AS the eagerly-awaited arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge draws closer, preparations for one of the biggest days in Burton’s history are entering their final stages, writes Rich Guttridge.
Bosses at St George’s Park have been making arrangements for the royal visit for some time, but it was only officially announced last week due to the strict protocol which surrounds the movements of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Senior figures in Burton have declared the day as one of the biggest in the town’s history as the arrival of Prince William and wife Kate coincides with Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and co putting the centre’s state-of-the-art facilities to the test for the first time as the centre prepares to come under the gaze of the national media.
The royal couple will be at the National Football Centre on Tuesday — a day after the arrival of the England squad, as St George’s Park will be declared open after more than a decade in the making It had long been hoped that Prince William would be involved in the centre’s opening as the honorary President of the Football Association (FA).
A lot of pressure rests on the shoulders of St George’s Park which has been specifically developed with the aim of producing England’s football stars of tomorrow in an attempt to put the national team on a par with the best in the world.
Some details of the visit have been announced, although the FA has done its best to keep exactly what will happen under wraps.
What is known is that there will be an official opening ceremony where William and Kate will declare the St George’s Park open before being given a guided tour of the £120 million facility.
They will then meet footballing ‘royalty’ in the form of Roy Hodgson and his senior England squad who will be preparing for their World Cup qualifier with San Marino on October 12.
It has also been revealed two local schools, All Saints Church of England Primary School and Needwood Primary School, will also be introduced to the duke and duchess on the day as well as being given the chance to share the same pitches as their footballing idols.
As part of the visit, Prince William will also be doing his bit for the local landscape as he is set to plant the eightmillionth tree in the National Forest since it opened.
Julie Harrington, St George’s Park chief executive, says excitement among the staff has been growing for weeks.
The finishing touches are currently being put to preparations for the big day, with a staging area being erected for the official opening.
She said: “I’m thrilled and really proud that they are coming to have a look at what is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a huge number of people. The couple have done a huge amount to make the royal family appeal to a younger generation.
“The preparations are under way. We are building the stage ready for the official opening ceremony and making plans for other people in addition to the duke and duchess.
“Some people have known the duke and duchess were coming for some weeks, but it had to be kept secret.
There had been a buzz about the place as to who it was going to be. There are a lot of local people working at the National Football Centre and I think everybody is proud of what we have achieved. This is the icing on the cake.
“There will be people from the local community involved, and we have been getting the pitches ready to play on, as local schools will be taking part in demonstrations.
“On the day all the guests will be shown around the centre to view the facilities. The England women’s team will be demonstrating how the medical facilities are used.”
David Sheepshanks, who has overseen the centre’s development as chairman, revealed that many of the people who have contributed to making the centre a reality will be among hundreds of highprofile guests which include members of the FA and people from the world of sport.
He said: “It’s a fantastic reward for all of the people who have worked hard on the building and construction of the centre. It’s a celebration of getting to this point and I hope it will be a joyous occasion for all who attend. I think it’s nice that people in Burton and the surrounding localities will be honoured with the duke and duchess’ attendance.
I think the fact they are coming to St George’s Park is symbolic of how important it is for football and the wider public.
“We invited them — and they don’t accept every invitation — and it was a great thrill when they said yes. The fact that the duke is honorary president of the FA made sense and the duchess accompanying him is an extra thrill.”
Mr Sheepshanks also revealed that on arrival William and Kate will be greeted by the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire Ian Dudson and introduced to the FA chairman David Berstein as well as other senior figures from the organisation.
Excitement for Tuesday’s visit is reaching fever pitch inside and outside the centre.
Donna Berkenshaw, office manager at All Saints Church of England Primary School, in Tatenhill Lane, Rangemore, is one of three members of staff who have been lucky enough to be chosen for the visit along with five pupils and says she can’t wait to get a glimpse of the prince and princess, and admitted the children are equally as excited about seeing Premier League stars up close as much as the duke and duchess.
The pupils will take part in a five-aside game and will be given the chance to watch the England squad train afterwards.
She said: “The children are really excited and so am I. Everyone’s disappointed that we all can’t go. We’ve had links with the centre at various stages and I’d like to say we were its flagship school.”
For the centre’s head groundsman, Alan Ferguson, the arrival of the England senior squad as well as William and Kate marks the end of a long journey.
He said: “This is what it has been leading to and on Monday at 4pm when the England senior team finally walk onto the pitch — that will be another milestone passed.
“We’ve had the under-21s and the ladies’ seniors on there and they have all come back with a positive response.
“People have been aware of what has been going on here in the UK, Europe and beyond for some time, but the coverage from the visit of William and Kate will take it up several notches. Everyone’s flying around doing the last bits of tidying up and making sure it’s ready for the royal seal of approval. I can think of no-one better to open it.”