If it's good enough for Real Madrid...

Championship-quality football could be coming to a Welsh school as a Pounds 1.25 million training centre is opened inside its gates.

Pupils at Cardiff's Fitzalan high school now have the use of eight new five-a-side pitches with the same surface used by players at top Spanish soccer team Real Madrid. Talks with Cardiff City FC are also taking place to secure the new Astroturf facility as an additional training venue for the Championship club.

The Bluebirds' home is just a short walk from the inner-city school.

Coaches from the championship division club already visit the school to help train promising young pupils hoping to make it to the top of the game.

Contractor Gol Centres took six years to complete the project.

Rhys Boore, a director at the company, said the facilities were the best of their kind in Wales.

He met training managers at Cardiff City FC last week who are interested in using the high-quality pitches when their official training grounds are frozen over.

Pupils at Fitzalan high have exclusive use of the pitches during the school day from 9am to 4.30pm. The new facility is then open for use in the wider community in the evenings and on weekends.

Mr Boore, a devoted follower of football, said: "This is a real example of how schools and the private sector can come together to create something of real benefit, not only for schoolchildren but the wider community.

"We would love to see a future Welsh football star rise from the school - it would be a real return on our money."

Barrie Phillips, deputy headteacher at Fitzalan high, said pupils were excited to have such a brilliant venue to play the beautiful game. And he added that the school was still working towards becoming a "beacon community-based school".

Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, has pledged pound;3 million over the next three years for schools to spend on developing out-of-hours activities.

The Assembly government wants all Welsh schools to have a community focus.

A new sports hall will also be opened at Fitzalan high by the end of January 2006. A fame academy with a dedicated drama and dance studio is also planned.

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