Portman Road, situated in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, has been the proud home of Ipswich Town F.C. since 1884. This historic stadium has not only been the backdrop for numerous England youth international matches but also played host to a senior England friendly international match against Croatia in 2003. Beyond football, it has witnessed a variety of events, including athletics competitions, international hockey matches, musical concerts, and Christian gatherings.
In the early 2000s, Portman Road underwent extensive redevelopment, resulting in an increased capacity from 22,600 to its current 29,673, making it the largest football ground in East Anglia. To meet safety standards, all four stands have been converted to all-seater, following the recommendations of the Taylor Report.
Ipswich Town’s early matches took place at Broomhill Park, but in 1884, the club made the permanent move to Portman Road, which has been their cherished home ever since. During the summer months, the East Suffolk Cricket Club used the ground as a cricket pitch, a tradition they had upheld since 1855. They even had the distinction of building the first permanent structure at the ground, a pavilion.
Significant development of the stadium didn’t commence until 11 years later, even though Ipswich Town were ahead of the curve, using goal nets in 1890. At that time, the club was still amateur (they turned professional in 1936). The first visit from a professional club occurred in 1892 when Preston North End played a Suffolk County Football Association team. Six years later, Aston Villa visited, and their game was so popular that a temporary stand had to be erected to accommodate around 5,000 spectators.
In 1901, the Churchman brothers constructed a tobacco processing plant along the southern edge of the ground. Their name later became synonymous with the south stand located in that area. The first permanent stand, affectionately known as the “Chicken Run,” was erected on the Portman Road side of the ground in 1906. This stand had wooden structures and was eventually sold to the local speedway team, the Ipswich Witches, in 1971, who relocated it to Foxhall Stadium.
During the First World War, in 1914, the ground was requisitioned by the British Army for use as a training camp. Control of Portman Road was only returned to the club two years after the war ended, and extensive repairs were necessary to fix the damage caused by heavy machinery.
In the 1920s, Portman Road hosted whippet races briefly to boost income, and a small stand was built in 1928. The football club went pro in 1936, leading to the cricket club moving out. Work began on terracing at the north end, and the next year, they added a similar terrace at the southern “Churchmans” end and 650 seats.
Ipswich Town played their first Football League match at Portman Road on 27 August 1938, with over 19,000 fans witnessing a 4-2 win against Southend United in Division Three (South).
The Supporters’ Association funded improvements; in 1952, wooden terraces were replaced with concrete ones for £3,000. In 1954, they spent another £3,000 to re-terrace the North Stand, bringing the ground’s capacity to around 29,000. In 1957, they raised £30,500 for a new West Stand, boosting the capacity to around 31,000. Two years later, floodlights were installed with £15,000 raised by the association. Lady Blanche Cobbold, the club president, switched them on for the first floodlit match, a friendly against Arsenal in February 1960.
Television cameras debuted at Portman Road in 1962 for Match of the Week by Anglia Television. It took six more years for the BBC’s Match of the Day to televise a match at the ground. Meanwhile, stadium improvements continued with better roofing for the North Stand, increasing the capacity to 31,500 by 1963. Dressing rooms were built in 1965, and new turnstiles were added two years later, including a separate entrance for juveniles at the Churchmans end. In 1968, the club agreed to a new 99-year lease on the ground from Ipswich Borough Council.
In 1971, they built the two-tier Portman Stand along the east side of the ground, replacing existing terraces, which added 3,500 seats, increasing the ground’s capacity to around 37,000. Advertising boards appeared around the perimeter that year, and in 1972, they constructed the “Centre Spot” restaurant underneath the Portman Stand. More seats were added to the Portman Stand in 1974, and the ground saw its record attendance of 38,010 in 1975 during an FA Cup match against Leeds United.
After winning the 1978 FA Cup, they invested in 24 executive boxes in front of the Portman Stand. To comply with the Safety of Sports Ground Act (1975), they introduced seats in front, reducing the overall capacity to 34,600. In 1980, plastic seats replaced wooden benches in the West Stand. In 1981, the club announced an expansion of the Pioneer Stand in a deal with Pioneer Corporation, at a cost of around £1.3 million. The stand was renamed as the Pioneer Stand and reopened in 1983. However, the cost of building the stand led to the club selling players and a decline in performance.
In 1989, safety barriers were removed from the North Stand following the Hillsborough disaster. The Taylor Report’s recommendations led to the conversion of the terraces in both the North and South stands to all-seating. In 1999, the Pioneer Stand was renamed the Britannia Stand following a new sponsorship deal. In 2000, promotion to the Premier League led to more investment, with around £22 million spent on redeveloping both the North and South stands. Renovations to the South Stand added 4,000 seats, and the reconstruction of a two-tier North Stand added another 4,000 seats, increasing the total capacity to over 30,000. In 2001, Greene King brewery sponsored the South Stand, which was renamed the Greene King Stand until 2009. Following the death of former manager Bobby Robson in 2009, the North Stand was renamed the Sir Bobby Robson Stand. In 2012, the South Stand was renamed the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand in his memory. On 10 July 2012, the Britannia Stand was renamed the East of England Co-operative Stand due to a sponsorship deal with the East of England Co-operative Society.
The pitch at Portman Road is encircled by four all-seater stands: the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, the Cobbold Stand, the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, and the Magnus Group West Stand. Each of these stands has multiple tiers and is equipped with roof coverings.