Ultimate United Articles

David Herd Heroes, Villains & Legends

By Philip Meese, Editor-in-Chief 

Earlier this week marked what would have been the 84th b irthday of a genuine Manchester United legend, who perhaps isn’t recognised as such by most fans. A striker with a goals to game record to rival that of Ruud van Nistelrooy.

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Whenever Manchester United fans talk about the 1960’s, they invariably speak primarily about the “Holy Trinity” of George BestBobby Charlton and Denis Law. There is no doubt that they were the three outstanding players at Old Trafford in that decade. Others who might get a mention are Alex Stepney, who pulled off “that” save from the great Eusébio in the 1968 European Cup Final against Benfica, and the midfield stalwarts of Paddy Crerand and Nobby Stiles.

But a striker who scored 145 goals in 265 appearances for Manchester United, and partnered Denis Law for a significant portion of that era, barely ever gets the recognition he deserves. That man was David Herd.

Early Beginnings

Although born in HamiltonScotland, Herd was raised in Moss Side, Manchester, as his father Alec played in the same Manchester City team as Matt Busby, his sons’ future manager at United. At the age of 15, he was signed on schoolboy forms by local side Stockport County, despite interest from Matt Busby at United. Herd scored on his debut, but it wasn’t for another two years that he would get a run in the first team. Five goals in twelve appearances attracted the attention of Arsenal, who paid £10,000 for his services at the end of the 1953 – 54 season.

At Highbury, it took Herd another two years to become an established first team regular, but after hitting 18 goals in the 1956 – 57 season, and 24 the following year, he soon became the first name on the team sheet. Unfortunately for Herd, his team mates did not show the same consistency. Despite finishing third in the Division 1 table in 1958 – 59 (and third place didn’t get you a crack at the European Cup in those days), they were still some way off a title challenge, finishing 11 points behind champions Wolverhampton Wanderers. The following season they finished 13th.

The 1960 – 61 season saw another mid table finish for the Gunners, despite Herd hitting 30 goals from 41 appearances. With that in mind, there was no way that Arsenal could expect to keep hold of their ambitious striker, and when Matt Busby bid £35,000 to take him to Old Trafford at the end of that season, Herd packed his bags to move back to the city where he grew up.

Return to Manchester

Herd made his debut in a 1 – 1 draw at West Ham in August 1961, and scored his first goal for his new club against Chelsea at Old Trafford a few days later. After scoring twice in a 6 – 1 win against Blackburn Rovers, he then went three months without hitting the net. Once he started scoring again, however, it became a regular occurrence and Herd ended his first season with 17 goals.

Herd soon became a favourite with the Old Trafford faithful. In many ways, he was the complete striker; strong as an ox, but with a quick turn of pace, and skilful feet for somebody standing six feet tall, weighing 13 stone. His goalscoring statistics might lead you to believe he was a penalty box poacher – not a bit of it. Give him a chance inside the box and he’d tuck it away, as his records show, but this was a man who would be just as likely to score from 30 yards as he would from 3. He could hit a ball as hard as anyone, and you have to think what someone like him could have produced playing with the lightweight balls used in todays’ game, given the weight of the balls used in his era.

Herd and Law

Given the time it took Herd to settle, he could have been forgiven for thinking his place was under threat after his first season, as United paid a British record £115,000 transfer fee to bring Denis Law back to England from Italian side Torino. On the contrary, the two Scotsmen formed a magnificent strike partnership hitting 50 goals between them in all competitions, 21 of which were scored by Herd. With figures like that, it’s hard to imagine how United ended that season just three points above the relegation zone, (which was occupied, instead, by neighbours City). Although the Reds’ defence did not live up to the standards set by their front line, there was solace in the 1963 FA Cup Final, when Herd scored twice as Manchester United beat Leicester City 3 – 1 at Wembley

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Over the next two seasons, Herd and Law were unbelievable up front for United, hitting 140 goals between them. In April 1965, the league title returned to Old Trafford for the first time since the 1958 Munich Air Disaster. With Bobby Charlton pulling the strings in midfield, and George Best emerging as one of the greatest talents the world has ever seen, United were unstoppable.

In the 1965 – 66 season, United surrendered their league title to Liverpool, finishing fourth in the table. It seemed the Reds were putting all of their energies into winning the European Cup, but although there was no silverware paraded around Old Trafford at the end of the season, Herd hit a personal best tally of 33 goals in all competitions, even outscoring “The Lawman”.

