10 December ~ There is an age-old conundrum in which philosophers debate whether an item that has had all its component parts replaced remains the same object. In Only Fools and Horses, Trigger received an award from the council for using the same broom for 20 years, noting as he did so that the broom's head had been replaced 17 times and its handle 14 times. When challenged on how it can be the same broom, he produces a picture of himself with the original version and asks "what more proof do you need?"
It could also apply to football clubs. Over the years, staff will come and go, and grounds will change wholesale, whether through relocation or redevelopment. If the people, bricks and mortar are all replaced, is it still the same club? And if it is, what – other than the name – makes it so?
Ipswich fans might point to an ethos that transcends the change wrought by decades. The eras of the Cobbolds and even of erstwhile chairman David Sheepshanks now seem faintly anachronistic compared to the regime overseen by reclusive owner Marcus Evans and the bullish chief executive Simon Clegg. Does "the Ipswich way", whatever that ever was, survive?
A tangible example of what makes Ipswich Town the club that fans like to think they are is a commitment to youth development. But even that may be under threat. Clegg this week pondered aloud on whether Ipswich would invest in a category one academy when the new four-tier system comes into effect in 2012-13. "What are the benefits?" wondered Clegg. "One is that you can 'poach' players from across the country. But realistically, how many parents from Newcastle are going to let someone under the age of 15 relocate to Ipswich?"
Fans might point out that the likes of Kevin Beattie, John Wark, Russell Osman and others were indeed persuaded to make moves of that type, presumably attracted by the quality of the club's youth set-up. The fact that Ipswich – a well-resourced club in Championship terms, thanks to Evans's investments – are even considering settling for second best in terms of youth development feels like another separation with the past: another new handle on Trigger's broom.
One custom that Ipswich have never abandoned is their propensity to put in piss-awful performances on TV. Today's game at Barnsley looks ripe for that tradition to continue. Town are on a jaw-droppingly poor run of seven consecutive defeats, while the Tykes have won their last four. Traditional pre-season favourites for relegation, Barnsley have quietly established themselves as a stable presence in the Championship, to the extent that they are beginning to look like the sort of side who might one year sneak into the top six before anyone has had chance to question their impertinence.
That Ipswich, with Evans's millions behind them, should find themselves looking so far up the league table at today's opponents is both a credit to Keith Hill's team and an indictment of Town's season so far. Should the losing run be extended much further, Paul Jewell, who has yet to celebrate his first anniversary at Portman Road, could find that another Ipswich tradition – giving plenty of patience and time to managers – is also a casualty of the modern era. Gavin Barber