St. George’s Park set to finally fling open its doors


More revolution than evolution, The FA’s long-awaited St. George’s Park will finally fling open its doors – some 30 years after it was first mooted as a much-needed hub for English football.

St. George’s Park – backed by lead partner Umbro – is The FA’s new 330-acre sports site in the National Forest, near Burton Upon Trent, in the geographical heart of England.

As well as being the new training base for the 24 England representative football teams, including the England senior team, the £100million development will also feature a leading centre for research and development for sports science and sports medicine.

The FA expects the 25,000 square feet Sports Medicine complex will qualify for FIFA Centre of Medical Excellence accreditation, the first such centre in the UK and Ireland and one of only 24 centres in the world. It would make the site a national centre for sports medicine and science, delivering: screening, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation, performance analysis and medical research.

Known to many as the national football centre, St. George’s Park will be a fitting home for English football and will be the home of FA Learning – the educational arm of The FA – with outstanding education courses.

It will benefit all of the component parts of English football, from basic educational needs through to the elite game, although The FA are clear that St. George’s Park is not a finishing school for international players.

St. George’s Park Chairman, David Sheepshanks, said: “It has been over 30 years since the concept was first mooted and so 2012 will be a momentous year for everyone in England who has football in their heart. St.George’s Park will become an inspirational venue, where those from grassroots football throughout the country will learn from and work alongside the elite of English football.

“St. George’s Park will be the home of FA Learning, an educational hub where aspiring coaches and practitioners can learn their professions in a bespoke and stimulating training environment; it will feature a cutting-edge centre for sports medicine and performance analysis and a stunning Hilton hotel. In short a multi-sporting destination of choice for all.

“What is more, the development of St. George’s Park will also bring over 280 permanent new jobs to the region, and generate between £5m and £6m of expenditure in the local economy. Our link with the local Burton and South Derbyshire College, along with further university and business school affiliations, will be crucial to enhancing the venue as a centre of educational excellence.

“Seeing is believing; as we witness the excitement of getting from drawing board to reality. I would like to thank Umbro and all of our partners for helping us reach this milestone. All our collective efforts are now focussed on delivering a fully functional St. George’s Park from day one.”

The real hope for The FA is that St. George’s Park will lead to an improvement in the standard and numbers of qualified coaches in English football, both at grassroots and professional level. Their belief lies in the notion that better coaches will lead to better English players.

Why? Well, The FA has been busy bringing every element of player development together, from Sir Trevor Brooking’s The Future Game philosophy, to plans for 9v9 football at younger age groups to their involvement in the Elite Player Performance Plan alongside the Premier and Football Leagues.

Tellingly, England is the only leading European nation not to have such a centre.

“I have travelled to Clairefontaine in France, Coverciano in Italy, Zeist in Holland, the Cuidad de Futbol in Spain and the Sport University in Cologne to see how the other countries do it,” added Sheepshanks, the former Ipswich Town Chairman.

However, this world-class facility will not be exclusive to football, with The FA keen to point to its availability for use by not just UK and global football clubs, but other sports and business organisations to drive excellence in performance.

Its vision is to become the nerve centre for building innovative training and learning programmes open to all. Through its tie-up with Official Communications Services Partner BT, the centre will house the essential technology and equipment to advance teaching methods and resource development.

Furthermore, St. George’s Park will feature a showcase hotel and conference venue with domestic and international appeal, and will enable business partnerships to flourish through association with sport.

The site features:

• A 142-bedroom Hilton hotel and an 86-bedroom Hampton by Hilton hotel, plus a LivingWell spa and banqueting facility for 400 people

• Outstanding training, seminar and conference facilities

• 11 full-size outdoor pitches, including a replica Wembley pitch

• Full-size 3G indoor football pitch

• A 60x40m multi-purpose indoor sports hall

• A cutting-edge sports medicine and science centre

• Community sports pavilion and pitches.

The hotels will cater for individual, group or team bookings, along with major sporting or business conferences and banquets and will provide on-site accommodation for those attending residential courses run by FA Learning, such as A and B License and UEFA Pro-License courses.

The League Managers’ Association will also move it headquarters to the facility, as well as the Professional Footballers’ Association having a satellite office there.

There will be 12 football pitches on site, including one full-size indoor football pitch and one outdoor pitch modelled on the exact dimensions of Wembley and featuring a Desso installation.

Of course, whilst 12 Wembley-styled elite pitches will satisfy the demands of a burgeoning professional culture, what of the local community and grassroots participants? The FA are at pains to point out that this will not be a facility where the general public will have to peer through holes in the fence – quite the contrary, the welcome mats will be out.

“St. George’s Park is community accessible,” said Sheepshanks. “It will provide new pitches and facilities for the local community and local grassroots clubs.”

So with the summer of 2012 looming large on the horizon, will The FA deliver on its promises and will St. George’s Park become a reality?

Yes, is the answer. The site build is on schedule and the spend is to budget, under the watchful eye of Sheepshanks and his fellow Board members.

The steelworks are complete and the fitting out is underway, whilst all of the pitches have been reseeded and will be ready to receive England squads from the off.

It was Kevin Costner that uttered the words ‘build it and they will come’. The FA hope that a small part of Burton upon Trent will come to be their very own Field of Dreams.

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