English soccer’s ￡105 million (US$168 million) plan to win the World Cup was granted royal approval on Tuesday as the Football Association’s St George’s Park National Football Centre was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Prince William, the FA President, had not been born when plans for a national center were first discussed 37 years ago and now the race is on for the England team to win a major trophy for the first time since 1966.
The FA, which also invited over 1,000 football dignitaries and media to witness their landmark occasion, hopes the state-of-the-art facilities will result in silverware within 15 years as well as leading to 250,000 new top-level coaches finding their way into the game.
“The lads are buzzing and feel really lucky to have facilities like this,” England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard told reporters.
“I hope it makes a difference. We’ve got the best stadium in the world and now the training facilities too so we have taken away all of the excuses for the future,” Gerrard said.
“Football these days is all about preparation and recovery at the top level,” he added.
Set in the Staffordshire National Forest, in 133 hectares of landscaped parkland, the center will be the training base for all 24 England teams.
“We have a great national stadium and now a national training center too,” England manager Roy Hodgson said.
“Facilities don’t make a better football team; it is the work you do within the facilities. I’m rather hoping that the work that will go on here and the amount of effort we’ll put in here to help produce better players and coaches will lead us one day to that elusive World Cup victory,” he added.
St George’s Park is also the home of FA Learning, the FA’s educational department, national coach education courses and a platform for the communication of The Future Game philosophy, which outlines a vision for the development of English soccer.
The complex has evolved after exhaustive world-wide research into the best sporting facilities. FA staff visited their international counterparts Clairefontaine (France), Zeist (Netherlands), Coverciano (Italy), the Ciudad del Futbol (Spain) as well as Premier League clubs including Arsenal and Manchester United to learn from their set-ups.
Among the key details at St George’s Park are 11 outdoor pitches, including an exact replica of the Wembley Stadium surface; a full-sized indoor pitch and a massive indoor sports hall.
There is also a bespoke sports medicine, rehabilitation and performance center, creating the most advanced facility of its kind in the UK.
Like the rest of the facilities, they will be made available for use by national and international football clubs, as well as other sports and business organizations to drive excellence in performance.
Two onsite hotels have been built to cater for the national sides, groups or team bookings, along with major sporting or business conferences and banquets and will provide accommodation for residential courses.