England manager Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad were given a rousing send-off by Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of their forthcoming World Cup campaign.
On his maiden visit to the national football centre, St George’s Park in Burton that was built at a cost of £105million, the prime minister spoke with Hodgson pitchside after a training session with the players.
Mr Cameron also met England captain Steven Gerrard and vice-captain Frank Lampard before being given a guided tour of the facilities by St George’s Park chairman David Sheepshanks.
However, it will be hoped Mr Cameron’s visit does not bring on the so-called ‘Curse of Cameron’ which has appeared to blight some of the country’s top sports stars in the past.
He was present for Andy Murray’s Wimbledon final loss in 2012 and at the London Olympics when Mark Cavendish failed to live up to his billing in the road race, Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield failed to medal in the synchro diving, and when Gemma Gibbons lost her judo final.
The PM also sent Laura Robson a message of support before she lost at SW19 last year but Hodgson’s men will be hoping his presence at Murray’s victorious final against Novak Djokovic will signal a change of fortune.
Aside from the official opening in October 2012 by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it was the first time a dignitary of such standing had visited the centre.
It just happened to coincide with the end of a four-day programme at St George’s for Hodgson and his players as part of their build-up towards the World Cup that kicks off in Brazil in two weeks’ time.
Hodgson’s squad initially face Peru at Wembley on Friday in a warm-up match before flying out to Miami on Sunday for games with Ecuador and Honduras.
But that was not before Mr Cameron had delivered words of encouragement that earned him a standing ovation.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, former FA and Football League chairman Sheepshanks said: “This has been a proud day for the whole team.
“St George’s Park is now 18 months old. We’re still in our infancy, and it’s an enormous fillip to have the prime minister come and take such an interest.
“He asked great questions wherever he went, and he was thoroughly engaging with everybody.
“Some people have said he could not have come on a better day, and it’s always a bit of extra magic when the England World Cup squad are here.
“I’m sure he wanted to wish them well in Brazil, which indeed he did – quite brilliantly.
“He was very straightforward – and I’m not going to recite what he said – but he was very passionate and genuine in his support and enthusiasm. What he said couldn’t have been warmer.
“What I can tell you is he received a spontaneous round of applause from everybody in the room – all the players, coaches and staff – and I thought that was a really nice feeling.”
Mr Cameron also spoke with three members of Britain’s armed forces who are due to attend the game with Peru under the Tickets for Troops scheme that is celebrating 500,000 donations.
There was also time for a question and answer session with a number of children using the facility as part of the FA’s Skills school.
“The focus for many on St George’s Park is on the elite and the top of the pyramid, but we are infatuated with the entire pyramid,” added Sheepshanks.
“The fact is we do bring young kids here and are open to everybody.
“The dream always starts at the bottom, and if you ask Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard or any of the younger guys in the England squad, they all had a dream when they were very young.
“There cannot be many more inspirational things for kids on a skills programme to sit and have that magical experience in meeting the prime minister, Roy Hodgson and Sir Trevor Brooking together.
“Where will those dreams take them? Hopefully, one or two of them, or more, right to the very top.”
Sheepshanks remarked last year that St George’s Park will play its part in helping England win a World Cup in the next 20 years.
However, he feels it is “absolutely too soon” for that to happen this year, adding: “I’ve wished the England guys well and expressed hope the St George’s Park factor would help them.
“But it is extremely early days. We were very clear at the outset to say this is a long-term project.
“The England team have only been coming here for just over a year, but you never know, sometimes a place like St George’s Park can be the catalyst, can give everybody a bounce, the feel-good factor.
“Right now there is a buzz about this place. The prime minister has been here, the England team are here, and you can feel the crescendo coming around the World Cup.
“Equally the expectations aren’t too high, so whatever England achieve in Brazil, it’s going to be viewed positively.”