Souters helps Celtic snap up new signings by installing facilities it can be proud of
It was all systems go at Celtic's training and educational complex in the summer of 2007. While the club's players were taking a well-earnedend-of-season break, a different team was making its mark at Lennoxtown by installing facilities that any world-class football club would be proud of.
A team of ground care professional from Souters Sports took on the challenge of constructing natural grass pitches, including UEFA-standard pitches, plus a training area, as well as a goal keepers' training area at the club's complex, which is built on the site of former NHS land, adjacent to the now empty Lennox Castle Hospital.
The new facilities were designed and built to replace Celtic's former training ground at Barrowfield, which the club admits was less than ideal.
Located on a 46-acre site, near Campsie Fells, half of the site has been developed during phase one of the project, to provide the existing training facilities. The remaining land has been left for development during the second phase, which will provide conference facilities and live-in dormitory areas for young players.
For many years Celtic's training facilities were seen as substandard – by both the club and outsiders – and the club freely admits that it hid them from potential new signings. This inadequacy was more keenly felt after the club's rivals, Rangers, opened its Murray Park complex at Milngavie in 2001 and also when Edinburgh-based rivals Hearts opened the Riccarton academy along with Heriot-Watt University in 2004.
So in 2005 Celtic launched a share issue and raised £15m to help fund the new training facilities. Former Celtic coach the late Tommy Burns was tasked with undertaking a fact finding mission and travelled across Europe to visit other football clubs' training grounds. And Celtic choose sections from what was highlighted in Burns' report and former Celtic boss Martin O'Neill and current boss Gordon Strachan both added to the specifications for the new facilities.
In December 2005, East Dunbartonshire Council's Planning Board approved the outline planning application to develop the training facilities on the site. And the following April, the council granted permission for building to begin.
A total of £8 million has been spent on the construction of a number of first-class facilities. Indoor facilities include a training hall, a state-of-the-art fitness centre with gym and fitness suite, physiotherapy and medical facilities, a sauna and steam room and hydrotherapy pool, sports science and sports development facilities, extensive changing facilities, classroom and education facilities, football administration offices, media facilities, kit room, laundry and a groundsmans' compound.
And outdoor facilities are just as impressive. Souters made its mark by installing top quality facilities including three full-sized UEFA-standard natural grass training and match pitches with under-soil heating to the main pitch, an artificial grass pitch and an additional goalkeepers' training area.
Weather conditions at the East Dunbartonshire-based facilities, just northeast of Glasgow, made Souters' task all the more difficult, according to Celtic FC's head groundsman John Heyes.
"But the team from Souters coped well with the adverse weather conditions – the contractors all worked very hard and put in a lot of extra effort to make sure they finished the job on time and to a good, professional standard," he says. "But then that's just what I'd expect from an award-winning company like Souters – its reputation in the industry is second to none."
John adds that he's pleased with the results too: "For the budget we had and what we asked Souters to do with it, I'm more than satisfied with what it has achieved."
The centre was officially opened late last year, by Celtic chairman Brian Quinn at a ceremony where he was joined by Chief executive Peter Lawwell, Celtic manager Gordon Strachan and Celtic team captain Stephen McManus.
"When people come and see the facilities they'll see what I think we are – a major European club," says Chairman Brian Quinn.
Prior to its opening Celtic youth team coach Willie McStay said: "After years of shuttling back and forth between Barrowfield, Celtic Park and several other temporary training venues, Lennoxtown will also allow the Youth Academy coaching staff to better utilise their time during the course of a season."
"And now Celtic has a foundation and infrastructure that should take it forward and can demonstrate a world-class training centre on top of a world-class stadium, for what I believe is a world-class club. It's fitting for a club of this stature," adds Peter Lawwell.