England to prepare on state of the art pitch
England's Euro 2008 hopefuls will prepare for next month's crucial qualifier with Russia on a £1million state-of-the-art school pitch in Altrincham.
UEFA have given Russia permission to play the Group E encounter on an artificial surface at the Luzhny Stadium on October 17.
The move is slightly unusual given the pitch must be ripped up next spring to ensure the Champions League Final in May is played on grass.
However, England coach Steve McClaren is laid back about the decision and, after successive three-goal wins over Israel and Russia this month, is focussing more on completing qualification for next summer's finals than worrying about what surface his team will be playing on.
In any event, McClaren has located an exact replica in the north-west.
So, instead of heading for Arsenal's London Colney training base or Manchester United's Carrington training ground, both of which have synthetic pitches but of slightly different grade, England will instead use the facilities at the Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College for their final practice session before the flight to Moscow.
'It is absolutely fantastic,' said headmaster John Cornally. 'For our school to be able to play a part in helping England qualify is marvellous.
'Lessons might be difficult that day and we may have to be flexible in that regard but what we don't want to do is get in the way of the important thing, which is for the England team to train without any interruptions or distractions.
'In exchange for a few autographs and signed shirts, we will make sure that happens.'
It is a testament to McClaren's diligent preparation that he has even found the only exact replica to the pitch England will play on.
He visited the college this summer to examine facilities which were opened by Sir Bobby Charlton in July following a four-year campaign for funding by head of sport Caroline Pearson.
Even though she suffered numerous rejections, in the end Pearson was able to secure 58% funding from the Football Foundation.
Trafford Borough Council paid another 32%, with the school itself providing the balance for a pitch which has been used by Altrincham FC, Sale Sharks, plus the local community on a daily basis.
Unlike the old style `plastic pitches' which were installed at QPR and Luton in the 1980s, the modern synthetic surface is rubber-based `field turf', which scientists claim actually provides energy for the legs rather than saps it.
'Some commentators talk about a plastic pitch,' said Cornally. 'Well it is patently not that. It is absolutely state of the art and testament to all the hard work that has been done here, particularly by Caroline Pearson
'Through her energy and her vision, she has brought all this to fruition. It is great to have some national recognition with the England team coming down here.'