forward and quick, incisive counter-attacking play. Creativity is encouraged throughout, with skilful individual play required to break-down well organised defences in the final-third.
“We need to help the coaches of players in the U8s, U9s and U10s teams to understand what The Future Game philosophy means to them just as much as we do for those working with players in the older age-groups.”
Brooking believes the change will be achieved as a collective effort with everybody involved in the game in this country playing their part to help implement these principles. Engendering a responsibility amongst the football fraternity which champions technical excellence over a thoughtless long-ball style is another aim.
“We want parents asking ‘why are our team kicking the ball long?’ If the coach’s approach doesn’t change we want them to take their child to a team who do play in the style we encourage. We want everybody around the game to recognise what we consider good play. To phase out the kick-and-rush approach everyone will need to help.”
The significance of emulation is recognised. Young players must see those at the top of the game playing in The Future Game style if they are to adopt a similar approach. With the England youth teams - men’s and women’s - sharing the site with the Senior squads, young England players will have the opportunity to observe and take advice from those in the senior set-up. Coaches from both the professional and grassroots game will be invited to watch FA National coaches work.
“We want The Future Game playing philosophy and style to be seamless across all our age-group teams,” explained Brooking.
“The philosophy encourages a more potent attacking unit with more creativity and imagination in the final third. It is for these attributes that clubs look overseas to bring people in. We need to develop young English players with the same skills.”
Although much of the discussion generated by the centre is focused on the effect the site will have at the top level of the game, the centre is not reserved solely for the elite. Grassroots football and young players’ introduction to the game is also a priority. Community pitches will house local grassroots teams and the site will offer opportunities to communicate and further research, the detail of the successful Youth Development Review, which has seen significant changes to the grassroots player pathway.