Preston move into state-of-the-art centre inspired by Allardyce
Written by Simon Austin — October 16, 2020
PRESTON NORTH END'S players thought Christmas had come early when they turned up for training this week, according to their long-standing Head of Performance Tom Little.
Stepping into their new Euxton training centre for the first time on Tuesday, the players discovered state-of-the-art pitches, personalised spaces in luxurious changing rooms, a flow pool, hot and cold contrast baths, a huge gym and a games room.
“It's an exciting environment to be in," admits Little, who joined North End in July 2014 after spells with clubs including Birmingham, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday.
"Hopefully it will add a couple of extra per cent in terms of performance for the players. If you can do that across the squad then it’s almost like getting a new player in.
“When the players and staff first came in on Tuesday it was like a Christmas Day feeling.”
Owner Trevor Hemmings and his representative, Peter Ridsdale, had long promised an upgrade to Premier League-standard training facilities for the squad. However, finding the right site at the right price had proved a problem, meaning they had settled for a revamp to their existing Springfields base.
That was until August, when Wigan Athletic's training centre in the village of Euxton, nine miles south of Preston's Deepdale stadium, became available. The Latics had outbid North End for the site in early 2016, when it was put up for sale by struggling Bolton.
Now, with Wigan themselves in dire financial difficulties, Hemmings was offered another chance to bid. The deal was done within two weeks and Ridsdale says Preston have acquired a £10m training centre at a fraction of the price, understood by TGG to be about £1.5m.
"It's a perfect facility from our point of view," said a delighted Ridsdale two days after the deal had gone though, on September 1st. "A lot of lads live that way and it happens to be a price we couldn't refuse, because it's a £10m facility for, well, we're not allowed to say, but the numbers aren't far off the mark.
"This has come up at a bargain price so what do we do, just say forget about it? Or do we deliver on a Premier League quality training ground? It's smart business, but some people have slagged us off for it.
"It was opportunistic. I got a phone call two weeks ago today saying if you offer this you'll get it and we did."
Preston have since spent more than £500,000 putting their own mark on the facility, kitting out the gym with new equipment and branding the buildings with their blue and white colours and logos. Yet still it bears the mark of the man who was the driving force behind this temple of high performance - Sam Allardyce.
Bolton acquired the site in 2000 and, bit by bit, turned the old Chorley Sports Ground into one of the finest training grounds in British football. Little was actually a fitness consultant for the club at this time, so he knows the story well.
“I worked there back in the day, when it was literally a local sports club, with a bowling green and Bolton tacked on the side,” he remembers.
“Then they started to build it, by Portakabins at first, and then they invested in a lot of high-end equipment and staff as they got established in the Premier League. Sam really believed in sports science and was the driving force behind it all.”
Wigan did do some upgrades during their four years on site, but the main work was done by Bolton and Allardyce (below). He oversaw the building of an air-conditioned gym, an array of pools, a 'war room' where he could plot tactics and hold meetings, several beautiful pitches and one of club football's first ever cryogenic chambers.
It’s still there now, built with materials developed by Nasa, but has sadly sat unused for years. Even if they wanted to, Preston couldn’t use cryotherapy, because it's banned during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In any case it needs repairing and that would be unaffordable,” explains Little, "which is a shame, because it’s a fantastic room.”
Nevertheless, the centre represents a significant improvement on Preston's old Springfields site.
“The changing rooms are so much better, with lockers for all of the players and staff,” says Little. “The players have name and picture plaques on their spaces.
"We’ve got a wet room for water-based rehab, with hot and cold contrast baths, and a flow pool, where you can set the currents against you.
“There’s a separate studio, which we’ve set up as a regeneration, cardio and circuit room. The canteen is much better and the players have got their own games room, with a snooker table, pool table, darts and a nice seating area.
"It makes you even more excited to go into work.They are a great bunch of lads already and this will bring them even closer."
The biggest improvement of all is the pitches though.
“Springfields is on a canal, so dealing with waterlogged pitches was a common problem for us," says Little. "We had one sand-based pitch, which was a godsend, but at Euxton we’ve got three main pitches and they’re all sand-based.
“One has undersoil heating too. That access to quality pitches is going to be significantly higher than we've had before.
"When it comes to the snow, to the bad weather, we'll have a pristine surface and be able to rotate the pitches.“
Having a deluxe training centre could impact more than the day-to-day, too. It could help attract players, which will be especially important with a wage cap looming in the EFL.
“With wage limits coming in quite soon, things like facilities could potentially tip the balance when potential signings are deciding where to go," says Little.
With the first team moving to Euxton, the Academy has relocated from the University of Central Lancashire's Sports Arena to Springfields.
“It will mean our Academy can have a much much better training environment," explains Little. "The U15s and 18s will train there regularly, but all match days will be there, for all the teams.
"Attracting players should be a little bit easier for the Academy and hopefully we can even progress from Category 3 to Category 2."