Shooting stars

Matt Reeder and family sample a special weekend
at the new Football Association headquarters in Burton-on-Trent.

This was my big chance to impress. An opportunity to show just what I could do.
It may have arrived a little later in life than I had hoped, but if I could just put on a good show, then all those unfulfilled childhood wishes could at least have a hope of finally coming true.

Every football-mad boy in England nurtures dreams of playing for his country, desperate for a chance to prove himself worthy of joining the likes of Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott.

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For this 38-year-old, such ambitions have long since flown. Sadly, the English footballing public will never know just how good I could have been.
But the desire to prove myself burns just as bright, and this was my time... particularly as I had the chance to show off in front of former England manager Graham Taylor.

I had arrived with the family at the new multi-million pound Football Association headquarters in Burton-on-Trent the night before.

As guests of the adjoining Hilton at St George’s, we had already been treated to some fantastic hospitality.

The five of us, including my wife Clare and the three children, Hannah, 10, Benjamin, 9, and Charlotte,7, were all loving life in this brand spanking new complex.

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Luxurious, state-of-the-art rooms were accompanied by a similarly impressive swimming pool, gym and spa. The food had been decadent in the swish, stylish restaurant and the staff both welcoming and friendly.

Come the next morning, however, and it was time to focus. St George’s Park is the new home of English football. A world-class training facility, a national centre for sports medicine and science, and a much-needed and longed-for base for our national game. All 24 national team age-groups now use the facilities at St George’s Park, training at the FA HQ, while sleeping and eating in either the Hilton or Hampton hotels on site.

Come February, it will be the turn of Roy Hodgson’s senior side to once again experience the delights of this outstanding centre of excellence.

As well as a base for footballers, the hotel is eager to attract custom from the business community and by promoting itself in the short breaks and leisure market. It is like no hotel I have ever stayed at before. Pictures of England football stars past and present, male and female, fill you with a sense that you are indeed staying somewhere special... somewhere privileged.

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Guests can easily organise tours of the FA side of the complex, there are different experiences on offer ranging from a simple walk-through of the facilities right up to a full-blown training session and coaching clinic complete with your own England kit thrown in. It was on such a tour where my big break would present itself. Talk among the family was intense as we pulled on our shirts and prepared for “kick-off”. Both Ben and Hannah are budding footballers, and as their coach at Tockwith Juniors FC, my own eagerness to impress was matched by a desperation for them to show off their skills.

Our tour started in the huge indoor hanger which houses a full-size artificial 3G pitch, running track and 200 person viewing gallery. Impressive was an understatement. After a few warm-ups, it was down to the serious stuff.

Mr Taylor – the man who once managed his country – led the way, asking the youngsters first to see if they could kick a ball into the goal through a circular target. One after the other, Charlotte, Hannah and Ben slotted their kicks, much to the delight of the watching former England chief.
Soon it would be my turn. I could feel my pulse quickening, the hairs on my neck standing to attention.

My eyes fixed onto that target... that target which seemed to be getting smaller with every passing second. Aware of the crowd watching my every move, I soon got the nod. The three lions proudly emblazoned across my left breast, this was it... one step, two step, and bam. The ball flew goal-wards. It seemed to be bang on target and I was just about to start celebrating when it slammed against the crossbar and rebounded back out.

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My pride forbids me from revealing exactly how many times I tried to kick that silly little ball into the net through that very small and even sillier circular target, but suffice to say that Mr Taylor (while clearly impressed with the technique of my younger trio) will not be recommending me to Mr Hodgson for England duty.

Hannah, Ben and Charlotte, on the other hand, were buzzing and their day got even better when they were then shown into the England changing room and were allowed to pose for pictures in the very spots where their heroes Gerrard and Rooney get dressed.
The tour was both enlightening and heartening. From gyms to treatment areas, scientific support centres for the injured to a football pitch designed as an exact replica of Wembley which cost millions to lay and costs a cool £1m each year to maintain.

You can’t help but feel that this could be the start of something truly special with regards the development of our young footballers. To be able to say that we have stayed and played at the Hilton and at St George’s Park is truly an honour and it is an experience none of us will ever forget.

Getting there

Hilton St George’s Park offers family rooms that start at £160 (based on two adults and two children sharing) including breakfast. The hotel has a restaurant, health club and swimming pool.

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Hampton by Hilton St George’s Park offers family rooms that start at £80 (based on two adults and one child sharing) including breakfast.

Alton Towers, The National Forest, The National Brewery Centre and The National Arboretum are all within easy reach.

For more information and bookings go to