LONDON (AP) — Given royal approval by Prince William and wife Kate, English soccer's new headquarters were officially opened Tuesday to boost hopes that one of the sport's underperformers can close the gap on the world's top teams.
Thirty-seven years in the making, the $160 million national soccer center at Burton-upon-Trent in central England will be the permanent home for all 24 of England's senior and junior teams and the training base for aspiring coaches.
"Coming here and seeing these wonderful facilities gives the same feeling as when I first went to the Olympic Park," said Prince William, who chatted with players and tried out the center's state-of-the-art facilities on a guided tour with Kate. "It gives me great pride we have created in this country facilities that are beyond compare anywhere else."
France and Spain became world champions a decade after building their national academies. England, whose only major trophy was won at the 1966 World Cup on home soil, is hoping for the same result.
Facilities were developed after extensive research into similar centers around the world, including Clairefontaine — the world-famous headquarters of French soccer — Spain's Cuidad del Futbol near Madrid, the Aspire Academy in Qatar and the Australian Institute of Sport.
One of the 11 outside fields on the 330-acre site is a replica of those at Wembley Stadium, where England plays its home matches, with exactly the same mix of grass and artificial fibers. There is a full-size indoor artificial surface, an indoor 60-meter sprint track, reflex machines for goalkeepers, a high-wire course and a suite of rehabilitation and sports science areas.
The idea for the center first came about in 1975 and has finally come to fruition.
"I'm rather hoping that the amount of great work being put in here will take us to that elusive World Cup," England manager Roy Hodgson said of the center, located in a sleepy town more than 100 miles from London and amid rolling countryside. "It's taken a long while for this dream to become a reality. It is going to be very important."