England come face to face with their oldest enemy this Friday night as Scotland visit Wembley Stadium for the 113th meeting between the two nations.
And as the official betting partner of the FA, Ladbrokes were given exclusive behind-the-scenes access to see exactly what goes on at England’s training complex, St George’s Park, in the days leading up to the fixture.
Of course, the Ladbrokes News team went along for the ride, and what a day it was.
Located out in the sticks in Burton-upon-Trent, St George’s Park is in a completely secluded area. Even when you arrive at the gates, there’s still at least a two-minute drive to the main buildings and training pitches.
Once we finally got to where we needed to be, we were signed in on reception and were free to roam the complex – helping ourselves to breakfast, might I add – before a round-table media chat with England legend Terry Butcher.
We sat in on that meeting, along with six of the country’s biggest sports journalists, who questioned Butcher on his own memories of England v Scotland matches (of which he featured in six), while also probing the former captain on the current squad, who he could only speak highly of.
England manager Gareth Southgate was then informed of Butcher’s presence, and thus invited him into the dressing room to meet the players and congratulate Gary Cahill for the defender’s 50th international cap. A real touch of class from the coach.
On returning to us, Butcher spoke of just how nervous he was to be heading into the players’ changing room to meet the likes of Cahill, Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart. Amazing really, considering this was a man who captained one of England’s most successful ever sides.
We were then invited to watch the squad train, and although this was something we were expecting to see, what none of us saw coming was just how close we’d end up to the players.
Take Rooney, for example. England’s all-time leading goalscorer was within whispering distance away from us, as we watched the squad work on set pieces in preparation for Friday’s game.
Another surprise to us was the amount of people that were present, watching the players train. All gathered in one stand at the side of the pitch, there was roughly between 250-300 spectators, both young and old, catching a glimpse of the senior squad and a handful of the under-21 stars that joined in with training.
When training ended, we noticed a group move from the stands down to pitchside, all with memorabilia they wanted signing.
And the players didn’t disappoint.
The England camp has a long tradition of players taking photographs and signed shirts for supporters, and Southgate led the way this week.
Of course, we couldn’t resist getting the team to sign something for us. And luckily, we had a polo shirt knocking about, which now features autographs from the likes of Southgate, Cahill, Hart, Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling, Andros Townsend, Michael Keane and Jesse Lingard.
Interested in winning it? We’ll be running a competition this week via @Ladbrokes, so keep your eyes peeled.
There’s a real buzz about the place at this point. The players are all happy to stop and take selfies with fans, the fans seem to have faith in the manager, and the boss himself is walking around the complex with a real air of confidence.
It was here where we returned to the main lobby area for lunch, and I was met by a sight I was becoming more used to throughout the day. Just one floor above us stood Rooney, casually talking on his phone.
Granted, it’s hardly breaking news, but it’s surreal for an outsider to see just how open the complex is, how everyone seems to know each other, and how comfortable the players feel around the building.
Up next for the Ladbrokes News team was a seat in a press conference with Harry Kane – another surreal moment.
The striker spoke of his ability to turn up on big occasions, his confidence in Southgate and the strength in depth currently in the national squad.
We then met up with Terry Butcher again for one final time for another interview – where we also bumped into Jack Wilshere and Eric Dier – something which would have probably left us fairly starstruck at the start of the day, but was quickly becoming the norm.
The final verdict
What an experience.
From the moment we walked in to the moment we left, it was a real privilege for the entire team to be involved with the day.
Come on England!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing