Ipswich Town are back in the Premier League following a 22-year absence. Stuart Watson spoke to chief executive Mark Ashton about the challenges ahead.


The joyous Portman Road pitch invasion had barely cleared when Kieran McKenna was asked about the Premier League challenge ahead.

"It's a humungous step up in every department of the football club," replied the Blues boss, a man who has experienced that level as Manchester United assistant manager.

There are cautionary tales aplenty when it comes to newly-promoted clubs. 

Burnley played some scintillating football on their way to winning the Championship title in 2022/23 with 101 points. The Clarets are coming straight back down after winning just five top flight games this campaign.

Sheffield United, the team that claimed the other automatic promotion spot in 22/23, also found it a chastening experience. They won just three games and conceded 104 goals.

Luton's spirit and clear identity wasn't enough to upset the odds either. They made it a hat-trick of teams making a swift return to the second-tier, despite the fact that Everton and Nottingham Forest had been hit with points deductions.

Ipswich Star: Burnley's Josh Brownhill reacts after relegation straight back down to the Championship was confirmed.Burnley's Josh Brownhill reacts after relegation straight back down to the Championship was confirmed. (Image: PA)

When will the scale of the task ahead really hit home, I ask chief executive Mark Ashton, less than 24 hours after back-to-back promotions had been clinched.

“For my staff it’s probably going to be in the next 24/48 hours when I give them the work load schedule!" he replies.

"Everyone will say to me now, ‘Mark you need some time off’. Even my board said that last night. They said, ‘You need to breath, you need to step back’. No chance. I can’t. Now I have to go again. Now we have to go again. Because we have to get ready. 

“Whilst everyone else rests and we work, that gives us a slight advantage. We understand the market slightly better, we understand the market slightly earlier. My team who have worked with me for many, many years knows that come Tuesday morning it’ll be: Mark’s office, 9am, in front of the whiteboard and ‘this is the plan, let’s go’."

No-one expected Ipswich to be in this position. Remarkably, it was only 15 months ago that a 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers, on Valentine's Day night, left many wondering if a fourth successive League One campaign was going to fizzle out. Those doubts were killed in style. Thirteen wins from the final 15 games finally drew a line under 'the banter era', healing old psychological scars in the fanbase. By that point, Town supporters knew something special was brewing. It took others by surprise though.

Ipswich Star: Mark Ashton celebrates promotion alongside the Ipswich Town players.Mark Ashton celebrates promotion alongside the Ipswich Town players. (Image: PA)

All this season, pundits and opposition fans proclaimed that the Blues wouldn't be able to last the pace in a high-quality Championship promotion race that involved parachute payment pumped Leicester City, Leeds United and Southampton. The Portman Road thrillers and gritty away wins just kept on coming though.

Again, Town will be written off by many. The bookmakers have already made them odds on to go straight back down.

"Love it!" said Ashton, with a look of glee. "It’s what I call in the office 'the shark mentality'. Sharks attack from behind and that’s what we’ve done. Everyone thinks we’re going to fall away. We don’t.

"We have a shark mentality which is to attack everything on our front foot, be ahead of the curve, be the best versions of us and just focus on us. 

"We had discussions in the offices over the last couple of months. ‘Turn the TVs off on matchdays’. When Leeds are kicking off at 12 noon I don’t want to see it. Why would we waste the emotional energy on it? We can’t control it. Focus on us.  

Ipswich Star: Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton revelled in proving doubters wrong this season.Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton revelled in proving doubters wrong this season. (Image: Ross Halls)

"We’ve just been maintaining our energy and focusing on being the best versions of us. At Hull, at Coventry, against Huddersfield, when we needed that energy, whether you’re the security guard, whether you’re the kit man, whether you’re the manager, whether you’re the coaches or the players, we needed every ounce of emotional energy we had. I certainly did.

"I think ultimately that discipline of thought, that discipline of process, that discipline of action played a major part in getting Kieran and the boys across the line."

For all the talk about three clubs coming straight back down this season, there are, of course, many examples of clubs becoming established in the Premier League following lengthy stints in the EFL.

Brighton are preparing for an eighth successive season with the big boys, Brentford a fourth. Bournemouth and Burnley have become pretty established in the Premier League over the last decade too.

Ipswich Star: Brighton are preparing for an eighth straight season in the Premier League.Brighton are preparing for an eighth straight season in the Premier League. (Image: PA)

I put some of those cases to Ashton and opine that Ipswich won't be looking to just make up the numbers in 2024/25.

“Hell no!" he says. "You’ve just mentioned two clubs in Brentford and Brighton who are extremely well run football clubs, who have gotten into the Premier League and not only maintained but, particularly in Brighton’s case, have moved on. They’ve built an incredible model. I actually think there are similarities between them and us. But we've got to be us. 

“We’re not perfect, we’re not, we just have a way of doing things and then we work as hard as we possibly can on that way of doing things.

"When you look at a Brighton or a Brentford they have their way of working and they stick to their way of working. That continuity gives them the best platform for success and I think we have to be the same.

"As a CEO and as a manager you’ve got to put earphones on at times and turn the noise off. We have to stay on the track, stick to the plan and just keep going. We might tweak and turn the plan, but we have to stay on the right plan.

"We’re not a club that’s going to wildly change managers and wildly change players. We will be consistent in our behaviours and try and build something. That might not be right for others, and that’s fine, it’s just our way of doing things. We want to do this the right way."