As Andre Villas-Boas looks set to begin something of a new era at Tottenham Hotspur, cautious excitement and steady optimism are in full flow at White Hart Lane. But within the midst of touted player recruitment and sleek Portuguese raincoats, Spurs have already made the most important summer acquisition in decades. It’s time to say goodbye to Spurs Lodge and welcome the new training ground at Bulls Cross.
For some readers, the high profile yet bizarre opening of Spurs Lodge may not seem like that long ago at all. As Tony Blair sprayed a few passes around before posing for a photo call with Alan Sugar in 1996, the then new training ground was heralded as huge boost to Tottenham Hotspur.
Yet only ten years later, it became glaringly apparent that Spurs Lodge wasn’t fit to match the Champions League aspirations of a team who’s fortunes had changed immeasurably over the decade. But it wasn’t just the fortunes of the club that had changed, either. Football was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and the implementation of sports science and elite athletic development came as a real wake up call to Premier League clubs.
The brief for an elite changing ground was clearly a lot different in the early nineties. But as a result, Spurs were left with a cramped site and outdated facilities not fit for a modern day Premier League club. Medical facilities in particular, were deemed as particularly inadequate.
As part of Spurs’ planning proposals for the new site in 2006, officers from the Greater London Authority and Enfield Council visited the first team facilities at Arsenal’s London Colney site. It was deemed that in comparison to Spurs Lodge, the need for new facilities were ‘clearly apparent’ after the visit.
But just as importantly, were the complications surrounding the development of the club’s youth academy. Spurs have had the hindrance of having to use their current base at Chigwell in tandem with use of facilities across London at Myddleton House (coincidentally the site of the new training ground in Enfield). Additionally, use of weight and fitness training has had to be utilized within a series of local, privately owned gyms. All of the academy teams couldn’t co-exist with the first teams within the cramped realms of Spurs Lodge.
And as a result of this, Spurs were at one point, operating under a temporary academy license from the FA, as they were unable to provide adequate study areas, changing facilities or enough sufficient grass pitches for the number of age-bands within the academy. A reprieve was given due to the length of time taken to secure the land for the new ground, but you cannot be under any illusions as to how important the new facilities are to the club.
After an arduous struggle to attain green-belt land and planning permission, Spurs finally started work on the new training ground at Bulls Cross in September 2009. The site, just off junction 25 on the M25, will boast 11 outdoor pitches amongst the world-class facility. The academy teams will finally be aligned with the first team, allowing the club to breed all of its talent under one hub. Top of the range medical and fitness equipment will ensure Tottenham can offer their players the best possible rehabilitation, in the mould of AC Milan’s legendary Milanello complex. A hydrotherapy pool offers the medical team an invaluable asset in-house and the crucial study areas for the academy will now be available for use.
This may seem like an awful lot of hyperbolized nonsense to some. But football is moving into an area of sustainability with an emphasis on clubs developing their own talent. Players are of course, always going to be coming and going for varying transfer fees at the club. But the implementation of Financial Fair Play reminds clubs that they can’t keep buying ready-made talent at extortionate fees. The Premier League already insists clubs cannot name more than 17 non-home grown players aged over 21; not quite a hard-line approach, but a nod in the right direction.
But now the top youth talent of this country and overseas can be offered the optimum facility of which to improve themselves as an athlete and a footballer. The new training base doesn’t just symbolise ambition and desire- it has the tools to back it up. Young players now can see an almost physical route to the first team. The mergence of all coaches, players and management under one roof offers the chance to construct a Tottenham way of playing.
And Tottenham Hotspur are now in pole position to seize the moment. As the boards are put up at their old Chigwell base, the club will bid a sad farewell to their leafy Essex HQ. But as the club prepare to move into the Bulls Cross site towards the end of the month, they do so with some real optimism for the future. Andre Villas Boas has a clean slate, a talented squad and now one of the best training bases in Europe to work with.
Looking forward to seeing Spurs kick on for the future? Or do you still have lingering concerns as to how the Youth Teams have been run at Tottenham? Tell me how you feel, follow @samuel_antrobus on Twitter and get your thoughts across.