5 June ~ While widespread praise was posted for every on-field contributor in Norwich City’s promotion to the Premier League, a Canary legend was suffering something of an online kicking. Former Norwich City goalkeeper, manager and inaugural inductee of the club’s Hall Of Fame Bryan Gunn is leaving Norfolk to pursue a directorial role at a sports agency in the north-west. The first few hours of message board posting on the subject were positive. After all, since moving to Norwich from Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen in 1986 Gunn and his family had become part of the fabric of Norfolk life.
His two-year-old daughter Francesca, who died of leukaemia, is buried in the county and Gunn was a servant of the club on and off (minus a year at Hibernian) for 23 years. In 2002 Gunn was named Sheriff of Norwich in recognition.
Gunn was the goalkeeper who helped steer City to top-flight placings of fifth, fourth and third. It was he who brilliantly denied Adolfo Valencia of Bayern Munich in the possibly the club’s greatest ever victory in 1993 (2-1 away in the UEFA Cup) and kept goal against QPR days after his daughter’s death. In a Football Focus poll of Norwich heroes the twice Player of the Season finished first.
However, it was Gunn’s brief reign as temporary manager (from January to July 2009 as City were relegated to League One) and manager (July to August 2009) that, for many, seems to have eclipsed all else. The local paper’s football message board The Pink ’Un featured such departing shots. “I can't help but think of him as a joke nowadays,” said one. “He really let the club down as a manager,” said another. “I'm afraid this took the shine off any of his achievements for me – big time,” claimed another critic.
Suddenly the social media used to get Gunn the job (a “Make Bryan Gunn Norwich Manager” Facebook petition following Glenn Roeder’s sacking collected 3,000 signatures) was undermining a reputation that took all of Gunn’s adult life to establish. Bear in mind that at 4-0 down at home to Colchester (in what would be a record 7-1 defeat in 2009) Gunn had already received two plastic missiles, in the form of half-a-game-old season tickets, launched at his dugout – and that would have cut deep.
Within a week of the Colchester capitulation, Gunn was sacked by new chief executive David McNally. Many were relieved that a genuine Norwich legend had been spared any more pain. However for some it appeared that only a literal spearing would suffice for his six months as boss. Then, when Gunn announced his departure from the county, what appeared to be a generational divide opened up. “He was a sponger who has delusions of grandeur… and because of this we all paid for it… Tributes my arse.” Equally as many, however, disputed these attacks: “I bet all you lot slagging him off are about 15.”
Soon the debate shifted on to a proposed renaming of the Carrow Road hospitality suite, currently the Gunn Club. “He is moving on and so should we, the less memories I have of that time two years ago the better.” One exchange summed it up: “I think in moments of honesty BG himself would admit now he should never have taken the job,” said one fan. “He may well do,” replied another, “but that doesn't excuse all the garbage being posted on here about him.” Andrew Woods