The days when Bryan Gunn was the City mastermind
PUBLISHED: 18:30 26 March 2018
"What was Norwich City's goal difference? (BLEEP)... I've started so I'll finish."
“There’s no need John. It was minus four.”
That’s how my recurring Mastermind daydream reaches its dramatic conclusion. John Humphrys then leads the applause as I rise from the famous black chair and collect the trophy, smashing all the time points record with my answers on the specialist subject ‘Norwich City’s 1992/93 Premier League Season’.
Working on the assumption that ‘Minor Characters from the Sitcom Father Ted’ and ‘Underrated Indie Bands of The Late 1990s’ wouldn’t provide enough inspiration for questions, I reckon that the Canaries would be my best hope for getting on.
I was 10/11 in 1992/93, exactly the right age to be a football sponge. Old enough to have a basic understanding of the significance of Norwich City’s best ever league finish, but with enough wide-eyed youthfulness to not be distracted or worn down by the things that have to take up precious brain space in later life.
Yet, I have recently started to look at the Canaries’ third-place finish in a new light.
It all started when my colleague Rob Butler and I shared an on-air conversation about not really understanding the finer points of football tactics. This prompted a listener called Dave Backham to turn up at Carrow Road with a couple of books to help us improve our knowledge.
One of them, ‘The Mixer’, by Michael Cox, documents the way top-flight tactics have evolved since the Premier League started in 92/93.
It was also the first season of the new backpass rule. Up until the summer of 1992 goalkeepers had been able to pick up balls kicked back to them by their own teams and it provided a useful method of ticking down the clock for teams holding on to a narrow lead. Liverpool and George Graham’s Arsenal were famous for it.
The rule meant that the value of having a goalkeeper who was good with his feet rocketed overnight. Norwich City had one in the shape of Bryan Gunn.
Cox’s book points out that on the very opening day of the season, when Norwich came back from 2-0 down to beat Arsenal 4-2, one of the goals came from Tony Adams being caught in two minds over whether to play the ball back to David Seaman and Norwich profited. The Gunners, pre-season title favourites, would finish only 10th with Liverpool down in sixth.
Leeds United had won the title the previous season and they limped to a 17th-place finish. Their ‘keeper, John Lukic, was no Bryan Gunn with the ball at his feet.
That season is now 25 years ago and being marked by the showpiece charity friendly between some Norwich City greats and Inter Forever at the end of the season.
Daryl Sutch has just been confirmed as part of that team and he joined us on the radio last week so I was able to put the Bryan Gunn backpass theory to him as a reason for City’s staggering success.
“We had such confidence in him. I don’t think the modern generation of Norwich fans realise how good Gunny was,” Sutch told us.
Bryan’s son Angus looks equally at home with the ball at his feet and it is now accepted as an important part of a goalkeeper’s game.
It is ironic that Bryan Gunn’s most infamous episode in a long career in goal for City came when a Portman Road bobble caught him out from a Rob Ullathorne backpass just a few years later. That was his Larry Duff moment. Oh, Larry Duff was the ‘unlucky priest’, a friend of Father Ted’s, in case John Humphrys ever asks.
Loans – with interest
Angus Gunn’s composed and mature displays in goal for City this season should help to restore supporters’ faith in the potential benefits of the loan market.
Since Glenn Roeder’s spell as manager, when at one stage the number of temporary signings was into double figures, there has been a certain amount of suspicion around Carrow Road about players who are only on loan.
Taking on the waifs and strays who can’t get a game at other clubs breeds a team that doesn’t care and a set of players not invested in a yellow and green future, that is certainly the fear – allegations that can’t be aimed at Angus or Harrison Reed, whose committed displays have helped to carry City through the usual bruising Championship campaign.
As with most things in life the key is to find the right balance. To give our old friend Mr Roeder his dues, he did discover one or two gems that certainly were fit to wear the Canaries shirt. The problem was that for every future Champions League winner in Ryan Bertrand there were several others who made little to no impact. OJ Koroma, Troy Archibald-Henville and Maceo Rigters could take a seat in the Barclay today without being troubled by autograph hunters.
Norwich have been on the wrong end of a couple of very lively looking loan signings in their last two away games. Hull’s Harry Wilson and Barnsley forward Oli McBurnie, borrowed from Liverpool and Swansea respectively, have demonstrated the sort of clinical finishing lacking all too often for Daniel Farke’s side. Granted, I can only judge them on what I have seen against Norwich rather than a more rounded verdict of their strengths and weaknesses, but the point remains that two or three carefully selected loans can make a big difference to a season in the Championship.
Given the financial constraints likely to occupy Stuart Webber and Co this summer when it comes to getting players in and out through the transfer window, the loan market will be a useful one to exploit. The downside is City must start by replacing Gunn and Reed, assuming the Premier League lending library doesn’t let us keep them for another season.