A FORMER Saints manager was the guest of honour to open a Hampshire school’s new £800,000 all-weather sports pitch which will also be available for use by the community.

Football Foundation Ambassador Nigel Adkins visited Applemore College to officially open the new third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch.

Adkins, who took the Saints from the foot of League One to the Premier League in two seasons, unveiled a plaque with headteacher Roland Marsh to commemorate the event.

Nigel then gave coaching advice to budding young sportspeople as he toured the new surface, before speaking at length with students about his career as a player, physio and manager.

The project was made possible thanks to a £265,364 grant from the Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund, and a £280,000 grant from Sport England.

The 106x70m state-of-the-art surface replaced the run-down grass pitches which were prone to waterlogging, meaning many matches were cancelled during the winter.

The new pitch is also floodlit meaning that play can continue even when it is dark.

Applemore College worked alongside the Football Foundation and Hampshire FA to put together a five-year Football Development Plan for the facility.

As a result, the new pitch will be used by the college’s 670 students and local partner club Hythe and Dibden YFC, who expect to create nine new teams.

The college also has a partnership in place with Southampton FC, which sees young players from its academy use the facility as well as gaining qualifications through the school.

Currently, six Saints Academy players attend the school with more expected in the September intake.

The pitch will facilitate disability football in partnership with Oak Lodge Special School, while female participation will also increase.

The site is also set to establish itself as a centre for Mini-Soccer and 9v9 football thanks to the newly established New Forest Youth League.

Also, an on-site football development co-ordinator will help to set up a Futsal league.

Thanks to ‘shock pads’ fitted underneath the pitch, sports such as rugby can also be played on it.

Nigel Adkins said: “What an absolutely incredible facility. It was a real pleasure to open it for Applemore – you can see the huge impact it is going to have just from watching the students already using it.

“The beauty of this pitch, and the Football Development Plan which underpins it, is that it will cater for all sections of the community all-year-round.”

Headteacher Roland Marsh added: “Without the Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund this project would never have got off the ground, but now this pitch will transform grassroots football by providing a state-of-the-art facility for all to enjoy and flourish in the future.”