Outshone by the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, Herd, who died earlier this month, had a ferociously powerful shot and a tireless work ethic
14 October ~ I watched David Herd, who died earlier this month, throughout his Manchester United career in the mid-1960s. The media reaction to his death has been respectful, if muted. I think in many ways that mirrors the way in which the press and fans alike have, to my mind, consistently undervalued Herd as a player and the contribution he made to one of the great United sides.
His statistics as a goal scorer make part of the case for re-evaluation, with 145 goals in 265 appearances for United – a strike rate he maintained throughout his career. He topped 20 goals in four consecutive seasons. But like so many players, statistics do not tell the full story.
It seems to damn a player with faint praise to describe him as a selfless worker for the team, but his team-mates knew his worth. Denis Law, a famously demanding colleague, understood Herd’s value not only to the team but to his own game. A competent header of the ball, Herd’s main gift was a ferociously powerful shot.
He scored twice in the FA Cup victory over Leicester City in 1963 and was part of two League title winning sides. His career at United was effectively ended when he broke his leg, coincidentally against Leicester, in 1967 ruling him out of the European Cup victory in the following year.
Herd’s fate was to be simply a talented player in a team of exorbitant gifts and to play alongside the triumvirate of Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton. Another member of that team, Pat Crerand, describes Herd as a “nice quiet lad” while Charlton has characterised him as a “bit of a loner”.
If his goals did not speak loudly enough to make an impact, his temperament was unlikely to grab the spotlight when challenged by the glamour of Best, the national treasure status of Charlton and the quiet menace of Crerand himself. Perhaps for that reason Herd often found himself the butt of criticism from the fans.
Just as much though, Herd was compared with strikers from the pre- and immediately post-Munich period, such as Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor. He had neither the willowy grace of Viollet nor the precocious heading ability of Taylor.
As a striker he was condemned to play in the shadow both of his team-mates and his immediate predecessors, and whatever his achievements and contribution, style and temperament meant that he was destined always to come off second best in any comparison.
David Herd was a fine player in the right place but at the wrong time to be fully appreciated. Brian Simpson