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Monday, 25 September 2006

3680: Long, Long Distance Goals


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by : Hugh Larkin

“The major highlights of my time at Norwich were the UEFA Cup run and qualifying for it. Norwich finished 3rd in the first ever Premier League season of 1992/93. The match against Bayern Munich (I was also there in 1983 as part of the Dons side that drew 0-0) was a great occasion where I pulled off my best ever save from Columbian striker – Adolpho Valencia. In 1989 we finished 4th in Division 1 and got to the FA cup semi-final – losing to Everton 1-0.”

“The main disappointment was being relegated in 1994/95 after I broke my leg at Nottingham Forest – we were 7th in the Premier League at the time (Dec 94). I also have let in a calamitous goal at Portman Road – home of our arch rivals Ipswich Town. Robert Ullathorne's backpass bobbled (the pitch was crap) over my attempted kick and ended up in the back of the net. Very embarrassing, and remembered by all Ipswich fans and unfortunately all Norwich fans.”

When the topic of great derby games in Britain is brought up people always go on about the Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and north London derbies, but how would you describe the rivalry between Norwich and Ipswich? Is it just as fierce?

“See above. The match is always the one the fans look out for and the local press have a great time in building up the game – my gaffe seems to have appeared too many times over the years. Some fans actually watch both teams play (strange) and the rivalry is just as great as the other derby matches.”

You left East Anglia in 1998 and joined Scottish Premier League side Hibernian. How hard was it to leave the club?

“Very difficult indeed. I had spent 12 great years at Norwich and suddenly I was not regarded as the number 1 (by Mike Walker) anymore. I knew I was still a good keeper and when I got the chance to play for Hibs I took it. Alex McLeish had joined Hibs and was looking to rebuild his side (they were bottom of the league all season and were looking ahead to the following season). I only played 12 games for the Hibees but it was great. We beat Hearts in my only derby game 2-1 (John Robertson scored his 50th goal for Hearts in derbies but I told him it was worth nothing as we had won) and had a clean sheet at Celtic Park (stopping them from winning the SPL that day). Unfortunately after signing a 2-year contract I broke my leg in the next pre-season and never played again.”

You are now back at Carrow Road as the club’s Community Ambassador. What exactly does a Community Ambassador do and how fulfilling is the job?

“I was the club's Sponsorship Manger for seven seasons (1999-2006) and really enjoyed working behind the scenes at the Club. I was also doing a lot of appearances as "Bryan Gunn" – opening shops, visiting schools, presenting certificates etc (being an Ambassador really). I needed to free up some time as I was working all hours, so the club offered me the position of Community Ambassador. I can represent the club at different events (had dinner with Prince Charles recently but so did 1,500 other people), golf days and be involved with all of the club's great work in Norfolk – Football in the Community, Canaries for the Community and the Study Support Centre. It also means I can watch my son train and play for NCFC’s Academy U-12 side this season and spend more time with Melissa (14) and my wife Susan (the famous one in the family now – she's an artist!).”

You obviously have a strong bond with Norwich City and from a neutral’s point of view it’s one of those friendly clubs that nobody, bar Ipswich fans, really has a bad word to say about. The team struggled to adapt to life back in the Championship last season as they tried to regain their Premiership status. How do you think Nigel Worthington’s side will get on this season and what would it mean to the club and fans to be back in the Premiership?

“I'm right behind Nigel and his team to get back into the Premier League this season. I felt they underachieved last season (they know that and don't need me to tell them) and will have learned from that experience and will be going all out to get back – It won't be easy but they are capable of doing so. The club has built great foundations over the past few seasons (stadium/ training facilities, etc) and the fans have been very loyal (20,000 season tickets again this year and nearly 2,000 per game travel to away matches) so we have the basis of a Premiership club. Once we get back there we'll take some shifting.”

When you moved back up north to play for Hibs the Aberdeen fans gave you a tremendous reception. How did that feel after being away for so long and do you still look out for the Dons’ results? And how did it feel to represent Scotland?

“It was great but strange to get that wonderful reception at Easter Road. I loved my time with the Dons and had a special bond with the fans even though I only played 25 games. I have not made it back for any re-unions yet but hope to do so this year. I hope to get a rousing reception again if I get onto the pitch at Pittodrie. I do still look out for the results. Playing for Scotland was the pinnacle of my career, unfortunately the results were not good, but to play in three of my Scotland games at Pittodrie was amazing.”

You suffered personal tragedy in 1992 when your two-year-old daughter Francesca sadly passed away following a brave fight against leukaemia. How difficult was this period in your life and what did you make of the support you received, not only from Norwich City fans but that of the public as a whole?

“The death of Francesca was a big blow to us as a family – everything had been a fairytale until then. She was a brave little girl who had just started coming to matches when she died. Susan and I decided that the best way to move forward was to get straight back into football/life immediately, we had to as Melissa was with us by then and we also knew that Francesca had enjoyed watching me play. The support we received was amazing – too difficult to describe properly.”

In response to Francesca’s death you and your wife Susan launched a leukaemia appeal, which was relaunched Bryan Gunn’s leukaemia appeal after reaching the initial target of £10,000 through a local newspaper. How successful has this appeal been, what sort of services has it provided, and how rewarding is it to know that you are helping others in a similar position?

“The Leukaemia Appeal started locally and raised a lot of money in its early days, we then decided to try to raise more money to help support the good work that the hospitals had been doing. Our Appeal has funded many things like – Community Oncology Sisters, The Francesca Gunn Laboratory at the University of East Anglia, equipment for hospitals and more recently a parent telephone support line (GAPS). More information can be found on www.charitygiving.co.uk and clicking on the link for the Bryan Gunn Appeal. The fund has now raised in the region of £795,000. We hope that the book sells well as the publishers (Vision Sports Publishing) are donating £1 for each sale.”

