'We will deliver a Portman Road to be proud of' - Ashton's vow to improve home of Blues
- Credit: Archant/PA
You can see the pain on Mark Ashton’s face as he puts his hand to his head and discusses the state of Portman Road.
“I come in every day and it frustrates me. It upsets me,” he says. “It’s tired, it’s rundown and I would ask the fans to bear with us because we will bring this club back to life. It’s on our watch now, we understand what needs to be done, but we can’t do it all at once.”
The Town CEO has only been in the job 49 days and has crammed a lot in, with eight signings through the door and plenty more to come as he facilitates Paul Cook’s desire to completely rebuild his squad.
He knew that challenge was coming, just as he knew work was required to restructure the business side of the club. But what he maybe didn’t completely appreciate was just how much work is needed at Town’s Portman Road home.
Every match-going fan will have their own gripes about the state of the club’s famous old stadium, be it the flowers growing in the roof of the South Stand, the moss on the North Stand roof, the ugly, peeling Cobbold Stand windows or the countless faded signs or areas needing just a little paint.
Ashton’s identified them all during stadium walks with chairman Mike O’Leary and is feeling supporters’ pain.
“I’ve thought long and hard about how I would answer questions about the stadium and it’s something I really want to be honest with supporters about,” Ashton said.
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“There’s a lot going on and you can imagine the pressure and the challenges the transfer window is bringing. But that’s ok and we’ll step through that. We’re going to restructure the business and that’s ok, I’m alright with that.
“But the one bit, and I try and use my words carefully, which ‘upsets’ me when I go home at night is the condition that Portman Road is in.
“This is our home. Small things are happening like car park lines being painted, windows cleaned and bird mess removed. The stadium is starting to be cleaned.
“On the day I joined the football club I came in smartly dressed in a suit and couldn’t sit down on the seats because they were filthy. That can’t happen. I know we’ve been in lockdown and things like this have happened to a lot of stadiums, but we have to sort it out.
“But all of that is less than 0.1% of what we need to do. There are some big long-term projects about changing large numbers of seats in the stadium, the pitch needs to be sorted a year down the line and that will lead on to the track around the pitch being replaced. Our dugouts are substandard and need to be redesigned, redeveloped and then repositioned.
“The cleanliness of the facilities needs to be looked at. It’s tired, it’s dated and it needs some real love and care.
“I found out last week that the Ipswich Town sign that sits outside reception, high on the stand, used to light up. I’ve never seen it illuminated and it doesn’t work. That will be fixed and sorted out.
“The canopy which sits outside the tunnel will be replaced. It's been ordered. I can’t get it in for the first game but it will be for the second or third.
“That all upsets me because this is our home, it’s the supporters’ home.
There was something of a symbolic moment recently when workers were pictured removing Marcus Evans branding from the Portman Road stands and, while they’ve not been replaced with any logo representing the new owners (rather Ipswich Town badges), it’s clear those in charge of the club are keen to make their mark.
Long-term projects are under discussion, including a safe-standing area, potential big screens and even possible redevelopment of certain areas of the ground in years to come, should the new era sparks as so many hope. The previously-mentioned peeling windows in the Cobbold Stand will soon be replaced by a series of images, celebrating the club's greatest moments.
Also in the works is an improved customer experience at stadium bars, a beefed-up pre-match fanzone and plenty more initiatives to make Portman Road a stadium experience all are comfortable in and one which maximises commercial opportunities for the club.
But it won’t happen overnight. Ashton is keen to stress that while pledging to do everything he can to ensure the stadium is a source of pride for all associated with the club.
He said: “I’d love to be able to say to the fans that when they walk in for the first game it’s all going to be perfect. But it’s not.
“I’ve been here just a few weeks and I think it’s going to be a big financial investment for us to sort the stadium out and it’s going to take 12 to 18 months.
“It’s like when you buy an old house and you got to decorate the wall, you take the wallpaper off and the plaster comes off, there’s an old fire place there and the chimney’s fallen down. In some ways it’s like that in some areas.
“We’re embarking on a big project here to bring Portman Road up to, in my opinion, a professional standard the fans can be proud of. It does upset me.
“We have a timeline and a list of everything that needs to be done and we’ll commit to do that, but it’s going to take some time.
“I want this amazing stadium, with so much history behind it, to be something the fans, staff and players are proud of.
“We will deliver that, but we need time.”