Sunday, January 16, 2005

tuesdays with gunny.

In accordance with my new editorial policy I am publishing NYCanaries articles on this site as well as at the NYCanaries home (see links on right). For biographical info about Bryan Gunn check on the title link above.
The following is reasonably true, as far as I can recall.

"In the Merchant Ivory film "The remains of the day" there is a scene where Anthony Hopkins is stuck in a village pub. He accidentally, kinda, sort of gives the locals the impression that he is on friendly terms with Winston Churchill. They make the assumptions; he is unable (at risk of seeming foolish) to dissuade them.
It's a bit like that with Bryan Gunn and me.
Of course I watched him from afar to begin with, he took over from Graham Benstead in 1986 and was part of the team that finished 4th in division one in 1987. From there on he took incremental steps to becoming one of city's greatest living heroes. A top class goalie with a human side and courage on and off the pitch that couldn't fail to warm him tightly to the proud Norfolk bosom.
So where do I fit into his story? What's Bowlesy's role in the rise and rise of Gunny?
I'll be honest; I've never hung out with him in the Jerry Seinfeld/ Keith Hernandez way. But I have had enough brush ups and run ins with this true Norfolk hero to warrant a few words on the matter.
Bryan Gunn joined the club in 1986 and soon established himself as first team goalkeeper. His place in the team was, as New Yorkers would say "a given".
Bryan continued to keep goal for city during those topsy turvy late 80's and nineties. City enjoyed their normal eclectic mixture of success and incompetence but Gunn was a constant. Nice guy, great keeper, constant.
We move forward a few years to 1994. I'm away at university so I don't get to see city play as much as I should. It's Christmas and the Bowles family have decided to bond in a mildy ironic way by visiting the panto at the Theatre Royal. This is mildy ironic because the Bowles kids are in their 20's and the panto is full of families with 9 year olds. It was the night that city were playing Forest and Gunn breaks his ankle. At half time in the panto (sorry,interval) Dad, brother Simon, brother in law to be Matt and me are all watching the TV in the bar nervously. As usual Bowles senior is cautiously pessimistic. "That's our season buggered then" as we watch Gunn stretchered off.
I wouldn't mention this except for what happened a few weeks later.
A friend of the family works in a hospital and knows nothing about football. She had a nice young man come in with a bad ankle break. She was making NHS style small talk with the patient and she asked him how he had injured himself. "Playing football," he responded. "Oh", she said, "Do you play locally?" "Yes" he responded with a cheeky grin "just done the road, Carrow road".
"That's nice, well the doctor will be along soon". And off she went, none the wiser. Just bearing in mind that at that time he was one of the most easily recognizable footballers in the country or even Europe and certainly a living god in his adopted hometown of Norwich.

Sadly the ankle break signaled the end of the high life for Gunny. He was out for the rest of the season and with a management policy involving selling off major talent city were relegated in May 1995. Gunn struggled to regain his place aginst Andy Marshall and in 1998 he was sold back to Scotland to Hibs.
At about this time my own world was once again turning eastward. After a number of years living in the West Country, watching Bristol rovers and trekking out to such godforsaken holes such as Elm park and the County ground, Swindon to watch city once or twice a year I decided to return to Norfolk. A combination of factors drove my choice, the beaches, sailing, friends and family but most importantly I wanted to watch city play more than four times a year. In a blizzard in December 1999 I drove from Bath to Wymondham and picked up my life in the east.
I was enjoying my home town again, watching city with my newly purchased half season ticket, strolling about Norwich on the away days and generally rediscovering a quality of life I'd been missing.
Then one day, in Pizza Express on St Benedict's street, it happened.
I was in there with a couple of friends after an amusing day of wandering about the city. He was there with his wife and kids having a Saturday afternoon feast.
I have to admit I didn't really think too much about it, he was doing his dad thing, making sure the kids weren't too noisy or lary whilst attempting to enjoy a meal with his family. I thought it was pretty cool that he was in there but being a bit celebrity shy I said nothing (except to my companions who were also pretty impressed).
Did I say celebrity shy? In the next few months Bryan Gunn was to change forever my attitude towards celebrities, well, one Scottish ex city goalie in particular.
A weekend later, oh what the hell? Hungry, footsore, let's do Pizza Express.
There he is again, same time, same place. Cool.
This kept happening.
It became a little annoying.
I started to think that he was following me.
That's a pretty bold stalker you have to admit, bringing your wife and kids along. That's a brilliant cover.
I stopped frequenting Pizza Express for a while and the whole Bryan Gunn is my stalker thing died down. I was glad; no one wants a messy court case with the papers involved.

