England unveil their masterplan for the future

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Under skies where bomber pilots used to train, and in fields where medieval nobles once hunted, England's finest footballers will soon begin plotting their 2006 World Cup campaign.

This was the encouraging news from the Football Association yesterday as it was confirmed that one major project, at least, is under way. After nearly five years' gestation Howard Wilkinson's vision of a National Football Centre was finally made flesh. Well, not flesh exactly, more balsa wood and plastic, but the FA's Technical Director was understandably proud of the small-scale model he unveiled at Soho Square.

The 350-acre site, a few miles west of Burton, Staffordshire, is scheduled to be operational by 2004. The bulldozers are already in, levelling the land where 11 outdoor pitches are to be laid out and an indoor arena, housing a pitch and other facilities, to be constructed.

"We have left no stone unturned," Wilkinson said. "This is the best site in the world and it will become the best facility in the world. It is symbolic of a philosophy, a statement of intent. Everything about it will be quality. We have tried to design something which will still be cutting edge in 2015."

The centre will house a gymnasium and physiology, hydrotherapy, sports science and sports medicine units. The arena will incorporate cameras in the roof and a huge screen enabling coaches to stop a session and replay action immediately. Prozone, the tracking system used by ITV's The Premiership, will also be accessible.

All England teams, from under-14s to the seniors, will use the centre and the education of coaches will be conducted there. Short-stay accommodation will provide for 300 people alongside various media, teaching and conference facilities.

The transport links are impressive and the adjacent airfield, which was used by the RAF during the war, could now be used to transport England to fixtures by charter plane.

While Wilkinson said Clairefontaine, the French centre where the base was laid for World Cup and European Championship success, was not the sole inspiration the similarities are obvious. Both are sited in wooded parkland. Most of the pitches will feel secluded and the accommodation looks across the lake at a copse of 500-year-old trees.

"We don't want it to look like a factory," Wilkinson said. "It is a beautiful and aspirational site and we want the buildings and pitches to enhance it. It won't be an open park but won't be a prison. I would hate to think we would have to ring it with high fences."

Originally a hunting lodge, the estate was owned by The Duchy of Lancaster and the Marquis of Donegal before the Bass brewing family took possession in 1850. While the latest Wembley scandal may suggest the FA would struggle to organise anything in a brewery, Wilkinson, at least, can make good use of their land.