WANNABE Lionel Messis can practice their skills at the Nou Camp in County Durham thanks to a former North East soccer star.
They can also play at Wembley, the San Siro or the Bernabeu.
Alun Armstrong, who turned out for Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town during a successful career, has transformed an old carpet warehouse into a football academy at Shildon, which opened this weekend.
The Alun Armstrong Soccer Centre with six indoor football pitches is on the George Reynolds Industrial Estate, named after the one time chairman of Darlington football club.
The 37-year-old father-of-six Alun, who grew up in Blaydon, Gateshead, and once scored at the San Siro when playing for Ipswich against Inter Milan in the Uefa Cup 10 years ago, has named the pitches after some of the world’s top football stadia.
He said: “The facilities here are state of the art. I had seen a lack of facilities in many parts of the North East.
“If people wanted to play football indoors they had to share a wooden or concrete floor with badminton or squash players.
“My five boys, including my son Luke, who is now with Middlesbrough Academy, complained that there was a lack of places to play and to train around south Durham.
“I thought naming the pitches after world famous stadia would add a touch of class. It was better telling teams they are on the San Siro or the Nou Camp rather than Court One or Court two.
“I am sure the area will benefit from this centre. It is close to the national railway museum, Locomotion, and people can come and combine a game of football with a visit there.
“It’s taken five years to get this far and it’s taken a lot of hard work.” The former striker, who lives in Wolsingham, Weardale, had tried twice before to get the scheme approved in different buildings.
The centre will cater for all ages and groups from school children to training sessions for local teams. Alun is a qualified coach himself and runs the Alun Armstrong soccer school.
He began his career at Newcastle United but was sold by then manager Kevin Keegan to Stockport County. He went on to star for Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town, making 400 senior appearances during his career.
A career highlight was scoring in both legs for Ipswich against Inter Milan in the Uefa Cup. His header gave the Tractor Boys a 1-0 lead after the home leg, but they succumbed 4-2 on aggregate.
If people wanted to play football indoors they had to share a floor with badminton or squash players