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A retro arcade, coffee art and a Big Brother diary room

TERRIGAL – Arriving at the Lionesses’ World Cup base, one of the first sights to take in is a painting of every England player in their grassroots kit. Long before the tournament began, each submitted a photo of their younger selves, which has been curated into a piece of art to serve as a “constant reminder” of how they got here.

“It’s asking yourself the question, ‘why did I actually start playing football?’” says England’s general manager Anja van Ginhoven. “Because that little girl just loved the game.”

An hour’s drive from Sydney, the Football Association (FA) opened up the team’s headquarters to select media for the first time ever at a World Cup, an insight into how the players prepare and unwind at the most anticipated women’s tournament in history.

From a £1000 coffee machine with Vittoria beans, which takes photos of players’ faces and prints them onto drinks with edible ink, to personalised darts with England-flag-flights, the hotel was transformed inside three days while England were away beating Haiti 1-0 in their opening game.

A huge operation was undertaken to bring in retro arcade games, The Simpsons’ Hit and Run, ping-pong tables and virtual reality sets, along with thousands of Yorkshire Tea bags, painting by numbers sets and a World Cup wall chart.

A giant England flag made of balloons and portraits of every player deck out the main area where players relax.

The bean bag station is for watching the other matches at the tournament, but metres away is the book corner for escaping with the autobiographies of Serena Williams, Ash Barty and other female sporting icons – along with the entire Harry Potter series.

“A lot of people are doing colouring in and jigsaws,” said Alex Greenwood.

“The younger ones play a bit more games than the older ones. Hempo [Lauren Hemp] and Niamh Charles were playing [table tennis]. I think Hempo’s really good actually but I’m not playing table tennis, it’s not for me!”

It all takes place on the traditional territories of the Darkinjung people, and the custodians of the land are acknowledged in red and white in the centre of the main hub.

One of England’s first sessions featured a virtual call with Karen Menzies, the first Aboriginal woman to play for Australia, as she delivered a talk on the country’s history and the struggles of indigenous peoples.

Only three players – those who featured in an U17 World Cup here – have ever visited the nation before and all listened in absolute silence.

The team have been given a welcome ceremony by Aboriginal groups in every area they have stayed in and in their second match against Denmark, they will wear a “Unite for Aboriginal People” armband. Players have been told: “We are here to do a job but it’s also an enriching life experience.”

England's Alex Greenwood playing darts against members of the media following a press conference at The Clan in Terrigal, New South Wales. Picture date: Wednesday July 26, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story WORLDCUP England. Photo credit should read: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.
Alex Greenwood plays darts against members of the media at England’s training base (Photo: Getty)

Here, they have chosen to step up camp on one of the most picturesque parts of Australia’s east coast, a string of independent cafes the main signs of activity along the golden strip. After examining the “length and breadth” of the country, Terrigal was hand-picked, a place where the squad could “feel Australia and its culture”.

From the players’ rooms, they can look out to the sea, which feels a long way from the frenzy and pressure of a World Cup at which they started among the favourites.

Then again, as they are so keen to reiterate, “pressure is a privilege”. That is also one of the phrases adorning the walls, a patchwork of quotes chosen by the players: “Write the future”, “Bonded by pride”, “Real sisterhood”.

Women’s technical director Kay Cossington has worked for the FA for 18 years and in that time, she has seen the women’s game changed beyond recognition. Players were once given wallets of expenses – now they are catered for by a specialised chef.

“It is night and day,” says Cossington. “I’ve seen it grow and evolve and this has gone another mile and that’s testimony to how the game’s grown.”

The hope is that will translate onto the pitch, Sarina Wiegman hosting team meetings in the analysis suites which feature tactics boards and flipboards. Every room is a nod to England’s history, named after Rachel Yankey, Ellen White and Fara Williams.

The Scott Room is diplomatically being attributed to both Alex and Jill, the latter hosting the Lionesses Down Under show from one of the hotel rooms which has been renovated into a studio and Big Brother style diary room.

“When you walk in here, it feels immediately like Lionesses, it feels like us,” adds Van Ginhoven.

“It’s home away from home.” It is, after all, a long time to be away and moments where families and friends are able to visit have to be scheduled in. England first joined up at St George’s Park on 19 June, over a month before the tournament began.

From Staffordshire to Brisbane via the Sunshine Coast, they landed in Terrigal on 23 July – a day after the Haiti game – and will be based here throughout, with a brief stay in Adelaide for their final group match against China. The aim is to have one camp for as much of their stay Down Under as possible – it is about “normalising every game, and changing as little as possible”.

Planning began long before that. The first consultation with Fifa was in December 2021, while England waited to discover which group they would be drawn in.

It is the FA’s ambition that the Lionesses’ legacy will be felt long after the tournament ends. Local children were invited to watch a training session on Tuesday and the on-site gym equipment, which was purchased 50-50 with Central Coast Mariners, will be left behind for the club’s women’s team, which will start playing in September under English coach Emily Husband.

For now, there is one goal for England: “To give the players the best chance of success”. And that means winning the World Cup.

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