Cobbold redevelopment, big screen, new pitch and catering - Town board's plans for Portman Road to 'cater for next generation of supporters'

A general view of the pitch being watered before the Sky Bet Championship match at Portman Road, Ips

The Cobbold Stand is the oldest of the four at Portman Road - Credit: PA

Ipswich Town are working on improving the club’s Portman Road home in order to ‘cater for the next generation of supporters’. 

The Blues have enjoyed healthy attendances this season, averaging close to 20,000 for home games, since a major summer overhaul which saw manager Paul Cook completely revamp his squad in the wake of the club’s American takeover. 

Changes at Portman Road have been less drastic, but with a heavy cleaning programme, banners and displays both inside and outside the stadium and a fresh lick of paint throughout the ground, Town’s famous old home is beginning to feel the love it undoubtedly needs. 

But the Town board, led by CEO Mark Ashton and chairman Mike O’Leary, have plenty of grand plans, ranging from having eyes on a potential long-term development of the Cobbold Stand down to the more imminent improvements such as a revamped pitch and big screen, as well as vast improvements to catering facilities to enhance the matchday experience. 

Mark Ashton, Paul Cook and Mike O'Leary, pictured at Cambridge

Paul Cook (centre) speaks to chief executive Mark Ashton (left) and chairman Michael O'Leary (right) following Ipswich Town's 2-2 draw at Cambridge United. - Credit: Pagepix

Discussing stadium redevelopment at this week’s fans’ forum, Ashton, who oversaw significant work at Ashton Gate during his time with Bristol City, said: “One of the things that we haven’t had is an estate strategy and you can’t develop any part of any stadium in isolation, you have to make the stadium work. 

“We’ve been having meetings with the club’s architects, who have been the architects of the club for many, many years, and the number of schemes that they’ve drawn up for the football club that have never been actioned or built is just incredible, from stands to changing rooms to disabled facilities to pitch reconstruction. 

“We’re starting to understand how the flow of the stadium works. It’s quite interesting, the architects said to me that the entrance to the stadium actually means that the club has almost got its back to the town. I’m trying to learn about Ipswich, I didn’t understand. 

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“I think we’ve got to look at the redevelopment or development of all areas of the stadium, not just the Cobbold Stand. The Cobbold Stand is an integral part of that and if you look at the Cobbold Stand it’s got a lifespan now. It is going to be need to be altered, changed, rebuilt at some point in time. 

A general view of the stadium from above before the Sky Bet League One match at Portman Road, Ipswic

Town's ownership will invest in Portman Road in the coming months and years - Credit: PA

“But we’ve got to make sure that we’ve for the flow of the rest of the stadium right and that means that we can cater for the commercial customers, mid-level customers, season ticket holders and matchday fans. 

“And that the stadium caters for that next generation of supporters too because, as I’ve said before, we really have an opportunity here to pack Portman Road and inspire a generation. We’ve got to make sure that all the facilities in all the stands work to do that. 

“It’s a really good question and I think the answer to it in a short sentence is that we’re looking at the whole stadium and how it all works before we get to the specifics of which bit first.” 

A general view of Portman Road, home of Ipswich Town before the pre-season friendly match at Portman

The Cobbold Stand at Portman Road is the oldest of the club's four stands - Credit: PA

A new stadium pitch is on the agenda this summer, bringing what was once an envied playing surface at Portman Road up to modern standards after years of degradation. 

That brings its own challenges, though. 

"We’re working with architects to help us look at the alignments, the sizing, the levels of the pitch, looking at where the dugouts best fit,” O’Leary said. 

“At the moment, our dugouts are too adjacent and could lead to ‘interesting’ moments. 

A general view of a closed bar at the stadium before the Sky Bet League One match at Portman Road, I

Town ownership want to improve catering facilities at Portman Road - Credit: PA

“We’re looking to slightly realign the positioning of the dugouts. But the crux of it is that the most important first step that we have to take is to punch a hole in the corner of the ground (where Cobbold and South Stands meet) to allow trucks to get in and out because until we can do that, we can’t bring anything inside that we need to produce the new pitch or to put the undersoil heating in when we do that too. 

“Of course, having decided that that was the first step, we then discovered that we couldn’t do it without planning permission. 

“We’re planning where we will put a big screen in that corner. It’s got to be a suitable height for everyone to be able to see it and it’s got to be at a suitable height for us to get articulated vehicles in beneath it. 

A general view of the stadium from above before the Sky Bet League One match at Portman Road, Ipswic

Ipswich Town's Portman Road home 'needs a bit of love' - Credit: PA

“We also have a challenge of dealing with a very high voltage cable that travels across that corner, which happens to feed the floodlights. So, we’ve got to be a little bit careful we don’t do damage to that. 

“And we have to deal with drainage because the new generation pitches of the type that we’re looking to put in actually drain considerably more quickly than the traditional pitch that we have today, which gives us an issue of where the water run-off goes. 

“It’s possible that we won’t get all of this done in the close season that we’re coming up to in May and June of next year but that’s at the moment our goal. Our goal is to do the whole thing with many of the tasks being done in parallel rather than sequentially.” 

Michael O'Leary after the game at Dartford

Ipswich Town chairman Mike O'Leary - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

As well as a big screen, there are also plans to completely overhaul the public address system, given the current set-up is difficult to hear in large sections of the stadium.

Again, that brings challenges, though.

“The PA system requires use of a cherry picker in order to make some of the changes we need to make,” O’Leary said. 

“At the moment, having that on the pitch isn’t a good idea. There are time constraints on when we can do it but we will do it. 

“It’s pretty much building it from the ground up, so we’ll probably end up replacing all of it.” 


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