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No detail spared as England reporters given personal touch

England reporter Simon Hart takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Three Lions' UEFA EURO 2020 camp.

Bukayo Saka steps up for England's darts challenge with the media
Bukayo Saka steps up for England's darts challenge with the media Getty Images

The sight of England's players training on perfect pitches amid the lush Staffordshire countryside could lead you to think that 'international footballer' is pretty much the best job out there. In fairness, those of us reporting on Gareth Southgate's side have it pretty good too.

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The media village within the grounds of St George's Park is a place marked by the same attention to detail which ensured that each player found his room adorned with family photos on arrival for the tournament. In the case of the media, the attention to detail has been all the more important to guarantee safe, face-to-face interaction (at the obligatory 3m distance) between reporters and the England squad.

When Gareth Southgate welcomed the media on the first day, he spoke of his own gladness at finally being able to address journalists in person again after so many Zoom-only press conferences, and the two women responsible for making this possible are Anna Bush and Jo Plummer, the FA's media operations managers, working as part of the England communications team.

The interview area
The interview areaUEFA

The product of their planning is a compact media village enclosed by white picket fences and featuring a well-aired marquee for media conferences, plus an additional five broadcast pagodas, one for each of the rightsholders on-site (UEFA included).

It is in these open, tent-like structures that sit-down interviews with radio and TV take place. For the print media, players and journalists head for picnic benches which also double up as an outdoors eating area. In total, up to five players make the short journey here (by golf buggy) from the team hotel each day.

Bush explains: "After more than a year of virtual access, we felt it was important to have that face-to-face interaction, so we've worked hard to get media on-site and adhered to all the rules. All the pagodas have the sides taken off so are not the usual studio – we've tried to make it as airy as possible so you're almost doing the interviews outside but with cover.

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"The feeling we've gone for is like being at a festival, and with the picnic benches and eating outside you're getting everyone as much as possible in the open air to eliminate risk."

Whereas England would welcome up to 200 people to their media centre at Russia 2018, here the limit is around 50 each day – with 38 seats in the main marquee. Hence press conferences feature questions from both reporters on-site and colleagues via Zoom, whose faces appear on big screens visible around the room. "Gareth and the players can see who is asking and they are flashed up on big screens," says Plummer. "It has more of a personal feel."

Speaking of the personal touch, each press conference is preceded by a quick game of darts between a player and journalist – hence the dartboard on the wall beside the dais. This was a tradition begun in Russia to give players and press the chance of some light-hearted interaction.

Plummer explains: "They don't come on and walk straight into the press conference. There's a little bit of chat, a bit of colour and excitement. I think they do enjoy it – the players come in and watch each other and, if they lose, they'll get ribbed by everyone else."

Gareth Southgate gives his thoughts
Gareth Southgate gives his thoughtsUEFA

All part of Southgate's plan to create a new England – open and eager to engage. "I think we've been ourselves," he told EURO2020.com on Sunday. "We want to represent our country in the right way, whether that's on or off pitch and I think that's really important.

"We've got a lot of young men who are still finding their way in life, as well as players, and I think it's important to show them the right path and, of course, we've got to develop them as players, but as people as well in the time that they're with us.

"So you hope to have a positive impact on them and I think that's what we've tried to create, in terms of making the team relevant to our public and making the team important for our public again, where some people had got totally disillusioned a few years ago.

"That was mainly because of results but one or two other things as well," he added. "In that regard, we've taken some big steps forward over the last couple of years and we have to keep winning matches to be able to do that further."

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