The 1966 – 67 season would see Manchester United reclaim the league title, but it would be Herd’s last as a first team regular. He had started the campaign in pretty much the same way as any other, hitting the back of the net with the same regularity that the Old Trafford faithful had come to expect. There was even one match, in November 1966, where Herd plundered four goals against Sunderland in a 5 – 0, but ended up scoring past three different goalkeepers (only one substitute was allowed back then, and it was usually a goalkeeper. If the substitute got injured, an outfield player would have to go in net). Unfortunately for Herd, in the act of scoring his 18th goal of the season in a 5 – 2 home win over Leicester City in March 1967, he broke his leg and was ruled out for the rest of the season, and would not feature in the first team again for almost a year.

End of the United Road

At the time of this injury, Herd was approaching his 33rd birthday, and had showed no signs of slowing down up to that point, but such a serious injury at that stage of his career was bound to have consequences. He would play just a further eight games for Manchester United, scoring just one more goal, in a 3 – 0 win at Old Trafford against Nottingham Forest in March 1968, a little over a year after the injury. His final appearance for the Reds came in a 2 – 1 home defeat to Liverpool a fortnight later.

During Herds absence, Brian KiddDavid Sadler and John Aston Jr, had come through the ranks and became integral to Matt Busby’s first team plans. Despite Denis Law missing the 1968 European Cup Final win over Benfica at Wembley through an injury of his own, there was still no place in the squad for Herd. Although he didn’t make the squad for that game, he was awarded a winners medal as he had featured in the side that had knocked out Polish side Górnik Zabrze. This seemed fitting, given that Herd had been a key part of everything else that Manchester United achieved in the 1960’s.

Another amazing fact about David Herd is that, despite an incredible scoring record for Manchester United and Arsenal, he was only awarded five caps for Scotland, scoring three times for his country. Even more amazing is that his international career only spanned three years, between 1858 and 1961. He didn’t win a single cap during his time at Old Trafford. You would have thought, given the success he had up front with Denis Law at United (which included five Hat Tricks, and one Double Brace), that his country would be beating Herds’ door down for him to replicate that form on the international stage. After all, it’s not as though they were qualifying for the World Cup or European Championship on a regular basis – in fact they didn’t qualify for a single tournament in the entire 1960’s. Maybe they would have if they’d picked Herd. It might be fair to say, however, that the lack of international football was possibly the reason why he was in red hot form until well into his thirties.


After United

In July 1968, Manchester United gave the 34 year old David Herd a free transfer, and the striker joined Stoke City. His scoring record at the Victoria Ground was a shadow of what it had been at Old Trafford, and he found the net just 11 teams in two seasons before being released in the summer of 1970. Later that year, Herd joined League of Ireland side Waterford, recruited by his former Manchester United team mate Shay Brennan, who was player-manager. After three goalless appearances, Herd retired from professional football, with a record of 269 goals from 511 games.

At the start of the 1971 – 72 season, David Herd took over the manager’s job at Fourth Division side Lincoln City, a club who were in dire straits and had finished fourth from bottom of the table the previous season, having to reapply for their Football League status. Under Herd, they finished fifth in the table, missing promotion to Division 3 by one point. He left after this one season, and Lincoln finished 10th the following year, which suggests he might have had a successful career in management if he’d stuck with it. Herd didn’t enjoy managerial life, however, and spent the remainder of his working days running a couple of car garages in Manchester, retiring shortly before his old club’s historic Treble win in 1999.

In October 2016, Herd died at the age of 82, following a short illness. He had rarely been seen following the end of his football career, however, he will never be forgotten by those who saw him play.


While Herd may not be celebrated in the same manner as some of his more illustrious team mates, there is no doubt that he is an Old Trafford legend. At this time, he is the 13th highest goalscorer in Manchester United’s history, and given that nobody on the current payroll is anywhere near him (Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie are the most recent players, ramked 37th and 39th with 59 & 58 goals respectively), his position is probably safe for quite a while.

Manchester United have always featured unsung heroes over the years, in various positions on the pitch. But it’s very rare that somebody with scoring record of David Herd gets overlooked. At most clubs, a player who had scored that amount of goals for them would have a statue at the entrance.

It’s for this reason that the first player from that era to feature in our Heroes, Villains & Legends section is David Herd. So much has been written, and rightly so, about the Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton. By comparison, only a fraction has been written about Herd.

He is, without doubt, a Manchester United legend who deserves to be recognised as such. 

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Added by Philip Meese on 17/04/2018 21:16:04
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