The grass is greener at St. George’s Park

I have recently been on a tour of the Football Association’s new St. George’s Park National Football Centre in Staffordshire. Its an impressive multi-use facility which has taken years to realise.

The FA historically have used Lilleshall Hall in Shropshire as their England team training facility, a place steeped in history as the 1966 World Cup winning England team trained there. It became a formal FA School of Excellence in 1984 and was closed in 1999.

St. George’s Park was formally part of the Needwood Estate owned by the Berkeley Family, it was later owned by the Crown before the Bass family owned in from the 1850’s up until the 1950’s. Forte Hotels put plans in place to redevelop the site into a hotel complex, but these were shelved after Planning had been granted. The FA acquired the 330-acre site in 2001 for £2m. Proposals were developed in the early 2000’s, but funding issues, related to the Wembley Stadium development, stalled the project for a number of years. In 2008 the decision was taken to build the development and Newcastle based Architects Redbox design were appointed. The £110m project was completed in July 2012 and officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in October that year.

The building complex is rather secluded as you enter the main entrance off the road. The winding approach drive, flanked by football pitches named after England legends, reveals a dramatic entrance to the Hilton hotel(s) on the site. The FA’s football centre is located behind the hotel, which doesn’t feel altogether natural given that is the main function of the whole site. I guess a layering of public/ private use on the site informed this back to front arrangement.

AERIALThe impressive 4*+ Hilton hotel provides for your every leisure/ business need. It includes extensive corporate conferencing facilities & business centre, A Spa/ Leisure centre, bars, restaurants, private dining, atrium coffee lounges and a range of luxury bedroom formats. Subtly linked to the luxury Hilton there is also a Hampton by Hilton hotel wing which offers mid-range accommodation. Apparently this is the only location in the UK where two Hilton hotel brands operate within the same building. The Architecture is good quality and it does feel quite special.

DSC_0138bThe FA centre, whilst fairly simple and understated externally, is seriously impressive internally. The main reception is within a three storey atrium which is decorated with manikins on the walls with multicolored football shirts on (click here to see it). There are a wide range of changing facilities on the ground floor which include the “Elite” rooms, used by the England squad. These are actually not as lavish as I’d have anticipated, but do have ice baths – and lots of vanity mirrors/ worktops!

At either end of the building are substantial sports halls. The walls are generally clad with Kalwall, a translucent material which allows lots of natural daylight through. North facing roof lights also maximise natural light. One of halls is used for Futsal and has a sprung floor, coated with a blue rubberised material. This gives the large space amazing acoustics. In the second larger hall is a full sized football pitch made of artificial ‘3G’ grass. The is naturally ventilated and has a glazed wall down one side with views out over the woodland. Despite the fact you are covered from the elements, this does feel rather like an external space/ pitch. Alongside the pitch is a running track. This has blown ventilation tubes for cooling and to simulate an external environment. It also has HD cameras and speed traps to record, in minute detail, the footballers training/ development, especially for injury problems.

DSC_0110bExternally are a wide range of immaculately groomed and lush pitches. the one situated right next to the building is a full scale exact replica of the Wembley stadium pitch, including all dimensions, gradients and the grass of course.

The final central element of the FA centre is the cutting edge sports fitness, development and rehabilitation centre. This is operated by Spire Perform and you can see a video of these facilities here. It has some incredible equipment for sports development and injury rehabilitation which includes;

  • Full Hydrotherapy centre which includes; a full size swimming pool with an automatic movable floor, an underwater treadmill (again with monitoring HD cameras) and a hot & cold hydro pool.
  • An Altitude chamber
  • An Anti-gravity treadmill (Mo Farah uses one of these)
  • A full gymnasium suite. This is long and narrow in plan form and has extensive glazed walls looking out over the football pitches. This is to help players focus physiologically on ‘where they want to be’.

All in all, St. George’s Park is a hugely impressive complex. Surely our England squad are fully equipped with every possible aspect of support and training to help us return to a winning 1966 form? The expectations from England for Brazil 2014 are perhaps greater than ever now!

To see more of SGP, its well worth booking a tour – or take a look at this extensive 360 virtual tour here.

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