St Georges Park – what will it do for me?

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“One of the main objects of this, possibly almost the main object, is to produce thousands of more highly-qualified coaches” said Football Association chairman David Bernstein at the opening of St Georges Park.

I’d love to believe this statement but how is England’s new centre of excellence going to achieve this? There is no doubt the new complex is mighty impressive, boasting state of the art training facilities that will be the envy of many football associations around the world. As a coach, the 330-acre site will be a great learning environment to progress through the coaching pathway but I question how Mr Bernstein will fulfil his assertion.

There are thousands of people out there who want to coach football, every one of them has their own motivation for doing so but there is one hurdle they all have to vault to commence; money. To learn and be affiliated with the FA is not a cheap process and if you want to participate at St Georges Park (SGP) it could be even more costly.

St Georges - arielIf you book on the FA Youth Award Module 3 with your local FA where you probably won’t need accommodation it is £345 (if you’re an FA Coaches Club member). To take the same course at the new national centre, with 4 nights accommodation included, is £795. All you mathematicians out there will already have worked out this is a difference of £450. Can the difference in cost be justified just for the accommodation and facilities? This will be down to individual choice, personally I would save this money to invest in another coaching course or equipment.

There is no doubt that SGP is inspirational. In any walk of life people aspire to reach the pinnacle of their trade and as a coach I want to work in the best facilities available. If the positive exposure that it gets from the media motivates someone to get off the sofa and start the coaching pathway it’s already paying back the £105m that has been invested in it. However, could a proportion of the money ploughed in have been set aside to sponsor coaches’ courses?

A fellow coach of mine recently had a FA Level 2 course cancelled due to lack of participants. Although reasons were not given for the course not fulfilling it’s quota, if it was discounted or a number of free places offered I’m sure this would have proceeded. The course costs approximately £300, so if just £1m was set aside from the SGP budget (I’m sure they didn’t need all those landscaped gardens) then 3333 coaches could have stepped another rung up the ladder and become one of the ‘more highly-qualified’ coaches the FA chairman strives for.

Indoors at st georgesThe FA’s original National School of Excellence, Lilleshall, was closed in 1999 as former FA Technical Director Howard Wilkinson claimed it was too ‘elitist’ and the model could be implemented by clubs academies. Academies have improved considerably since the old YTS days and the training received at top clubs can be second to none. SGP now has all the facilities, but what will differentiate the facility compared to some Premier League clubs?

I hope SGP does have the positive effect and matches the fanfare it was opened with by producing a national team capable of winning trophies. This will not happen overnight but the expectation has now been set.

Outside st georgesThe idea was conceived in 2001 and 11 years later it has come to fruition; David Sheepshanks, chairman of SGP believes ‘from 2020 onwards we will have winning England teams’. What they are winning he doesn’t state, I can’t see that far ahead but still believe with the head start that Spain have currently got it will be tough to win the Euro’s let alone a World Cup. There are only four major tournaments in 8 years before the date Sheepshanks has stated so it is an ambitious claim.

If you look at France as a case study, they opened Clairefontaine as their National Centre of Football in 1988, 10 years later they lifted the World Cup and added the European Championship in 2000.

The proof is in the pudding as they say. Let’s see how this major investment in English football will pan out. I’m going to continue the coaching pathway and am keen to see how SGP is going to benefit me. I can’t see how it will personally, but hope it is a success for the national game.

Chris Stygal


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