Many things were learned during England’s EURO triumph last summer, like how content and comfortable the players were at the Lensbury Resort in Teddington, the importance of keeping upheaval to a minimum, and the benefits of having a consistent and familiar haven to return to.
So, it was a privilege and eye-opening fun to be guided around the fantastic bespoke spaces and forms of entertainment that have been installed in the Lionesses’ ‘Base Camp’ hotel in Terrigal, an hour north of Sydney.
If some of the team fancy watching a World Cup match (or a certain reality TV programme) together – no problem. A spot of table tennis, darts, crafting, painting by numbers, an arcade-game battle, or a bit of peace and a good book in a calming environment? Right there. A barista-crafted-coffee with their face on it? Sorted. The ‘relaxation’ spaces have it all. It really is an incredible setting and all contributes towards creating that ‘home away from home’ feel that the architects of this set-up have aimed for.
Leading the tour this morning were The FA’s Women’s Technical Director, Kay Cossington, and England Women’s General Manager, Anja van Ginhoven. Both are rightly proud of the what has been achieved collaboratively between The FA, Nike and the hotel staff.
From the second you step off the street, which is itself set just metres away from Terrigal’s beautiful beach, you are enveloped by England’s colours, branding and positive messaging. And, as you may have seen already on some of the team’s socials, that is just the start of it…
Greeted by a jolly balloon flag and an arch of red and white, the stairway and escalator that lead up to the section of the hotel entirely reserved for the Lionesses are adorned with words like ‘Our England, Our Family, Bonded by Pride, Thrive in the Moment,’ and those themes continue throughout.
“The spaces on the walls are things that the players own, quotes and words that have come through from the team,” explains Cossington. “That’s stuff that the team own and really believe in.”
Check out some of the images and videos here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CvJ57hoLRD2/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
Amidst the many slogans and decor on the walls is one striking and key piece of artwork: a painting by Harry G Ward, which features all of the squad as young players.
“The significance of this painting is everything that we’ve been trying to do for many months and years, which is around connecting us back to our history,” says Cossington. “It’s about connecting the players back to their grassroots clubs and it’s also honouring how important grassroots football is to the journeys of our professional players, and I think we all fell in love with this painting when we first saw it.”
“It’s also a constant reminder,” adds van Ginhoven, “asking yourself the question, ‘Why did I actually start playing football?’ Because that little girl just loves the game.”
Many of the ideas and activities do not only come from the project group made up of FA staff and Nike personnel, it is driven by the players themselves, says van Ginhoven:
“It’s not our choice to do it like this, it’s a constant conversation with [the players], ‘How can we optimise your down time?’ ‘What do you want to do to switch off?’ The creative stuff is what they love to do when they have time off with no meeting or training.
“We’re here in Australia, but what you want to create is that home away from home. When you walk in here, it feels immediately like England, like Lionesses, like ‘us.'”
Cossington and van Ginhoven selected the Crowne Plaza as their number-one pick from a host of hotels that they visited (23 in total), after the search began back in December 2021. They have nothing but words of praise and gratitude for the staff’s willingness to work with them – time differences and distance causing no issues – since the real work, including five site visits, in terms of detailed planning began. In fact, the actual final build only took around three days, in preparation for the team’s arrival.
“It was important to come out and meet people and actually feel it. You could look in the FIFA catalogue, but actually to have that human contact, we felt, genuinely, that nothing was ever a problem for these [hotel] people. Everything that we wanted to do, they were completely open and receptive, and you see them walking around the place with a smile on their face 24/7, so the energy as well that that brings in the cultural environment.
“It’s the planning and preparation that goes into it beforehand that makes those three days achievable. So, people were over here looking at ‘this could go here and this could look like this,’ and the photographs and videos, so by the time you land with all the equipment and gear, it takes three days to install it all.”This information is pretty astonishing given we were shown around the main relaxation spaces (much of which has been provided by Nike), dining room (which has seating for the playing squad plus 30 staff members), tactics room, Lionesses Live and diary room studios, and much more.
The attention to detail and nod to identity and history goes as far as naming various spaces after former England players, including the Scott, White, Williams, Yankey, Phillip, Davis, Parker and Parr Rooms.
We all know how important coffee is to many of the squad, and so with that vital requirement in mind, two baristas are available from 9am – 4pm every day to whip up whatever a caffeine-craving Lioness desires. And the machine that can transfer a photograph onto the froth on top is frankly next level!
Cossington outlines the thinking behind now being based in one place: “Coming to a tournament this size and scale of a country this big, we wanted to try and make the tournament as small as we could in terms of the logistics and the travel, to help the loading. You can imagine how much kit and equipment gets shifted from venue to venue. It was really nice for us to land here and know that although we travel to games, this is now where we come back to. This is our base. This is our home in Australia.”
Choosing to retain the base camp, when after the knockout rounds teams usually hop from one FIFA-arranged hotel to another according to playing venues, required additional investment from The FA .“The investment from The FA has been incredible,” she says, “To actually provide the girls with what’s required and necessary to give us the best chance of success, I’ve seen it grow and evolve incredibly, but this I truly feel has gone another step, another level, another mile, and I think that’s again, testimony to how the game has grown.”
Performance on the field of course is paramount but the Lionesses are also being made aware of the culture and history of the places where they are staying and playing. Everywhere they go, they have a welcome ceremony. This is as much ‘enriching’ and a ‘life experience’ as it is a football tournament.
There will be a legacy once the Lionesses leave, too, as the Central Coast Mariners club they are using as their training base will start a women’s team in September. The gym kit that was installed for the England team (was funded 50/50 by The FA and the club) will also remain in place for them to use going forward. Now that’s a winning result.