How did the book come about and what has the response been to it so far/what can fans expect to read?

“The book came about when the publishers – Vision Sports were visiting Carrow Road to finalise Iwan Roberts' book. I was introduced to them and jokingly said "Fancy writing mine next?" and they have. The story covers everything from 22nd December 1963 (when I was born) – to now – and the happenings along the way – Invergordon, Aberdeen, Norwich, Hibs, back to Norwich and now. Hopefully it will be an enjoyable read – no stitch ups but good stories that football fans and people will really enjoy.”

You’ve played with and against some of the best footballers the British game has witnessed. If you were forced to pick a best 11 that you’ve played with and a best 11 that you’ve played against who would be in it and why? Also who do you think would win?

“Difficult one … but they would be two great teams and the match would end in a draw and I would be the hero at the end because I would save the final kick in the shoot-out.”

The game has changed so much in the past few decades with the influx of foreign stars, television coverage and money and the new offside interpretation has left many confused. If you were in charge of the FA what rules would you introduce, change or get rid of?

“Let the authorities get on with it – but I would introduce TV cameras on the line. So they can show more replays of the great saves goalkeepers make every week.”

What do you think you would have been if you hadn’t made it as a goalkeeper? And is being a professional footballer as good as good as everybody believes it is?

“I would have been a PE teacher – I love all sport. Thankfully I was a goalkeeper. Being a footballer is fantastic – doing something you love and meeting lots of friends along the way. I was lucky to have nearly 20 years in football as a player. Now I reckon I have another great job – representing a great club.”

Finally, what advice would you give to any youngster with dreams of becoming a professional goalkeeper?

“Well, I have to do it every day of my life just now. Angus is the U-12 goalkeeper in the NCFC Academy. My advice though is to continue to do well at school because there are many people who don't make it in this game. Train hard and listen to the advice of the coaches. Youngsters these days get far better coaching and have the use of far better facilities than they ever have had. Make the most of it.”

Bryan Gunn’s autobiography, In Where It Hurts, is published by Vision Sports Publishing and is released on September 30. Copies of the book can be ordered at a special price of £13.49 from the Vision Sports shop at Vision Sports Website

Colin Illingworth
24 September 2006
Xavi Alonso has done it twice now. The Spanish star is making a habit of only scoring for Liverpool from his own half and apparently he practices the technique. Below we look at some other memorable long range howitzers.

David Beckham v. Wimbledon 1996

The goal that launched a marketing phenomenon and also let the football world know that Manchester United’s ‘kids’ were a match for anyone in the Premiership.

Beckham was on the right touchline just inside his own half when he saw Neil Sullivan of his line. His effort was more like a penalty kick in rugby than a lob and on this occasion it fell under the bar, much to the embarrassment of the Scottish international.

Nayim v. Arsenal 1995

Ex-Spurs man denies Arsenal a European trophy. The Gunners were defending the European Cup-Winners Cup in a dour Final with Real Zaragoza and penalties were very much on the cards.

Nayim was way out on the right but inside the Gunners half when he swivelled to hit a speculative ball into the Arsenal box. David Seaman had been standing well off his line and didn’t appear to see the danger until it was too late. His frantic back pedalling ended with both keeper and ball in the net.

Rivelino v. Rio Prieto 1970s

A Brazilian First Division game and keeper Isidor Irandir completes his pre-match ritual of kneeling in prayer. Unfortunately, the referee blows and a Corinthians team mate taps the ball to Rivelino, who delivers the original ‘cannonball’ shot beloved of comic writers. It sailed past the goalie who still had his back to the play in prayer.

If the goal was spectacular the fracas it produced was even better, The keeper’s irate brother appeared on the field and pumped the contents of a revolver into the offending football. There is no record of any player disturbing Irandir’s devotions again.

Pat Jennings v.Manchester United 1967

At least once a season, a goalkeeper manages to score with a punt from his own area but it doesn’t usually happen in a showpiece game. Tottenham legend Pat Jennings performed the feat in the televised Charity Shield game against Manchester United in 1967.

The Irishman’s punt travelled an awful long way but it was the early season pitch that did for Alex Stepney. Jennings had put the ball up so high that it took a huge bounce on landing. The ball ballooned over Stepney’s head when it fell on the edge of the area and bounced into the net.

The game ended 3-3 and a few years later Stepney had the consolation of taking penalties for United and being their leading scorer at one point in the 1973-74 season.

Jason Cundy v. Ipswich Town 1992

Some defenders are regulars on the scoresheet (e.g John Terry) and others never seem to get a sniff of a goal. Cundy falls in the latter group but he does have a remarkable strike to his credit.

The Spurs man clattered into a challenge with Jason Dozzell just inside the Ipswich half and the ball richocheted off his shins. Such was the force of the challenge that the ball sailed forwards and with a following wind it travelled all the way to the net over the head of a bemused Craig Forrest.

That was his solitary goal for Spurs although he later played for the Tractor Boys and registered four times for them.

And One That Got Away

Pele produced many celebrated moments in the 1970 World Cup but none better than his attempt to beat Czech keeper Ivo Viktor from inside the centre circle. They said the ball would travel farther and faster in the thin air of Mexico and Pele decided to test the principle.

His shot just grazed the angle of post and crossbar with a grateful Viktor frantically waving at it. The telling point is that the match stood at 1-1 at the time but Brazil had such confidence in their artistry that Pele felt able to unfurl his outrageous skills- and they did run out 4-1 winners.

Hugh Larkin
22 September 2006

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