Melissa Rudd: memories I will always cherish – me, Dad and Norwich City

Melissa Rudd with dad Paul, centre, and her uncle Mark, taken at the 2015 play-off final. Picture: M

Melissa Rudd with dad Paul, centre, and her uncle Mark, taken at the 2015 play-off final. Picture: Melissa Rudd - Credit: Archant

It was a freezing February night in 1996 when I first laid eyes on Carrow Road.

The beam of the floodlights cutting through the mist, walking over the bridge towards the River End clutching a packet of fruit pastilles in one hand, the other enveloped snugly in my Dad's.

The game itself was truly unremarkable, everything else is vivid. The feeling of being one of thousands of people in a stadium, the amazement of sitting so close to the players that you could hear them shout across the pitch. If Dad's memory years later served him correctly, neither team had a shot on target in that dreadful goalless draw against Sheffield United. It didn't matter to this seven-year-old, I was hooked.

That evening did not just ignite my love for Norwich City, it was the start of a special bond I was so lucky to have shared with my wonderful Dad Paul, who died suddenly 11 days ago aged just 48. He was the reason I adore football. He gave me the belief that I could chase my dream job reporting on it. It feels only right that I dedicate this week's column to my hero. He was also my dedicated proofreader, so if there are any typos in this copy, sorry, Dad.

Our mutual passion for the club formed such a massive part of our parent-child relationship, as it does in so many families, and this is why I hope these words will resonate. Whether or not we attended matches together, our dialogue about the team was constant. We'd always analyse the last performance, inform each other of transfer gossip and discuss the day's back page headline.

In the beginning it wasn't something I had much of a choice in, but as I grew older it became a part of me I'm so grateful he helped nurture. Before ever attending a match I was bought a replica City shirt, with my first name and age printed on the back. I had asked Dad for a Liverpool one, but the response was curt: 'You'll have a Norwich shirt or nothing.' It was a harsh ultimatum, but for Dad a simple one. We were born in Norwich and we lived in Norwich, so why would we support any other team?

Once that particular path is mapped, there is no going back. Following a club is not just a hobby, it's ingrained in your being. It helps define you. It consumes your Saturday afternoons for nine months of the year, it provides the cornerstone of daily conversations you'll have with friends, neighbours, colleagues, complete strangers. In my case it helped propel a career in the media. I was the only Norwich fan at the sports radio station in London where I landed my first job. By default I had specialist knowledge that was often called upon and an opinion that was valued.

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Dad, whose love for the club resulted in him investing to become an associate director in 2003, always had strong opinions of his own, at times opting to further my football education over my academic one. I'm not sure skiving an afternoon off school to watch a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham was such a wise decision, but missing an entire day to witness Norwich clinch the league title at Sunderland was certainly an inspired one.

Now I must come to terms with the fact that I'll never hear him run the rule over City's latest signing again, bemoan a corner that hits the first man, or praise Alex Tettey to the hilt. Those memories of us supporting Norwich together seem more precious than ever – the play-off final against Middlesbrough more so than any other.

Although I had been offered a free corporate ticket at Wembley, complete with a three course meal and a complimentary bar, there weren't enough pints of cider in the world that could have persuaded me to pass up the chance to celebrate history in the stands with my Dad and uncle that day. That magical afternoon seems all the more special now.

The most poignant came at The Valley nine years ago. City's hopes of staying up prior to kick-off were slim. Even if they beat Charlton, survival was dependant on another result. For Dad, often the pessimist, relegation was a certainty and I questioned why we'd even bothered to travel if that was the case.

'Because Mel, you have to experience the lowest of the lows so you can fully appreciate all the highs,' he explained. I hope he meant in football as in life.

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