Fast forward to the early summer of 2001. It's the close season, there's no World Cup or European Championships to watch and I'm in a Wymondham pub with friends having a beer.
Suddenly from the inside of the pub a fella comes into the garden and starts yelling, "Bryan Gunn's in the pub!"
I take charge. I tell my friends,"leave this to me, I know this man and I know the way he thinks. If I'm not back in ten minutes come looking".
I stroll through to the lounge bar and there he is, tall, suntanned and, forgive me Bryan, a couple of drinks down. I approach him, glassy eyed I tell him "Bryan Gunn! You're my childhood hero!" He responds "Childhood? My god! You're making me feel really old!" and which point he grabs my right hand in a vice like grip, the kind of firm handshake you would expect from, well, Bryan Gunn. We have a small chat (I'll preserve the beauty of the moment by keeping the details from the public domain) and then he turns to another well wisher. It turns out that he's in town as part of his charity work and has found time to relax with a couple of buddies over a beer.
Hey, who's complaining?
If anyone deserves a beer it's Bryan Gunn.
I mean, I'd like to buy him a beer.
No I'd love to buy him a beer.
Wait just a minute, I'll even give him my beer.
But there is one small problem. Bryan's grip on my hand is still, well, gripping my hand.
He has turned and talked to some others yet he is still holding my hand in a firm, manly, Scottish goalkeeper type of handshake. I try politely to extricate myself from this. I grin; I use facial expressions to indicate my increasing physical discomfort. Then it comes to pass. The moment I never, ever considered would happen has to happen. I must confront Bryan Gunn and insist that he releases me from his canary death grip.
When I turn on him he acts as if he's done nothing wrong. Now as anyone who knows me will understand, the very last thing I would wish for is a scene, most of all a scene with a real life hero. I turn, grip my crippled hand and return to my friends, a broken man.

Wait, there's more, my tale is not yet done.

A few months later I get to go to Carrow road in a special capacity. Some kids from my primary school are taking part in the 'run around the track at half time thingy' that city sometimes do. It has to be said that during a particularly dull game this can prove to be the highlight of the afternoon as thousands of fans yell bloody murder at a bunch of eight year olds running relay around the perimeter track as if they were racehorses or greyhounds.
Just before half time we are guided through the city stand to meet our competitors and... Bryan Gunn. By this point, as well as being sheriff of Norwich Bryan is also a hospitality host at the club, his playing days behind him he is putting his boundless good spirits into serving both his old team and his adopted city. Our rivals that day happened to be Bryan's local primary school, He seemed to be on good terms with their teacher, he even seemed to know some of the kids. He looked at me in a mild "haven't we met before? Are you sure you're not my nemesis?" kind of way. I wasn't going to have this blatant favouritism; I hadn't driven in from the other side of Watton to have my boys out psyched like this. I remembered our encounter in the pub a few months back and tried to think of how I could come back, how I could restore the honour of my school. What could I say? What would be appropriate yet fitting, what would put my hero in his place yet still keep him as my hero? My most important thought at that moment was to motivate my charges for their run out onto the Carrow road pitch. After he'd ruffled the hair of the kids I turned to him with a grin, introduced myself, looked him in the eye, and shook his hand. This time I let go, next time? who can say?

For the record my kids lost the relay race."

This article will also be available on the NYCanaries website in a day or two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I 'ad that Kevin Drinkell in the back of me cab once...