Ashton: Too Big an Opportunity to Turn Down
Tuesday, 1st Jun 2021 14:55
Incoming Blues CEO Mark Ashton says it was time for a new challenge and Town was too big an opportunity to turn down following five and a half years at Bristol City.
Ashton was first mentioned in connection with the CEO’s role at Portman Road by TWTD in February with his appointment announced in April before he finally took charge today.
The 49-year-old held a short 10-minute meeting with club staff - from Playford Road as well as Portman Road - in the FanZone this morning to introduce himself and outline his plans for the future.
Ashton says it was good to finally speak to those working at the club face to face: “It was really important, particularly as the club has gone through a takeover as well.
“A number of the staff actually haven't been onsite for 12 months because of the pandemic, so to invite them in, albeit socially distanced, in the FanZone, just to try and give them a little bit of confidence that we're here to try and help and build the club, and we have plans in place to take it forward, and I think to just try to reassure them a little bit, so it was great to see them.”
Asked what appealed to him about the project, he said: “Just look at it [indicating the Portman Road stadium]. I'll tell you a quick story. A couple of weeks ago myself and my family drove down one evening – it was a good three-hour drive – and we drove to the back of the Cobbold Stand.
“And there was literally a lump in our throats just looking at the size of the stand, the tradition of the stand, the font of the writing on the stand. My other half said to me, ‘whatever you do, don't you get rid of that font on that stand. That means something’.
“And when you walk around a club, you see it, and you feel it. I said to the staff this morning, I was 16 years at West Brom and I always thought that was a club that carried a huge tradition with it.
“Walking around this place this morning, my word. The memorabilia, the tradition, the history, the success that this football club has had.
“It's just too big an opportunity to turn down, to help be part of turning this around and taking it back to where we think it genuinely belongs.”
Looking back on his five and a half years at Ashton Gate, he said: “An amazing time, amazing people. Amazing ownership and there was a group of people that build the stadium, I can’t take credit for that but there was a group of people behind the scenes that built an incredible stadium.
“The training ground was my project, I think we leave them with an incredible legacy in the academy with a production line of players, nine or 10 first-team debuts this season.
“On the pitch they’re going to go through a big change of players and squad. I think they’ve got a great manager in Nigel Pearson. He was messaging me yesterday wishing me all the best and thanking me for my support and vice versa to him.
“It’s a club that I believe is destined for the Premier League, and they’ll be the first set of results I’ll be looking for after the Ipswich one. I only have good memories.”
Ashton has wasted no time in getting himself settled in town: Already moved, we have a house in Ipswich, which is great, so I got up this morning and it was five minutes to the stadium and five minutes to the training ground.
“You've got to do that. You can't run football clubs remotely and I passionately believe that.
“You've got to be all in, totally committed, and it's long hours. This isn't a job, this is a way of life. Those who know me from other clubs, from Bristol City, I haven't missed a second of a game.
“Every second, every game, you have to do that, you have to have that commitment, and we'll get decisions right on the way through, and we'll get decisions wrong, but the one thing that I can promise the fans that they will get my total commitment, all my energy and everything we've got to try and move this club forward.”
He’s already aware that there will be plenty of lengthy trips with Suffolk well away from plenty of teams in the division, and not even particularly close to his native region.
“The Midlands, I've worked that out already,” he laughed. “But that's great, I travel a lot to the games anyway and I do a lot of my thinking and my calls in the car, and I'm just really looking forward to help building something.
“I know keep saying it, but I'm just overwhelmed by the size and the tradition of this football club.
“I was in the office this morning and I was looking at the '78 FA Cup-winning team, and I think my very earliest memory of football was being at my friend's house and listening to West Brom play Ipswich in the '78 semi-final where John Wile and Brian Talbot headbutted one another in the first five minutes.
“Brian scored and John's got his head bandage on, and that's an iconic picture. It's just bizarre how things come back.
“I look at the team picture and Brian Talbot was my manager when I was a player at West Brom, Cyril Lea was my youth team coach when I was at West Brom, and the dots all join up, it's incredible.
“I just want to embrace the heritage, bring everyone together and play a part in taking what is a very, very special football club forward.”
Why did he want the challenge? Why leave a Championship club for League One?
“I'm a builder and if you look at where I've worked in the past and what I've done, that's what I've done, I've built.
“And I think the easier choice would be to stay where I am working for an amazing owner at Bristol City with some amazing people having just completed the training ground and having a really good relationship with the new manager.
“But you get to a point, I'm 50 this year – my word that frightens me – and I just felt it was time for a new challenge and I think the people who have acquired this football club, have invested in this football club are really special and want to do the right thing.
“And I just think sometimes in life things line up, and this just felt right from the moment they contacted me, and I love a challenge, and I think we've got one.
“But as I just said, I think this is a really special football club. It's amazing, and I'm amazed about how many people have contacted me in different walks of life who are Ipswich Town fans and have said, 'oh my God, I'm so pleased you're going there, you can do this, and you can do this’.
“And want to talk to me about the history and want to talk to me about the tradition, want to talk to me about what areas we can improve, what we should do, what we shouldn't do.
“It's a club that seems very dear to the football industry’s heart – just look at the former managers that have been here, it's incredible. And I'm just honoured to play a part in hopefully taking this club back to where we believe it should be.”
Photos: Matchday Images/James Ager
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