Stay on the ball

The FA's new national football centre at St George's Park in Staffordshire isn't just for the pros, as Will Dean and his DisOrient FC squad discovered

St George's Park, the Football Association's box-fresh-new national football centre, is designed to be a comfortable home for some of the planet's finest and most finely remunerated athletes. The £100m venue, which opened in October, features a football pitch kept to the exact same conditions as Wembley. It possesses a hydrotherapy centre which includes an underwater treadmill and a gym with an altitude room. It has hotel rooms fit for millionaires and 330 acres of rolling Staffordshire countryside kitted out to dream specifications of sports scientists and football managers.

Not surprisingly, then, there were a few funny looks when DisOrient FC turned up on a Friday afternoon to put the facilities at St George's to the test.

That's not to say that DisOrient's players don't have much in common with the likes of Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard. All of our 10-man squad are in our twenties or thirties and enjoy playing football. But that's where the similarities end.

DisOrient are an ailing one-year-old five-a-side team in desperate need of some help to propel us upwards in our Tuesday evening league. Our record before this trip had seen us win two games and lose eight. We need all the underwater treadmills we can get.

St George's is split into two main parts. There's the FA's National Football Centre, a "university of football" which aims to replicate the success of similar bases abroad such as France's famed Clairefontaine. The other half is a hotel/conference complex which is home to a 142-bed Hilton and a smaller, cheaper Hampton by Hilton. As well as providing rooms for England's 24 teams, this place is open to the public.

It also features a group of meeting rooms which are booked up by the likes of Uefa and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), as well as the place where DisOrient really come into our own, the hotel restaurant and bar (called The Crossbar). The bar, like almost every surface here, is decked with images of England players.

Several clubs have also taken to staying here before games against local clubs such as Derby County and Stoke City. On the night we stay, Millwall and Blackpool are here too.

Like the hotels, most of the facilities at the football centre are open to people who can hardly kick a ball, let alone do it for a living. Which is just as well for DisOrient.

We're here to take part in a St George's Experience, a package which allows 12 players to take a tour of the facilities and then play for two hours with an FA-qualified coach. Our tour is led by FA consultant Dave Bryon. Bryon takes us around the most interesting parts of St George's, including the Wembley-style pitch and a coaching library. We also have a stroll into the gym.

The bit we're most giddy about is getting to play football. Obviously. Our coach for the day is Lee Brown, community development manager for the FA. Lee seems impressed when DisOrient leg it on to the Wembley-sized indoor AstroTurf "Sir Alf Ramsey pitch" resplendent in our red-and-tangerine kits. "We had a group a few weeks ago who turned up in jeans," says Lee, pleased by our organisation, if not our ball control.

After working on passing "through the thirds" (i.e. not hoofing it wildly towards the goal), we play a final game of six-a-side before Lee leads us over towards four tall metal figures. It's a wall set up exactly where Greece put their defenders in advance of David Beckham's famous late free kick in 2001 which put England through to the 2002 World Cup Finals. Our task, Lee explains, is to recreate Beckham's kick. After 20 minutes of clanging the ball into the (football) wall and the metal wall behind the nets, we go and cool down.

We do this after getting changed in the Viv Anderson Dressing Room. Most things here are named for England greats. There are the Paul Ince and Michael Owen pitches, and there's even a Clough Room, which, you'd suspect, doesn't quite make up for the FA's famous snubbing of Old Big 'Ead for the England job back in the Seventies.

We head over to the Perform hydrotherapy centre, the setting for the now-famous picture of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge being shown around as Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe "relax" in the hot tub. Relax might not be the right word; this is actually a hot-tub/ice-bath combination. To aid muscle recovery after games, players are encouraged to spend a minute in the warm jets and then a minute in the cold water. Forget the running; this is the most painful moment of the whole day.

We also try out a four-man underwater treadmill, which allows you to run without putting much weight on your joints. This is a vital part of the rehab process for injured athletes or members of the public, but for us it's just mainly for the fun of watching our legs wheel underwater on two flatscreen monitors.

After these exertions, we're all far too tired to do anything except to lounge and be massaged in the hotel's spa complex and retire to dinner. And while players from Millwall and Blackpool amiably catch up over soft drinks in The Crossbar, DisOrient represent the spirit of pre-sports-science football by proceeding to get drunk. Mike Bassett would be proud.

There may be separate check-in for the elite players (since jettisoned by England coach Roy Hodgson) and a roped-off executive floor, but the centre still feels open. Coaches in FA tracksuits trot around chatting to each other, as do staff and players from the two Championship sides.

We learned a lot from our day at St George's. First, that our secondary-school AstroTurf pitch isn't much cop compared with an air-conditioned, multimillion-pound indoor arena. And second, a couple of hours' coaching actually did us the world of good. Or at least the bonding in the bar did. After our dismal start to the season, DisOrient won our next two games, finishing in a respectable eighth place. A couple more weekends with Lee and the metal wall and we'll be pushing for promotion.

DisOrient stayed as guests of Hilton at St George's Park (01283 240444; hilton.co.uk), which offers doubles from £110, including breakfast. St George's Park (01283 576200; thefa.com/st-georges-park) offers coaching clinics from £30pp; the St George's Experience costs £60pp.

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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones