The football season is less than a week old and already the first managerial bullet has been fired. The victim is hapless Norwich City boss Bryan Gunn, the former Canaries goalkeeper who has been in charge at Carrow Road since January. The speedy sacking comes after an extraordinarily dismal opening weekend of the season for the Norfolk club, hammered 7-1 at home by East Anglian rivals Colchester United.
The writing had been on the wall all summer for Gunn. Having replaced Glenn Roeder halfway through Norwich’s disappointing Championship campaign, the Scot was unable to steer the club away from relegation, losing their last three matches. Prior to those three games, safety was in the club’s own hands. Instead, Barnsley and Nottingham Forest were spared the drop as City threw away their survival hopes. There were calls for the inexperienced Gunn to step down, having originally been appointed as a caretaker manager before a promising start encouraged the board to make the appointment permanent. In the end, Gunn hung on to his job in a move criticised by commentators as sentimental. Such a disastrous performance on the first day of the season, having had a whole summer to prepare his team for the rigours of League One, gave Norwich the perfect excuse to amend their decision.
Gunn started his playing career at Aberdeen under Sir Alex Ferguson. Unlike so many of Ferguson’s former charges, such as Mark Hughes, Alex McLeish and Mark Robins, the six-times capped ex-Scotland keeper does not appear cut out for management. It seems unlikely that such an unsuccessful first job in the business will allow for future career progression. So many more successful, experienced managers find it harder every year to gain jobs in charge of first teams in the professional game. More and more frequently, clubs are turning to promising young talent, with the most successful finding work offers forthcoming from elsewhere. For a novice manager to fail first time, it seems increasingly less likely that they will be favoured in future over experienced heads or proven young talent. For the likes of Darren Ferguson, Nigel Clough and Brendan Rodgers, the only way is up. One fears that Gunn will go the same way as Andy Preece, Gary McAllister and Steve Holland who have all struggled for high-profile work in recent times.
Gunn will no doubt rather be remembered for his playing career at Carrow Road. He made 477 appearances for Norwich and was twice voted the club’s Player of the Year. With Gunn in goal, the club achieved their highest ever league finish, coming 3rd in the top flight in 1993. He was also in the team in probably the Canaries’ most famous match of all time, beating Bayern Munich 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium in Germany in the UEFA Cup. He was inaugurated into the Norwich City Hall of Fame in 2002 upon its creation. He also went to the 1990 World Cup with Scotland as an unused squad member.
More than anything achieved with a football, he will be forever held in high regard for his efforts to fundraise for leukaemia. His daughter Francesca was diagnosed with the condition in the early 1990s and Gunn made his first public show of support by sporting a shaven head to represent her hair loss through chemotherapy. When Francesca died aged two in 1992, Bryan played on just days later, giving an exceptional performance. It was at the end of that season that Gunn picked up his second Player of the Year award. It was ultimately these characteristic displays that saw Norwich fans, spearheaded by his daughter Melissa and her Facebook campaign, call for him to be appointed manager in the first place. It is just a shame that his reputation has been tarnished with this ill-fated attempt at management.
For Norwich, there is now a situation where they have to pick up the pieces and start again under yet another new regime without the luxury of a pre-season in which to gel. Things cannot get much worse than a complete thrashing at home to a neighbouring club, but there is real pressure for the side to start winning fast as they will be a target for a lot of smaller clubs wanting to beat a big side. With the likes of Leeds, Southampton and Charlton in the division, as well as ambitious sides like MK Dons, Millwall, Southend and Gillingham, this season was never going to be an easy ride. Focus will be even more intense on the club having had the ignominy of the biggest shock result in the country on the opening day of the season as well as being the first club to fire its manager. A 4-0 Carling Cup win over Yeovil in midweek in Gunn’s last game in charge will go someway to mending the damage caused but they still have no points on the board in the league.
In their next three fixtures, Norwich face three of the promoted clubs, Exeter, Brentford and Wycombe, all sides full of confidence who will be delighted to take a famous scalp. Assistant manager Ian Butterworth is the man charged with a caretaking role for now but you would bet against him getting the job full-time considering the fate of his former teammate Bryan Gunn. What the Canaries need now is an experienced head with the know-how for getting the club out of League One quickly. Failure to make the right appointment could see the club buried in the elephant’s graveyard of former big name clubs for some time.