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Opening of St. George's Park

9th October 2012

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge after the England training session during the official launch of The Football Association's National Football Centre at St. George's Park in Burton-upon-Trent.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived at the new national football centre today to officially open the world-class facility which aims to produce the country's next manager.

England's soccer stars will took time out from World Cup qualifier training to welcome The Duke and Duchess to the Football Association's £105 million St George's Park site near Birmingham.

David Sheepshanks, the centre's chairman, summed up the aims of the new project, which was completed in July: "St George's Park will be a world-class facility providing top-class education for future generations of English football coaches.

"It will also be an internationally-leading sports medicine and performance research centre, a training home to enhance international team development, and an inspirational hub for everyone involved in football from the grassroots to elite."

It is hoped that St George's Park - where coaches will be coached - will improve the quality of football leaders in the dugout and in turn boost the performance of players on the pitch, both for their clubs and the national side.

All of England's 24 national teams will use the site as their training base ahead of international fixtures and the country's top football stars were put through their paces at the centre for the first time today.

Based just outside Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, the facility covers 330 acres and has 11 external pitches, a dedicated practice and training area for goalkeepers, and sports pavilions for post-training de-briefs.

Among other facilities it also has a world-class sports and exercise medicine, human performance and research centre.

As The Duke and Duchess were introduced in turn to the local politicians and council leaders The Duke, who is the FA's president and a keen Aston Villa fan, was ribbed about whether any of his club's players would make it into the national side but he laughed off the question saying it was not his decision.

The Duchess, who wore calf-length black boots, was overheard joking about donning a pair of "trainers" to have a kick-about later.

Their Royal Highnesses had arrived at a St George's Park community pitch named after David Beckham and watched as youngsters raced up and down playing a fast-paced game of five-a-side.

During a break in the match The Duke chatted to a group of young boys and girls from All Saints Primary, in the nearby village of Rangemore, and found himself in good company when asked if anyone supported his team.

"You're a Villa fan? Good man," he said to one schoolboy who said he supported the team, but when one young player admitted he did not, the Duke joked: "You've got to be an Aston Villa fan."

The Duchess chatted to another school group whose five-a-side team members were mostly girls and told them: "It's really good you play."

 

After the match, The Duke and Duchess sat among a group of trainers dressed in tracksuits and The Duke said: "I've got a quick question for Chris - I was just wondering if Aston Villa were ever going to win the Premiership."

Chris Sulley, who is shortly to take up a job training coaches at Villa and other clubs, said to laughter from the room: "I've obviously got some work to do."

He then added: "They have produced good young players. Hopefully we can enhance that." Midway through the tour of St George's Park, The Duke and Duchess joined the England squad and manager Roy Hodgson on a training pitch.

At the side of the pitch, they met Steven Gerrard, who chatted to the royal visitors for a few minutes before the group walked to the centre to meet the other players. The Duke and Duchess posed for a team photo and then began meeting the sportsmen.

A few minutes after the royal couple stepped on to the pitch, there was a flypast by three Squirrel helicopters from the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury where The Duke, an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot, learned to fly.The display marked the growing partnership between the RAF Football Association and the FA.

Later The Duke delivered an address to senior members of the FA and other bodies associated with the new St George's Park in which he spelled out his thoughts about the project.

He said: "Coming here this morning, seeing these wonderful facilities and beautiful surroundings - just experiencing this extraordinary place - gave me the same feelings I had when I first went to the Olympic Park.

"A mixture of pride that we are capable in this country of creating something so beyond compare anywhere else, and excitement at what this means, not just for our national game, but for sport and opportunity in this country as a whole.

"St George's Park, and the concept that underpins it, is something totally new. It will be far more than just a world-class facility for training our future world-beating national team.

"It is more than just the university from which thousands of highly qualified coaches will graduate. "It is also a magnificent example of the sort of social initiative that brings opportunity and purpose to wider British life.

"It will provide employment and a social hub for local people and, through the thousands of volunteers on which coaching relies, it will foster community spirit, purpose and hope throughout England."

The Duke added that the centre's medical and rehabilitation facilities would also be used to provide care for ex-servicemen and women, some wounded on operations.

He went on: "2013 will be a great year for the Football Association. It will be 150 years old and England will be hosting the Champion's League Final and the Uefa Congress.

"There could be no more fitting way of marking these important events and a century and a half of England's unique contribution to the World Game than the existence of St George's Park."

His Royal Highness ended his speech with a joke aimed at his brother, which brought laughter from his audience: "I feel tempted to cry 'God for Harry, England and St George' but I really don't want to lower the tone by bringing my brother into it."

During their visit, The Duke and Duchess also toured the centre's state-of-the-art fitness and rehabilitation facilities, which include an exercise chamber replicating high-altitude conditions.

As well as chatting with staff and people working out on exercise bikes and running machines, The Duke and Duchess were invited to test out a push-button "board" to gauge their reactions - with The Duke beating his wife in the 30-second match-up by 31 points to 28.