I have always been a strong supporter of both our professional and non league football so I was delighted to be invited as a guest of the Football Association on a tour of St George’s Park.
St George’s is six miles south-west of Burton and at first view of it reminded me of a giant country park in 334 acres of beautiful country side. As you would expect it is excellently maintained with 12 grass football pitches, each one in magnificent order.
Before we started our tour of the facilities, we were told that we could not visit the two referees changing rooms aptly named The Jack Taylor and The Howard Webb Rooms after our two World Cup Final Referees.
Also we could not visit the changing rooms because the Turkish champions Galatasry and champions Steaua Bucharest were both there for a week’s intense training and were using the facilities. Also, we could not visit The Medical centre, the weights area or the Science Section again because all were in use.
So our tour started in the giant Community Hall. It is big enough to hold three full size tennis courts, four Futsal pitches, eight five-a-side pitches or a full size football pitch. The entire room has under floor heating and can be rented out to Community Clubs by the hour for £150 and can accommodate 70 people at any one session.
From there we saw the glass frame on the wall. Which visiting guests are allowed to sign. The very first signature was that of Sir Geoff Hurst. This led us into the great indoor hall which housed a full sized pitch which is G3 standard and has already been used for a full International match involving the England Ladies Under 19’s team.
The G3, the only one in the country, cost £1m and has under soil heating.
Behind the pitch was a three lane 60 metre running track where every step the athletes take can be measured in distance and weight and was used in the weeks prior to last year’s Olympics.
But the “Jewel in the Crown” was the outdoor pitch at the side of the hall, which is an exact replica of Wembley - even the grass is cut to the exact same length as that at Wembley.
The England players train on it and it is played no more than 15 times a year.
The other 11 pitches are used regularly including pitch one, which both Burton Albion and Notts County use as their training ground.
Sheffield Wednesday drew 1-1 with Steaua Bucharest three days after my visit. We were told the priority is to build more pitches over the next 12 months.
One end of the complex is built near a place that made ammunition during the last war and has a runway for planes that can be used by Football Association.
The Hilton Hotel is built in the centre of the park and is luxurious with 228 rooms, some three star, and the rest, which England use, five star.
It is awesome and whilst we saw some of the excellent facilities it would take three or four days to make a complete tour.
I came away full of praise for the complex which is a credit to The Football Association.
But with England dropping down to 15th place in world rankings, our Under 21’s knocked out of the European Championships after three embarrassing defeats, without scoring a goal in open football, our Under 20’s team also suffering a similar in the World Cup St George’s must play its part in putting us back in the world rankings if the FA are to justify the huge cost of building it.