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;, which offers doubles from £110, including breakfast. St George's Park (01283 576200; offers coaching clinics from £30pp; the St George's Experience costs £60pp.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year