Liverpool on Tuesday officially opened a £50m training base in Kirkby that includes a ‘secret’ stairway for sneaking potential signings into the building and a door named in honour of James Milner.
The AXA Training Centre has replaced Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground for the past 70 years, as the club’s headquarters with Jürgen Klopp and his staff relocating during the international break. The facility took 722 days to build and brings the academy and first teams together for the first time, albeit with the under-23s having a separate entrance, dining rooms, gyms, changing rooms and pitches.
On the first-team side there are three Anfield-sized pitches and a goalkeeper area, screened off from public viewing by trees and hedges. There is also a beach football area, a volleyball court, tennis courts and a padel tennis court. Klopp regularly plays padel tennis with his staff after training. An altitude chamber enables players to train in 40-degree heat, 90% humidity and in low oxygen levels.
During consultations with senior players over what they wanted at the site Milner jokingly suggested a door named after him. The engineers, McLaughlin & Harvey, obliged and the midfielder discovered that access to the first-team suite was via ‘The James Milner Door’ upon arrival this week. The scouting department have their own meeting room, office and a ‘secret scouting stair’ for bringing potential recruits into the centre unseen.
A steel time capsule that includes a pair of Klopp’s glasses, a film on the history of Melwood and messages from Sir Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush was installed to commemorate the official opening. It will be opened in 50 years.
Liverpool’s managing director, Andy Hughes, said: “It’s fantastic to see the building finally finished and everything we set out to achieve: everyone on one site and in world-class facilities. The building is simply stunning and it’s just a shame we can’t all be on-site today to celebrate its opening. It is a major intrinsic investment in the long-term future of the club. It brings the facilities to where they should be for a club of our stature. This has got us to a place where we should be.
“Jurgen Klopp, [sporting director] Michael Edwards and [academy director] Alex Inglethorpe were heavily involved all the way through in helping us decide what the priorities were. At Melwood unfortunately we’d run out of room, size-wise. It didn’t enable us to invest and progress. Here the gym alone is three times bigger, the wet areas are massively improved, the medical areas are twice the size, the pitches have improved and there are more things for the team to do when they are not playing football.”
Liverpool were due to relocate during the summer only for the pandemic to stall the finishing touches of the construction.
Melwood has been sold to the social housing developer Torus for £10m but Liverpool have been criticised by local councillors for not leaving a legacy and a community facility at the site in West Derby. The redevelopment in Kirkby has included upgrading nearby public football pitches and a pavilion.
The Kirkby ward councillor Tony Brennan, a cabinet member for regeneration and economic development on Knowsley Council, said: “To welcome Liverpool to Knowsley is a huge thing for us as a council, for local businesses and the local community. Young people will be inspired by it and the wider community benefits from the new Eddie McArdle pitches, the John O’Leary pavilion, new parking facilities and a new cycleway. We’ve been able to get a range of different football teams involved from young people to veterans to women’s teams and also Tranmere Rovers’ BTEC programme uses it as well. The pitches are superb and are getting well used.”