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The football factory

The football factory

The football factory

ShortList’s Sam Rowe channels his inner England international at England’s new £100m training camp, courtesy of Perform, official healthcare provider for St. George’s Park.

Picking up the tab in football – it’s not for the faint-hearted. Or light-walleted. Half a billion pounds of Middle Eastern oil were splurged for Manchester City’s Premier League crown, and it took more than £600m of Roman’s roubles to etch Chelsea’s name on the Champions League trophy. So, with England now moved in to St George’s Park, their plush, £100m state-of-the-art pad in Burton, can a nation of eternally heartbroken England fans afford to get excited?

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” says Dr Charlotte Cowie, on-site clinical director. “Being a realist, work needs to be done.” While it’ll be a while before Roy’s boys can out-tiki-taka Spain for world domination, St George’s Park marks the first time all 24 England teams will be under one roof. The new facility will also develop both the English Messis and Mourinhos of tomorrow.

I decide it won’t hurt to audition myself as a would-be England international. Roy Hodgson could do worse than calling up a flabby, short-sighted journalist with bags of enthusiasm but zero talent, right?


Before indulging in any rigorous workout, ex-Fulham and Tottenham medic Dr Cowie creates a skeletal MOT. It proves fascinating, if embarrassing, reading. The machine rates my physique between ‘solidly built’ and ‘obese’, notes my weight and fat mass above ‘desirable’ and my body fat percentage at 23.9 per cent. I’m told my metabolic age is 38 – a decade and a half my senior. I’m um, fairly sure it’s broken. Time for a workout, then…


Be careful what you wish for. Within minutes I’m crippled by a stitch, too exhausted to wipe the sweat from my eyes as trainer Grant Powles barks at me to keep rowing. Sat awkwardly on a stability disc clutching a weighted oar, I’m given no respite as I clip myself into a futuristic weight machine and tossed a football to strike. With each kick I’m flung back to my starting point before being hurled a gym ball filled with water and told to vault some steps. My flea-like tendencies see me leap a short ruler’s length at a time, as the sweat in my eyes turn to tears.


Muscles throbbing, my physical pain is briefly traded for a mental workout, as I’m put in front of the fitness equivalent of Whac-A-Mole. Popularised by The Jonathan Ross Show, the Batak board improves reaction speeds and hand-eye co-ordination via the age-old method of bashing lit-up buttons.Perfect for honing the skills of F1 drivers and goalkeepers alike (Jenson Button has hit 136 in a minute), I come into my own as I don’t feel like I’m going to pass out or vomit, nailing a respectable 34 in 30 seconds.


Squeezing into the world’s snuggest cycling shorts, I’m zipped into an airtight enclosure as a rubber ring inflates around me. Conceived by Nasa to train astronauts, the AlterG treadmill is used by endurance athletes such as Mo Farah, and will be key in nursing England players during rehabilitation. With 60 per cent of my own weight offset, I float into a gruelling run with ease, each stride feeling more spaceman than sprinter. The feeling of weightlessness not only aids recovery but also helps you push harder for longer. It could be because I now weigh about the same as a bag of sugar, but I feel like I could run forever.


Used to acclimatise athletes to the rigour of playing above sea level, the altitude chamber also aids weight loss and enhances performance through stripping oxygen levels to 15 per cent as you run, cycle or lift weights 2,500m above (simulated) sea level. “Your body will have to increase its heartbeat to get the same amount of oxygen around the body,” says physio Steve Kemp.


With ice-lolly legs and nipples that could chop tomatoes, I freeze my way through contrast therapy, enduring frosty waters before resting in a steaming hot tub. The conflicting temperatures flush out lactic acid and rid ordinarily inevitable aches. I’m far from thankful. Tomorrow I will be. Next, I find myself sprinting in slow-motion on the HydroWorx underwater treadmill. Using hydrostatic pressure and water resistance, recovery from injury is aided, swelling reduced and, most importantly, England players are free to show off in swimming shorts.

I end my day declining a five-a-side match (I’m far too drained to actually play football) and slope off for a sports massage. I have a newfound respect for what Rooney, Hart, Cole and co do week in, week out – I’ve scarcely made it through an afternoon. That said, if you pay me £150,000 a week and install an underwater treadmill for my mansion, I’d happily give it another go.

Perform is the official healthcare provider for St. George’s Park, the FA's new training base for the 24 England teams.