FA opens doors on academy to 'inspire and stimulate'

Governing body has big plans for England's new St George's Park training base after a string of false starts

It is a lot of mud and half-finished buildings, but by September the FA hopes St George's Park (SGP) will be one of the best sports facilities in the world. For the first time in almost two years, the FA opened up SGP – their prospective new football centre near Burton-upon-Trent – to the press yesterday. Building started in January and the 400 workers on the 330-acre site are expected to finish by August. SGP will be an "education hub for English football", according to David Sheepshanks, the man who has driven the project.

The FA wants to make clear exactly what function SGP will perform... and what it won't

The England team will train there, as well as all the FA's junior, women's and disability teams. New coaches and referees will be developed there. It will host England's leading sports science facility. The League Managers' Association is moving to an office there and the Professional Footballers' Association have contributed to funding.

The SGP is not a latter-day Lilleshall or an English Clairefontaine. It will not be a residential site for developing young footballers. That is what the clubs' academies do.

The project costs £105m but it will have to survive as an independent business

After the collapse of the plans for the original National Football Centre – for which the site in East Staffordshire was originally bought – Sheepshanks refined the new business model to include outside investment including two Hilton hotels with a combined total of 228 rooms. The England team will get priority but the plan is that SGP will be used as a destination for football teams from all over the world as well as across different sports.

Umbro and BT have already signed up as partners and Sheepshanks will shortly announce the new medical partner for SGP. They aim to establish the country's first "F" mark sports facility – graded by Fifa – specialising in treatment, rehabilitation and research.

The FA has big plans for SGP

SGP also includes a multi-purpose sports venue. Beyond that is a full-size indoor pitch, which opens out on one side on to the Staffordshire countryside. Outdoors there are 11 full-size pitches, one of which is exclusively for the use of the senior England team and is laid out to the exact measurements of the Wembley pitch. Three pitches are for community use and Burton Albion will continue to train there.

As well as a gym in each hotel there are three further gyms linked to the sports science facility: a cardiovascular gym, a rehab gym and a biomechanics and diagnostics gym. The hydrotherapy pools are, Sheepshanks said yesterday, among the best in the world. Unlike many club training grounds there will also be a library for coaching archive material.

The trouble is, unlike famous centres like Clairefontaine in France there are no young players being developed there

This is the issue around SGP's identity. "English football," Sheepshanks said, "needs an educational hub." He wants the park to play a major role in increasing the number of qualified coaches in England from 100,000 to 250,000 by 2018. Hand-in-hand with the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) being rolled out in club academies from next season, Sheepshanks expects "to see the first fruits" of SGP on the pitch only after 2020.

It is not developing the next generation of young footballers – it is the coaches that will be SGP's focus

Sheepshanks said that, at the very least, SGP should be a starting point for the development of future managers of the national team. "We want to produce home-grown managers from positive educational advantages". Sheepshanks visited Coverciano, the unofficial football managers' university in Italy, as part of his research and some of SGP, including the library, is inspired by that.

That is not to say the FA will be able to get SGP off the ground without some overseas expertise

The SGP board (a subsidiary of the FA) advertised for the park's managing director's role on Sunday. The successful candidate will earn a "six-figure sum" and will have to implement a management structure to establish the educational programmes, including those for coaches. "If we want to be the best in the world, we have to learn from the best in the world," Sheepshanks said. Which means that even future England managers learning at the patriotically named St George's Park may be taught by an, ahem, foreign coach.

When it is finished SGP should, at the very least, look breathtaking

The architect Alan Smith, of redboxdesign, has not had the benefit of the more generous budgets sanctioned by the FA when the project was first conceived more than 10 years ago in the organisation's financial salad days. But they have still made the most of the sense of space that the site affords.

The FA identified a naturally beautiful site, the former stately home of the Bass brewing family. Although it inevitably invites jokes about the governing body's ability, or otherwise, to organise piss-ups in breweries, the site lends itself to great views. The designers have even incorporated a copse of trees planted in the 1850s to commemorate the Duke of Wellington's death. If the England players can be bothered to look up from their Xboxes they will see the English countryside at its finest.

It means that the England squad will be based 130 miles from Wembley

The team will travel down two nights before games to stay at the Grove Hotel in Watford, their current base, and train at Wembley the day before home games. Luckily for them, the little-known Tatenhill airfield is next door to SGP, thus saving them the hassle of negotiating the M6 and M1.

Sheepshanks and the FA say that SGP must be among the best of its kind in the world

There is a five-year business plan to get the park up and running during which there is an expectation that it could make losses for two years, which would be subsidised by the FA. Beyond that it has to earn its keep.

Sheepshanks said that it has a unifying effect on the various stakeholders in English football: the FA, Premier League, Football League, PFA and LMA. "It will inspire and stimulate people in different ways," he said. "We want people to buy into the ethos that they can only get better. If you look at successful teams, that is what they do."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map