Amidst the furore of former England captain John Terry facing a hefty fine for racial abuse, manager Roy Hodgson leaking squad selection choices on the tube and Ashley Cole calling the FA a ‘bunch of t**ts’, there has been light at the end of a very dark tunnel for our national game. That light has been provided by the grand opening of the new FA Centre of Excellence, St George’s Park – a £105-million complex which is housed in the National Forest in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire.
The brand-new facility – a work-in-progress since 2010 – was officially opened on Tuesday morning , 10th October, by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate. England manager Roy Hodgson and his squad were also on hand to seek out and take advantage of the new facilities which will house all 24 England teams from junior to senior level. The complex has 11 outdoor pitches, five of which are floodlit, all with undersoil heating. There is a full-size indoor artificial pitch with a viewing gallery, as well as a 60-metre sprinting track. Inspirational quotes adorn the walls, one of which states ‘Practice makes permanent’ – a mantra which we all hope will serve future England sides well, as they look to not only replicate this current squad but also go one better and one day win some silverware which has eluded the national side for 46 long years.
Chairman of the FA, David Bernstein, is confident that the Burton facility will provide a bright future for our national game, stating: “We have to get more players through who can be full England internationals and this is where it will happen. So much work has gone into this for so long and to see it now is fantastic.” Bernstein is, no doubt, speaking the words of every England fan who has had to watch and suffer down the years as countless England sides have promised and failed to deliver on the big stage, excluding Italia ’90 and Euro ’96, in which England came up short both times against the efficient Germans, heroically.
Let’s face it, it’s not been an exciting time to be an England fan recently. Stalwart John Terry has retired following his case for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand and being stripped of the captaincy, manager Roy Hodgson tried and failed to make England look decent again at Euro 2012, taking them, somewhat predictably, to the quarter-final stage and getting deservedly knocked out on penalties (again) by Italy. He was then, months later, caught out revealing squad selection options to fellow tube travellers, namely that Rio Ferdinand wouldn’t play for his country again. To top it all off, Ashley Cole – team-mate of John Terry – isn’t the FA’s biggest fan judging by his Twitter account. Quite a grim few months, sure, and this new, lush complex won’t iron out any of the problems we have with the current England set-up, of course not. What it does do, though, is set a great platform for future England starlets to raise the bar so to speak, in terms of fitness, psychology and the way in which the game is played.
In terms of our game, at grass roots level, we are behind the likes of Spain in particular – who coach their players from a young age the art of ball retention. Touch, look, pass, touch, look, pass – a tried and trusted method which has served their national side so well in recent years that they have won three trophies on the spin, a feat never before achieved at international level. And they won those trophies quite handsomely too, playing easy-on-the-eye passing football. Many would say the intercontinental way is not our style – we’re more about commitment, passion – blood and thunder, which we all enjoy. But, let’s face it, we know what’s more successful, don’t we? The proof is in the pudding.
St George’s Park is the first stepping stone in a long path, which will hopefully iron out the faults of our current game, see where we’ve gone wrong and ensure that young lads who come through the ranks will be trained and nurtured in a much more technical manner. The national game will need to learn to walk before it can run, slow building blocks, but with this new, impressive structure in place it’s safe to say that we have the facilities at hand to provide a better future for our national side.
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