The opening of St George's Park has provided some light relief after a difficult few days for English football's governing body
If the Football Association finally flinging open the doors to St George's Park was enough to cause a double take, then the sight of Ashley Cole doubling up in laughter was rarer still.
Damned by an independent FA commission last Friday for "evolving" his evidence in the John Terry racism case, and joining up with the England squad for the first time since calling the hierarchy a "bunch of twats", Cole creased up laughing as the president of the organisation he had damned on Twitter approached and then bowed his head in mock shame.
Whether or not the sight of Cole sharing a joke with the Duke of Cambridge – the Prince suggested that if the full-back kept being a "naughty boy" then his Twitter account would be taken away – will assuage those concerned that the FA has been too soft on the Chelsea player is another matter.
But, as the assembled FA blazerati, plus lord mayors from miles around weighed down with enough bling to shame an England dressing room, A-list royalty and the St George's Park chairman, David Sheepshanks, gathered to celebrate the long-awaited official opening of the national football centre, there was a feelgood factor in the air that has been decidedly absent from the gloomy corridors of HQ at Wembley lately.
It may not be the most conveniently located – "26.1 miles from East Midlands airport" or "132 miles from Wembley", the brochure boasts – but the £105m St George's Park facility that has been endlessly hailed as a key element in shifting the culture of English football has sprung up wondrously quickly since work finally began in March 2011.
The fact that a National Football Centre was first discussed by the FA in 1975 and the land purchased in 2001 was ruefully remarked on several times. Since then, the FA has been through six chief executives and four managers.
But as the assembled guests came back murmuring excited praise after their tours of facilities including the best sports medical centre in the country, 12 full-size pitches including one indoors, two Hilton hotels with 228 rooms between them and the offices that will house the League Managers Association and the Professional Footballers' Association, there was an admission from the executives responsible that the hard work begins here.
Roy Hodgson, a man steeped in the coaching philosophies and superior systems of rival nations, hinted that the FA had got its priorities the wrong way round in concentrating on the £757m revamp of Wembley before its national football centre. Certainly, history will record that the revamp of the national stadium sucked time, energy and cash from the perhaps more important mission of overhauling the way football is coached, played and perceived at all levels in this country.
Meanwhile, over canapes and champagne, the culture secretary, Maria Miller, and Bernstein made reference to combating discrimination in their opening speeches. There wasn't any obvious tribute to England's last captain but one, the recently retired John Terry, in the corridors of the St George's Park but his name hung heavy in the air. As the senior squad gathered there for the first time, they were taken through a new code of conduct designed to remind them of their status as role models.
Glancing back to the modest stand overlooking the pitch where England were going through the motions, a shanked shot from Daniel Welbeck narrowly avoiding the gleaming glass of the new medical centre that overlooks the exact replica of the Wembley pitch, there was a stark illustration of one of the FA's problems. The majority of the crowd of several hundred dignitaries were male, white, of pensionable age and proudly sporting blazers and lapel badges. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and many have spent their lives in service of football – but not exactly representative of the more "progressive" FA of which Bernstein spoke.
He would prefer to point, no doubt, to the members of the England women's team also present and to the younger coaches who will be schooled here in an attempt to redress the fashion for overseas coaches that was lamented by the FA's director of football, Sir Trevor Brooking.
The FA must hope not only that the fine setting and state-of-the-art facilities inspire its teams to new heights ("no more excuses" was the message from Steven Gerrard), but that the sums add up and it does not become a drain on resources as Wembley did. For that, it must not only maintain a steady flow of its own elite coaches but also other sports and businesses hoping to use the conference and training facilities.
The FA has finally has a facility fit for the "Future Game" rhetoric.
But to achieve this will take unprecedented co-operation between historically hostile factions. The FA's "coaching the coaches" mantra will need to dovetail with the professional game's elite player performance plan, under which the biggest teams have invested tens of millions in their own residential facilities to attract the best young players from around the country.
At once keen to trumpet its success in finally getting the gleaming facility off the drawing board – banners proclaimed it "the future of English football" – and cautioning that it would take a decade for its effects to be fully felt, the FA was patting itself on the back while playing for time.
Credit is due for concluding a project that seemed destined to languish on the drawing board. The facilities are hugely impressive – Gerrard proclaimed them the best he has seen anywhere in the world – and there were warm words from all present. But as the autumn sun turns to the howling gales that can whip across the site in winter, the pressure will be on to prove their worth. Prince William insisted he felt the same sense of pride and purpose on entering St George's Park as he did when he visited the Olympic Park for the first time – the implication being that similar success would follow.
"I feel tempted to cry 'God for Harry, England and St. George' but I really don't want to lower the tone by bringing my brother into it," he joked.
Hodgson, who will be relieved that the Duke of Cambridge's gag referred to his brother and not to Harry Redknapp, had his own rallying cry. "We've got to forget the past. We can't win a World Cup yesterday," he said, refusing to dwell on the wasted years since the project was first mooted.
Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that the hotel rooms in which the England players were staying all paid tribute to former players – Gerrard was in the Gary Lineker room, a disgruntled Wayne Rooney had Kevin Keegan on his wall – and mementos and memories of 1966 lurked around every corner. Gerrard insisted they would inspire rather than inhibit the current generation. But it will be the one that follows that will define whether the FA's grand project in the Staffordshire countryside is a success.