Spa pools, FA chefs and Dave the Cat: England land at lavish Euro 2024 base

<span>Harry Kane, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier during <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a>’s lively training session at Carl Zeiss Jena’s stadium on Tuesday.</span><span>Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters</span>

It is unclear whether Harry Kane was acting a little mischievously. The England captain had noted that the Germany squad had departed the Spa & Golf Resort Weimarer Land at the end of May, enabling England to check into the luxury facility upon their arrival in Blankenhain on Monday. “They [the Germans] wanted to come back but eventually we got in, so a good job by the guys at the Football Association,” Kane said.

So, England 1-0 Germany. The reverse beach towel! Er, no, not really. Germany were always going to base themselves at Adidas HQ in Herzogenaurach near Nuremberg. It is where they stayed during Euro 2020. They are contractually obliged to do so. They had used the Spa & Golf Resort for their pre-tournament camp, rather as England had based themselves at Middlesbrough’s Rockcliffe Park training ground for their warm-up games.

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But there has been one thing to take from the whole shemozzle. Which is that if we can assume the Germans know the best places to stay in their country, then the resort is certainly one of them. Gareth Southgate and his players are aware of that now. The word from the England camp, as they went through a lively public training session in the nearby town of Jena, was that it represents a significant raising of the bar in terms of the previous overseas tournament accommodation during the Southgate era.

In other words, the FoRestMix Hotel in Repino and the Souq Al Wakra for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals tournaments respectively. (England stayed at St George’s Park during the previous European Championship.) The bases in Repino and Al Wakrah were comfortable and relaxed, unprepossessing. The resort here on elegant country premises is on the next level.

It has got the lot. Two 18-hole golf courses plus a nine-hole course – ideal for Kane and the squad’s other golf lovers. The spa has pools, a sauna with panoramic views. The FA has taken over the whole place, bringing its own chefs along as usual – even though there are fine dining restaurants on site.

The common threads remain the secluded location and the tranquillity. Also how the FA has sought to make it a home away from home for players and staff. Each of the bedrooms have been personalised with family photographs, with one member of the wider team delighted to arrive to a big framed picture of Dave the Cat, the stray that the squad adopted at the Qatar World Cup. Dave had been Photoshopped underneath a crown. Call him King Dave.

The FA obsesses over little touches such as giving each player match shirts with his name and number on the back to pass to family members. The idea is that they can wear them to the games. It is the larger move – the resort itself – that the FA hopes can provide the springboard to glory.

The resort was long the organisation’s No 1 target, very central in Germany, making journeys to games shorter and less painful. As an aside, the really good news for England is that they will not have to rely on Deutsche Bahn, which on Monday was making Avanti look like the smoothest of operators. Reports of the demise of the German train system have not been exaggerated.

England’s Tuesday afternoon session at Carl Zeiss Jena’s stadium was a one‑off, a move to engage with the local community; 500 enthusiastic fans were in attendance, the majority children. Southgate’s squad will normally train at the resort, on a pristine surface that is part of the wider plot, meaning they will not even have to travel. In Russia and Qatar, they had 15‑ and five‑minute trips to Stadium Spartak Zelenogorsk and Al-Wakrah Sports Club respectively.

Carl Zeiss Jena made it to the 1981 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, losing against Dinamo Tbilisi, but now play in the regional fourth tier of German football, making it all the more impressive that they have such a well-upholstered 12,500-capacity ground.

All 26 of Southgate’s players were on the grass, although Luke Shaw, who is fighting to regain fitness after a hamstring tear – most likely for England’s second group game against Denmark – did not play a full part. It was a feast of technical quality and competitive as well; especially the headers and volleys drill and the small-sided games.

The scene was framed by St George’s flags in the stand, bearing a few inscriptions. Blackburn Rovers. Everton: East Germans on tour. Hereford: Punjabi Bulls on tour. Everybody roared when Jude Bellingham scored with the coolest of back heels – especially Bellingham, who celebrated with Aaron Ramsdale.

The players will become familiar with Blankenhain, a quiet and pretty town of 6,000 inhabitants, known as the city of the lime trees, because they will hold their media activities in the oval-shaped castle there. Built in about 1150, its entrance is framed by a pair of Three Lions flags and guarded by Christian, very much a thou‑shalt‑not-pass defender.

“Harry Kane was here this morning,” Christian says. “Yeah, he said a few words to me in German. He was here for some pictures.” The rest of the squad were there, too, for a Uefa photo and video shoot, but Kane seems like the biggest draw; the Bayern Munich striker heard his name chanted throughout the training session. Like Southgate, he looked relaxed. He had fun. The serious business is at hand.