In March 2003 the Academy of Light opened its doors and today remains one of the top training facilities in world football having been awarded Category One status – the highest possible rating – under the new EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) system.
Recent graduates of the Academy include current SAFC first team player Jack Colback and Jordan Henderson who made his England debut against France in 2010 and was transferred to Liverpool in 2011 for reported £16-20m.
The Academy is a world apart from the club’s former training ground, the Charlie Hurley Centre that Bob personally bought in the late 80’s, and which just consisted of 2 pitches and temporary buildings including a dilapidated pavilion; or the training facility he inherited in 1986 that was just a single field at Cleadon.
The prestigious Academy development provides first class training facilities for the club’s professional and young players from the age 8 upwards. The comprehensive range of facilities include; indoor and outdoor training areas including 16 pitches of varying size; fitness rooms; medical and rehabilitation facilities including a hydrotherapy suite boasting 4 pools; classrooms, media suite and administration offices. An indoor training facility was also added in 2012.
The Academy represented Sunderland’s response to the dramatic changes which had occurred in the football industry in the UK during the previous years. Sunderland constructed the country’s biggest new stadium in response to the Taylor Report but during the same period far-reaching changes had also occurred in the way professional football was managed and marketed, and the game had rapidly developed into a multi-million pound leisure industry. In tandem with these developments, there had been an increasing realisation on the part of major clubs that there was a need to improve and develop not only training facilities, but also the provision for player’s medical care, education and general development if they were to compete at the highest levels.
The England Manager at the time Sven Goran Eriksson said: “Football is an extremely competitive industry and it’s essential that you have good off pitch facilities to develop and train your players to the highest of standards. Sunderland undoubtedly has some of the best facilities of any football club in the world and will create the ultimate training environment.”