Into the Lion’s Den: St George’s Park


TEN of us are standing in a circle of cones being instructed in pass-and-move techniques by FA-registered coach Tony MacCallum on a football pitch that’s a replica of Wembley.

There are no scarves being waved, no baying crowd, no stands even — but the camber of the pitch and the grass (top quality turf interwoven with artificial Desso fibres) are exact matches of the national stadium.

Desso pitches cost around 750k to lay down and this one is where the likes of Stephen Gerrard and Frank Lampard will be training when they get together from now on.

The pitch is one of 12 at St George’s Park, the English FA’s new centre of excellence amid 330 acres of gorgeous protected parkland just outside Burton-on-Trent.

Ten years in the planning, FA bigwigs visited footballing centres around the world for inspiration — then spent £100million building it over the past two years. It’s an impressive place packed with all kinds of hi-tech sports science kit.

You can ride on a bike in an altitude chamber that simulates training at the top of Snowdonia, or run on a giant treadmill under- water. There are machines and measuring tools that will tell you everything from your lean muscle mass to your “metabolic” age and what you’ve had for breakfast.

There is even a full-size indoor pitch.

But while it will be the home of England’s national squad and host FA coaching qualifications sessions, it may be another 20 years or so before we start our own production line of mini Messis.

Until then, it has got to pay for itself — which is one of the reasons there are two Hilton hotels on the site where the public can stay, tour the facilities, take part in coaching experience sessions — or have a massage in the super spa.

All around there’s memorabilia, signed shirts, limited edition prints of England’s great moments — but at no point does it look tacky. It’s all done very tastefully.

There’s a bar — called the Crossbar — and a restaurant called, er, The Restaurant.

I tried to stick to a protein-only diet with a 16oz T-bone steak — then ruined all the good work with a calorie-laden creme brulee.

It’s not all about the football either. WAGs can check in for a treatment at the hotel spa where, in the absence of Mrs Ellis, I tried the £75 Energy Fountain.

As my therapist Sarah gives me a scalp massage, I begin to drift off, dreaming of me in an England shirt at Wembley.

Jack Charlton plays the ball out from the back, Alan Ball picks it up and puts in a cross, Teddy Sheringham chests it into my path and I…wake up to find myself back at our training session, just as one of other coaches passes the ball to me.

It bounces awkwardly off my shin and trickles slowly over the line.

I’ve only gone and scored at Wembley. I wonder if any of the staff have Roy Hodgson’s number!

This article first appeared in The Sun