It was a Friday evening, the day my life was changed forever.
On 5th August 1994, I vividly remember my Dad leading me by the hand down a dusty path surrounded by lots of men, all laughing and joking. It was only a small crowd that day (compared to the 20 thousand plus I would become used to at Portman Road), but the atmosphere felt exciting and I was instantly hooked.
That dusty pathway lead to the Abbey stadium, home to Cambridge United who were that night playing host to local top tier side Ipswich Town. Though I'd lived in Cambridge for two years and I was to grow up in the city, Ipswich was my home town and I had inherited the team from my Dad (despite his father being a Narwich City man). I'd seen my Dad head off to watch the Blues when I was younger, but today I was joining him for the first time.
My Mum has joked that she sometimes wishes she'd put her foot down and refused to let her daughter become part of that world. Some Saturdays I wish she hadto be honest, as the years that have passed since that first match have been filled with mixed emotions, but then I remember they have also given me some wonderful friends and great memories.
The result that night could not really have set me up much better for a lifetime of supporting Town: with Cambridge going one nil up inside the first five minutes, Simon Milton scored the equaliser on 6 minutes. I was so excited by the noisy start to the game.
The score remained the same until 45 minutes but soon after half time there was another goal - all around us fans in the family stand jumped up cheering and for a few moments I joined them, only to feel my Dad gently pulling me back down and explaining quietly it was Cambridge that had scored. The teams had swapped ends at half time and, being only 10, I hadn't understood that!
The game finished 3:1 and, as I say, was a good premonition of the ups and downs to come. The simple stands at the Abbey were a far cry from the glamour of the ties I would experience less than ten years later at Wembley and the San Siro, but to this day it is those smaller venues that I enjoy the most and I'm sure that has something to do with that first game that I loved so much.
When I look back, it's interesting to think that Ipswich Town has been the one of the most consistent things in my life. Friends, partners, cars and even homes have come and gone and I've grown up and moved on, learning from each. But, aside from my family, Town are the only thing that was there 20 years ago that I love just as much now and I still have to rely on today.
If I have a rubbish day, that football team are still there for me to immerse myself in and let those worries wash away for 90 minutes (even on the days when the football itself is just as rubbish). And often the good days I've had over the past two decades have been basically caused by that team: fantastic away days, a trip down with my Dad who I don't get to see so often nowadays and even part of a new tradition with my boyfriend of placing a bet on whose team will finish higher in the league at the start of each season - "we play for the pride", we told the bookies yesterday!
What's been the biggest learning curve for me is that, despite the loyalty for my beloved Ipswich never changing, the way in which I support them has. There was a day, in my over ten years as a season ticket holder, where I wouldn't have missed a home game and the thought of watching on television turned my stomach. Now, though there is still nothing better than the feeling of watching them live, I've learnt you have to enjoy supporting then in whatever way you can.
This season, I aim to actually go to around 7 or 8 games, one a month with the exception of August where I am on holiday and at the MotoGP. In years gone by I'd have scolded myself, but this year I know it is right for me and my personal life.
20 years on and I love the Town as much as I did at that first game.
I'm grateful to everyone who's been a part of the memories, both on and off the pitch, and to the people who have put up with my 20 year long obsession over my one true love - Ipswich Town.
I'm now off for a meal to celebrate my china anniversary with a lovely meal and a drink or two...