Monday, 22 February 2010

England's training camp? Don't panic! I could have told you that two months ago!

THE SUN call it "as dump", the Express "Shambles"... the Daily Mail and Mirror have had a go today too. All lambasting the state of England's World Cup training camp currently under construction at Phokeng, near Rustenburg in deepest, darkest South Africa.
Truth is of course, if they'd read my blog, they'd have know it's nothing of the kind. If any of them had seen published before I sped off to the second cricket Test before Christmas, they'd have known the Royal Marang Hotel is only half finished.
Yes, the grass pitches are still being prepared, as are the five plastic pitches. But the complex, carefully hidden off the road to Boschhoek six kilometres from the Royal Bafokeng Stadium where England will play their opening Group C game against the USA on June 12, will be ready.
Funded by the Bafokeng tribe, who claim a slice of the platinum mine profits, this will be the finest high altitude training camp in the world. At 3,900ft above sea-level, the Australian and New Zealand rugby teams are already booked in to prepare for their Tri-Nations clashes. The All Blacks used to prepare at Swartkops High School, on a resurfaced rugby pitch some 300ft close to sea-level in Centurion, an hour away.
Now the Italians are consigned there, the USA will be training at the nearby Southdowns College, the Argentinians at Pretoria University's High Performance Centre, the Dutch at Wits University's Milpark.
All are inferior to England's base near Rustenburg. The FA have been on top of this one for months. Fabio Capello will visit there again tomorrow on his way to a coaching symposium at Sun City half an hour away.
As Mark Ferguson, head of security at the complex assured me: "We will be ready by May. Your Football Association officials fly in here all the time. You don't have to worry."
But, typically, the tabloids arrive, rustle up a couple of old pictures, and scream about "a dump" and "shambles".
It isn't. By the time the England squad arrive in early June, the Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex will be ready. Half of the five-star hotel opened in November, the other half will open in March. The pitches will be ready, the roads will be resurfaced. I've been saying this for two months. But do they listen?
How about the Germans? They're booked in to the Velmore Estate in Erasmia, nearer Centurion than Rustenburg. And their training pitch has only just been dug out... they'll be bringing the grass asap! The Australians are based at Kloofzicht, a lovely resort in Muldersdrift near Sandton, 20 miles away. But there isn't a decent football pitch within a half-hour drive.
So rest easy. As I told you two months ago, England have the best possible preparation for this World Cup. And an easy qualifying group against the Yanks, Slovenia and Algeria. It's winter, the weather will suit us, particularly for the games in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. And if Fabio Capello's team win the group, they'll be playing their first knock-out match back in Rustenburg, just down the road from the training camp.
As far as Rustenburg goes, we do not need to panic. But if some clogger injures Wayne Rooney in the next three months, rush around screaming hysterically. That's where the key to our World Cup success, ending 44 years of hurt, really lies.


  1. Interesting read Neal. Seems like they just don't understand the pace of things in Africa (or deliberately ignoring it). Facts gleaned from the various articles yesterday included that as of today there were 36 rooms ready (sounds like enough), two training pitches were ready for action (how many will England require at any one time?) and the main gripe was that they might have to sit around the small pool rather than the Olympic-sized one. Well, they'll survive. And since there are 15 weeks left until England's arrival it's not unreasonable to expect that they will be that much further along come June.

  2. There's another way of looking at it. South Africa doing the job they promised but journalists looking for an angle when they go on the big overseas trips... and happy to knock the organisers over a non-story. Rustenburg will be ready. Never in doubt. Everybody knew it was a site under development, tailor-made for England. As I say... don't panic.

  3. Neal

    I realise that it is probably a dead horse already, but wanted to stop by and say thank you anyway for sounding a sensible voice of reason on this issue.

    Our take on it down here is much the same (although probably not as well written and politely put!) If you get a chance, feel free to stop on by and leave a link back here. (

    Oh and Mark how about making this a "Risible Rumour" post over on Sport without Spin?

    Regards from sun-drenched Jozi!

  4. Interesting if savage article above! Look, Ian McGarry who wrote the piece for The Sun, was not alone in being surprised at the state of the Bafokeng Sports Palace Complex. Sure he's Scottish and would rather Algeria won the World Cup, but he wasn't being stupidly unfair. Just pushed it further than the rest. Martin Lipman on the Mirror and Mick Dennis on the Express wrote similar pieces. It's all my fault really. I drove up there after England's Test at Centurion, found the place ("behind that tree", read my blog at ( and wrote the piece just before Christmas, explaining how it WOULD be finished in time. When we returned to The Wanderers for the final Test, I showed a top photographer where it was and he flew out of Lanseria for some overhead shots. Then he sold the pix to the Sun, so presto, they went big on it using pictures about six weeks old. The rest used less impressive snaps taken on the day. I leapt into action (and emailed Rich Mkhondo my old Rhodes University pal, head of communications for 2010) and did pieces for Sky News, talkSPORT and the Daily Express here, as well as 702 in South Africa explaining all would be fine, calm down. While I was in South Africa, during the Togo shootings at the African Cup of Nations, I went on Sky News on a similar mission, to say Cabinda is a long, long way from Johannesburg. I told Emma Hurd the training ground story and she covered it beautifully when she got up there. These things tend to blow over. And they have. England confirmed Rustenburg as their training base two days later despite The Sun claiming they were considering a volte face. All's well that ends well I guess. We've moved on to Wayne Bridge now! Expect further attacks on South Africa from our press, but I'll be ready to defend them. It's going to be a cracking World Cup. Let nobody suggest otherwise!