Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton says there is a 'masterplan' in place to grow Portman Road and create 'world class' training facilities at Playford Road.

The Blues' home crowds regularly dipped close to 13,000 in 2018 as supporters drifted away from a club long stagnating in the Championship.

Relegation followed in 2018/19 but, after a four-year stint in League One, a major feelgood factor has returned following an incredible promotion charge and flying start to life back in the second-tier under ambitious American owners.

Portman Road - the capacity of which is officially listed at 29,673 - has been packed out most weeks, with Kieran McKenna's men regularly coming out on top in entertaining goal fests. 

Ipswich Star: Portman Road has been regularly packed out this season.Portman Road has been regularly packed out this season. (Image: PA)

Even without 21,000 season ticket holders included, the recent midweek Carabao Cup tie against Premier League side Fulham still attracted a crowd of 28,221.

Asked how many tickets he thinks the club could sell right now if there was no limit, Ashton replied: “It would be dangerous to put ceilings on things. 

"We sold around 50,000 shirts last season and we’re already over 30,000 across the three strips this year. Season ticket numbers, home average attendances, away following, even at midweek games, shirt sales – every time we turn to our fanbase they deliver, and they deliver in spectacular numbers. 

“Our Foundation has only just started on the work growing the next generation of supporters too. 

"We look at all different football clubs across Europe with the ownership group, consistently comparing numbers and different models, and I just think this fanbase is totally unique. When you look at the size of the wider county and where the fanbase could grow to, there is so much opportunity.

“To go back to your original question, we’ll be limited probably by land size on how big we can get. But 35/40,000 – a successful Ipswich team fills that stadium."

Which brings us on to the subject of developing Portman Road. Is boosting the stadium's capacity something that is being discussed?

Ipswich Star: Ipswich Town have a 'masterplan' to develop Portman Road, including a replacement to the Cobbold Stand. Ipswich Town have a 'masterplan' to develop Portman Road, including a replacement to the Cobbold Stand. (Image: PA)

“One of the things we have been working on for a while now is a masterplan for the stadium," explained Ashton.

"If you look at any stand in isolation, or any part of the stadium in isolation, it will trip you up. You’ve got to look at how things can work in totality. 

“One of the things I’m so proud of, and we would not want to change, is that we are a town centre club. That’s quite unique in the modern age. You’ve been to your Derbys and your Stokes where they have lovely stadiums but they’re out of town. 

“We’re a town centre club and that we will stay. That’s really important to us. But that means we have to work with partners and the local authority to make sure we are all joined up on land useage, access and egress to the stadium, transport plans etc. 

“We’re really fortunate that we’ve got really good local authority. We’re talking with them about master-planning right now, about how we take the stadium forward in the short, medium and long-term. Those plans are progressing nicely. When we’re at the right point we’ll come out and talk to the fans more about that. 

Ipswich Star: Ipswich Town are looking to replace the Cobbold Stand at some point in the future.Ipswich Town are looking to replace the Cobbold Stand at some point in the future. (Image: PA)

“But you’re going to be looking at continual development of the Portman Road site. 

“I think there’s still a lot of work we’ve got to do in the stadium. We now have planning permission to complete the boxes in the West Stand on one level. That will give us space underneath that to develop new facilities. 

“We are continually looking at different areas of the stadium to upgrade. Just recently you’ve seen two new digital scoreboards put in – one above the tunnel and one in the North Stand. That transformation will continue. 

“Obviously the big piece of work is a replacement to the Cobbold Stand. We’re stepping through that process. Behind the scenes a lot of work is going on. Architects have been appointed and we’re talking really well with the local authority and other key stakeholders on what that would look like. We will talk to fans on that at the right time."

It's not just Portman Road that Ipswich Town is looking to upgrade. The training ground, at Playford Road, is set for a multi-million pound redevelopment too.

Ipswich Star: Mark Ashton says Ipswich Town will build 'world class' training facilities at Playford Road.Mark Ashton says Ipswich Town will build 'world class' training facilities at Playford Road. (Image: Archant)

“Again, architects have been appointed," said Ashton. "We’ve been having regular meetings over the last two or three months with regards land usage at Playford Road. We have two sites either side of the road.  

“It’s important we have better facilities for our women’s team and our academy, as well as our first team. 

“What you’ll see is an upgrade of the facilities that we currently have along with brand new state of the art training facilities also being built on site. 

“We’re stepping through that right now. The brief has been written. I think we get the first cut of the drawings back in the next two or three weeks, then Kieran (McKenna) gets to play with them! Rightly so, he’ll get to put his stamp on them because we want his and coaching staff’s input. 

“We’ve got decent facilities at Playford Road, but we need world class. We have to have elite facilities. It’s key to the recruitment and retention of players and it’s key to the development of players and staff. That will be a very large investment, but it’s one that will set the club in a really strong position for many, many years to come."

Ipswich Star: Kieran McKenna will have a say in what Ipswich Town's new training ground looks like.Kieran McKenna will have a say in what Ipswich Town's new training ground looks like. (Image: Ross Halls)

Asked if the club have taken inspiration for their new training ground set-up from any other clubs, Ashton replied: “That’s something I’ve done consistently. We built the training ground at Bristol City, which I think is a world class facility, and I left literally the day we opened the door! We’d visited a lot of clubs for inspiration before building that. 

“The coaching staff are continually visiting clubs, whether that be Tottenham, Liverpool. Our architects have worked at a number of football clubs in the UK and overseas. I was at Brighton recently looking at their facilities. It’s nice to be able to take the best of everyone and then get Kieran’s take on it. 

“I think we’ll be in a good place in the next month or two to start talking to fans a bit more about that one.

“In an ideal world I’d like to break ground before the summer, then you’ve probably got a 10-12 month build time on it. The good thing is that a lot of the pitches are in place – we did a lot of that work last season. A lot will be determined by how long it takes us to go through the planning process. Again, we’ll move at breakneck speed."

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