England's footballers, accustomed to lodging in spacious five-star golfing resorts, are in for a surprise when the team coach pulls up to their Euro 2004 base this summer. The approach to the Hotel Solplay is through a cluster of apartments where laundry dries on the balconies, past a rubble spoil-heap and an expanse of scrubland. The fenced-in four-star hotel opens into a gloomy foyer and, through the back, the view is of the cement works on the far side of the Tagus estuary.
Football Association cutbacks? The revenge, on his striking players, of Mark Palios, the chief executive? Not at all. Closer inspection suggests that the hotel, in a Lisbon suburb, will meet most of England's needs for what is hoped to be a four-week sojourn.
Location, location, location, as the estate agents say. The hotel may not have the most auspicious setting but the FA has been promised that by June the landscaping will be complete. More significantly, it is close to Lisbon's football grounds and airport, the motorways which run down Portugal's spine, and the national stadium which England, whose predecessors beat Portugal 10-0 there in 1946, will use as their training ground.
As well as reducing travelling time the FA hopes that the apartment accommodation, though plain, will prove less claustrophobic than a standard hotel room even if it takes a leap of imagination to envisage the kitchenette being used for more than heating a Pot Noodle.
There is also a private 32-seat cinema, a well-equipped gymnasium and indoor and outdoor pools. There is even a hairdressing salon, though it was not clear if David Beckham would be allowed to fly in his own stylist. "It is perfect," said Sven Goran Eriksson, the England coach.
In truth, it did not look as if the place, though also sought by France and Italy, would meet the exacting standards of the Beckhams (partners may join the team in the event's later stages). But security problems created by football's celebrity couple will be eased by the FA sealing the hotel to all but accredited BBC and ITV personnel.
The one cloud is that the pool area is overlooked by apartments whose balconies will tempt photographers. "They are residential apartments whose owners are not the sort of people to rent out their balcony for a few bucks," said an FA official hopefully.
- More about:
- David Beckham
- Kitchen (room)
- Paris Saint-Germain FC