Norwich City top 100 appearance – Bryan Gunn (4): Big character personified golden era for the Canaries
- Credit: Archant
As our summer series moves towards its closing stages, DAVID FREEZER takes a look at the career of Bryan Gunn, the player who has made more top-flight appearances than any other in Norwich City’s history.
Squeezing in a fitting summary of the long association of Bryan Gunn with Norwich City and the county of Norfolk into this article would be nigh on impossible – fortunately, Gunny has written a book.
Most City fans will have read In Where It Hurts and been touched by the remarkable story of Gunny’s life as a hugely successful player for the club and the emotional ties which will forever link the Gunn family with this corner of England.
Just one goalkeeper has made more appearances in a Norwich shirt, Kevin Keelan with 673 at the very top of the appearances list, but the vast majority (304) of Gunn’s came in the top flight.
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Belatedly signed from Aberdeen for £100,000 in October 1986 following the summer sale of Chris Woods to Rangers, the Scot soon displaced Graham Benstead and remained as number one until the latter stages of the 1996-97 campaign.
Three top-five finishes in the top flight, two FA Cup semi-finals, a famous Uefa Cup run – the popular keeper was part of the golden generation of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
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He was an integral part of that success, being named player of the season and lifting the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy in 1988 and 1993, and remains one of eight players to have done so twice.
“He’s got no hair, but we don’t care, Bryan, Bryan Gunn” was a chant often heard at Carrow Road and memories of the six-cap Scotland international running up and pretending to head-butt his crossbar have been revisited recently.
That follows the beginning of the next chapter of the Gunn family’s Canaries story, with Bryan’s 21-year-old son, Angus, joining on a season-long loan. Will he ‘head’ the crossbar like his father did, that is the question?
The Norfolk-born keeper’s long association with the City academy finished in 2011 when the family moved to Cheshire, with Manchester City ordered to pay £250,000 in compensation by an independent tribunal – with further add-ons due depending on his progress.
That followed Bryan’s ill-fated spell as manager, unsuccessfully attempting to prevent relegation when picking up the reins from Glenn Roeder in 2008-09.
That can be added to: sponsorship sales manager, community ambassador, club liaison officer, goalkeeper coach and head of player recruitment for the football club.
The Gunn Club is still a key part of match days at Carrow Road and if all that wasn’t enough, Bryan also served as sheriff of Norwich in 2002, having left City in 1998 and playing for Hibernian briefly before hanging up his gloves in 1999.
Now the man who epitomised the spirit of Mike Walker’s side against Bayern Munich in 1993 is director of talent recruitment at Triple S Sports and Entertainment Group.
More: Angus and Bryan Gunn set to join Norwich City’s elite father and son clubBehind all those remarkable achievements in football for the Canaries was the sad story of Bryan’s daughter, Francesca, who passed away aged two in October 1992 having been diagnosed with leukaemia.
Gunn recalled the difficult time in his autobiography, looking back on an emotional game just days after Francesca had passed, when City played QPR at Carrow Road and he made the decision to play.
“I could hear the roar of the crowd. The cheers seemed much louder than normal, especially when I ran towards the goalmouth to my right and jumped as if to head the crossbar in my normal trademark fashion,” he wrote.
“Then, when my name was announced in the team line-ups over the PA system, I got a wonderful reception. And it wasn’t just the Norwich supporters; the visiting QPR fans also gave me a fantastic round of applause.
“That was something special and I knew at that moment I’d made exactly the right decision to get back out there and play.”
The already strong bond between Gunn and Canaries fans was cemented, almost irrelevant that goals from Mark Bowen and Chris Sutton earned a 2-1 win to send City back to the top of the Premier League.
With the support of fans, friends and businesses the Gunn family helped raise over £1million for leukaemia research, bringing Bryan an honorary doctorate for services to the establishment of the Francesca Gunn Laboratory at the University of East Anglia.
His time as manager may not have gone to plan but Gunny’s playing days and big character made his reputation in these parts bullet proof.
If Angus shows the potential to be half the goalkeeper his father was for City this season then those Gunn family roots could be about to take even greater hold in Norfolk...
We caught up with Canaries legend Gunn as we took a look back on his career...
The best player you played against?
The best I played against was Bayern Munich and Inter Milan in the Uefa Cup run, that was the highest level with Norwich, but in an international game with Scotland I played against Italy and they had Roberto Baggio, who was one of the best players in the world at the time. Against Inter of course they had Dennis Bergkamp as a youngster and that was really before he had burst onto the scene and came to England with Arsenal and scored all those great goals. But he scored in both games and showed his abilities against us.
The best player you played with?
Right back to the beginning of my Norwich career, Steve Bruce. I’d played with Alex McLeish and Willie Miller and they were stalwarts in Alex Ferguson’s team there. Unfortunately Steve was only here for another 15 months after I’d arrived but the quality was there for Alex Ferguson to go and buy him. Willie Miller very much blocked shots and Alex McLeish was very much a centre-half and sweeper at Aberdeen and could pass it. Steve could do both sides of the game, he could very much play in the modern game. I also don’t think I realised how good Robert Fleck was until he came down from Rangers.
Your most memorable game?
Millwall away in 1989, when they had been promoted into the top division and then were challenging in the top six. I must have made 20-odd saves in a high-scoring game which we won 3-2, including one outstanding save from Terry Hurlock, but didn’t win man of the match.
Any advice for young keepers?
You look at the best keepers and they can always overcome their mistakes quickly. It’s not only keepers that make mistakes, but defenders, midfielders and strikers, so you have to quickly overcome those mistakes because that next save might win you a match. Don’t look back, you have to look forward.
Gunny’s top three saves, as chosen in his autobiography: In Where It Hurts.
1 ‑ v Adolfo Valencia – Bayern Munich 1 City 2 (1993)
2 - v Terry Hurlock – Millwall 2 City 3 (1989)
3 - v Pierre van Hooijdonk – City 1 Nottingham Forest 0 (1998)
Norfolk may no longer be Gunn’s home but football very much remains his profession...
The Scot is director of talent recruitment for Cheshire-based management agency Triple S Sports and Entertainment Group, which includes Wayne Rooney, Kasper Schmeichel and a certain Angus Gunn among its clients.
The job took him to Poland for the European U21 Championships this summer and the Canaries legend is busy filling his diary with fixtures for the new season.
“I watch a lot of academy football and the north-west is a great area with so many teams,” Gunn explained. “But I do travel south to Birmingham and London sometimes, or the north-east, looking for the best talent coming through who could be potential future clients for Triple S.
“It’s a very competitive market, there are a lot of former players out there in similar roles who I have good relationships with.”
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