The latest in Malcolm Johnson’s series on a player from the past features Bunny Larkin.
Date of birth: 11.1.36
Height: 5ft 8½ in
City appearances: League: 25(2), 3 goals
League Cup: 2
Total: 27(2), 3 goals
Bernard Patrick Larkin, usually known by the nickname ‘Bunny’, first came to the fore by winning an award for scoring 108 goals in a season in schoolboy football. After playing for Lea Hall Youth Club and Sunday League side Rockwood Albion in his native Birmingham he joined Division Two side Birmingham City as a 16-year-old amateur in 1952. After recovering from a broken leg, he turned professional with them in 1954. However, owing to competition for places he did not break into the first team until October 1956 at the age of 20. Although scoring on his debut for the by then First Division side he featured in only six more games that season.
Birmingham City competed in the early days of what was then called the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (later the UEFA Cup) when participation was not linked to clubs’ league positions or accomplishments, and Bunny Larkin played in both legs of their semi-final against Barcelona in 1957. The most successful period of his career came a year later when he earned a regular place in the First Division club’s side, scoring 23 goals in all competitions between November and the end of the season including four goals in the early rounds of the Fairs Cup. This made him the club’s top scorer for the 1958/59 season, a success which he attributed to being equally adept at scoring with both feet. He was a regular scorer for Birmingham in their European campaigns although on one occasion missing the flight to an away game due to having overslept.
Larkin contributed a goal in a Fairs Cup semi-final in November 1959, but by the time the final against Barcelona came around, he had lost form and left the club, transferred to Norwich City in March 1960 for the substantial fee at the time of £10,000 after registering a total of 23 goals in 79 First Division games for Birmingham
The move to Third Division side Norwich began the general downward trend of his career, although they finished the season in second place to win promotion to Division Two (now the Championship). Norwich went on to finish in 4th place in the 1960/61 season, but the following October, after a total of 12 goals in 41 league games for the Canaries Larkin was on the move again, this time to Doncaster Rovers in the Fourth Division for a fee of £6,000. He contributed 12 goals in 25 games for the Belle Vue side in the remainder of the 1961/62 season before moving on again at the end of it to Third Division Watford for £4,000.
Taking more of a midfield role for the Hornets Larkin spent just over a season with them, playing in 49 games and scoring 3 goals. In November 1964 he was back in the Fourth Division again, joining Lincoln City on a free transfer.
It’s unclear who was responsible for him joining the Imps as the club’s board of Directors had earlier in the season taken over responsibility for selecting the team with manager Bill Anderson confined to coaching duties assisted by senior player Brian Jackson. At any rate, given his pedigree at a higher level the 28-year-old must have been considered as quite a capture for the club.
Bunny Larkin made his Imps debut at home to Southport on the 7th November 1964, taking the place of the previous season’s top scorer Alan Morton who in the season so far had managed just 2 goals in 12 games. The new man contributed to a 3-0 victory by winning a penalty which was converted by full back Alf Jones. Due to ineligibility Larkin missed the two FA Cup games against Tranmere which saw City through to a later meeting with Hull which he was also forced to sit out, but he was back for a 2-1 league defeat by Tranmere giving a performance described as “patchy” by Maurice Burton (MB) in the Echo.
After a defeat at Darlington in the next game he was then out of the side for a couple of games before returning for two meetings with Notts County over the Christmas period, scoring his first goal for the club in a 2-1 defeat at Meadow Lane. With City struggling in the lower half of the league table the directors then appointed a professional to take charge of the team, albeit in Con Moulson one who had been out of football for 20 years. Out of the side once again for two games the new coach then brought Larkin back in a midfield role. However, after three defeats which saw 11 goals conceded he was left out again and was in and out of the side as Moulson tried in vain to stop the run of defeats. However, after eight losses in a row Moulson was replaced by Roy Chapman who took over as player-coach.
After the rot was stopped with a draw at home to Bradford Larkin was once again in the side for a solitary game and then out of it again before returning up front alongside Chapman and scoring in a 3-2 defeat at Aldershot at the end of March. He then kept his place for the remainder of the season although moved back into defence to partner up-and-coming teenager Tom Brooks. Larkin finished the season with 2 goals from 17 games as only a win on the last day of the season prevented City from finishing bottom of the league
Bunny Larkin started the 1965/66 season in a midfield role due to City having signed two new strikers in the shape of the prolific Barry Hutchinson and centre forward Keith Ellis, The second game produced a 2-0 win at Darlington, Larkin scoring one of the goals, and the game was notable for him earning the distinction of being the first City player to be substituted when he was replaced by Chapman. This was under a new rule allowing a player substitution to be made, but only in case of injury. Larkin was back for the next game, and then with Ellis proving a disappointment was switched up front alongside Hutchinson for a home draw with York in the League Cup.
Young trialist Derek Fawell was then tried at centre forward with Larkin relegated to substitute as Chapman took his place in midfield, but after a 4-2 defeat at Chester Larkin was back in midfield for the replay with York as City exited the competition with another 4-2 scoreline. With Ken Fencott now coming into midfield it was back to the subs’ bench for Larkin before he was then out of the squad altogether until recalled to play in midfield for a solitary game with brought a 2-0 defeat at Bradford City.
Chapman was struggling to find the right blend, and after spending a 1-0 win over Tranmere on the bench Larkin was then brought back for the next two games which produced a win and a draw. But with City rooted in the lower half of the league table he then lost his place again until the beginning of January by which time City had sunk into the relegation zone. Back in the side for the unfit John Milner, Larkin “by no means let the side down” (MB) as City lost 1-0 at Chesterfield.
With Milner available again Larkin kept his place as Chapman left himself out of the side for the next game. But despite a 2-1 win over Aldershot which was to be City’s last win for over two months he was then back on the bench for the next match replacing the injured Chapman early in the second half. Larkin was then placed on the transfer list at his own request and made just one more appearance for City, coming off the bench in place of Jeff Smith in a home defeat to Chesterfield at the beginning of March. Otherwise he was confined to the reserves, finishing as top scorer. His total of appearances for the season in the first team came to just 12 with 1 goal scored.
The end of Bunny Larkin’s league career then came with his release during the summer of 1966 as he joined Wisbech Town in the lower division of the Southern League (equivalent to National League South/North today). After two seasons with the Fenland club he then moved up to the Southern League Premier Division spending a year with first Nuneaton Borough then Kings Lynn. In the summer of 1970 at the age of 34 he joined the short-lived Stevenage Athletic in their first season in the Southern League Division 1. Spending a couple of years as coach at Attleborough FC between 1975 and 1977 he had in the meantime settled in the Norwich area where he worked as a salesman for Lyons Cakes.
As the above will show, Bunny Larkin seemed to be forever in and out of the side and as a striker/midfielder it’s ironic that his longest run in the side came when playing as a defender. While I have no specific memories of him, I do remember feeling – in my teenaged judgment – that he should have been given more of a chance up front especially after Barry Hutchinson was sold two-thirds of the way through the 1965/66 season.
Bunny Larkin’s Football League record totalled 221 appearances with 53 goals scored.