'We need to take pride in our home' - Ashton on plans for new pitch, stand upgrades and more at Portman Road
- Credit: Ross Halls
He's a huge fan of Ipswich Town's famous old stadium, but when supporters hopefully return to Portman Road in August, new CEO Mark Ashton wants them to see a difference in the matchday experience.
The Blue Army were only allowed at two games for the whole of last season but, with hopes high that fans will be back for the 2021/22 campaign, Ashton wants to show them this is a new era at the club in every way.
Mark Detmer, one of Town's Three Lions ownership group, recently revealed that Ashton had already sent them a list of improvements he wants to make to Portman Road and the fan experience.
Asked to elaborate, Ashton said: "There are two elements to that. First is we are going to hopefully have fans coming back now as we come out of a pandemic, and that's been a really tough time for everyone in the country, it's been difficult for fans to try to watch on streaming, it's just not the same.
"Portman Road is our home, and I want to take pride in it. I don't mean this to be disrespectful, but you guys are standing here now and it could be sharper, it could be cleaner and it could be better presented.
"It's our home and we need to take pride in our home. We're not going to be able to do everything overnight, but there are things that we can do.
"We need to make sure the stadium is clean, it's tidy, it's presentable, it's welcoming, that people can get a drink, that the food's right, that the beer's cold.
"And when people come back, in August, I want them to see a difference. And that might be in subtle small things, but I want us to take pride in this place because it's our home - and I think that's really important."
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And it's not just the cosmetic things that Ashton's intending to tackle. The man who led the creation of Bristol City's new state-of-the-art training ground has much bigger plans too.
"I think for sure here over time we need to have almost an estate strategy for the facilities," he said, when asked if we'll see a Bristol-like approach to bricks and mortar improvements at Town.
"You look at the training ground, it's a rabbit warren and the flow isn't right. It's not conducive to developing players - it's good land and good pitches, but we need to make sure the infrastructure is right.
"I think it's the same at the stadium. I'll make no bones about it, one of the things I'm going to want to invest in is a modern pitch.
"We don't have time to do that for this season, but with a modern pitch comes undersoil heating, probably desso (a surface combining natural grass with synthetic fibres).
"There's no point in us putting a team together that probably plays the game in a certain way and by February the pitch has gone.
"But to do that we've got to make sure that we haven't got to slightly move the pitch, we've got to make sure that the dugouts that people keep telling me need sorting out are in the right position.
"Because if you put the pitch in and then have to start changing, with undersoil heating, you're taking one step forward and three steps back.
"We'll take a good look at the stadium. We'll want to upgrade it and if we think that the plan is right to develop one of the stands, or more, then we'll put a plan in place for that."
A new pitch will be costly of course. A figure of between £1m and £1.5m is suggested to Ashton.
"Yeah," he replies. "It needs a modern pitch, it hasn't got a modern pitch.
"The groundsman tells me that there's never been a modern pitch here, and it will need that, but that will be a substantial investment and we'll have to start planning that now for this time next year.
"But I think that's like putting a roof on your house. If you haven't got a roof on your house, you're going to have a problems. If we haven't got the pitch right at Portman Road, we're going to have problems.
"That is certainly something that will be on our agenda going forward."