David Herd 15/4/1934 - 1/10/2016
Playing career: Stockport County, Arsenal, Manchester United, Stoke City, Waterford United, Scotland.
Managerial career: Lincoln City.
In the early 1960s, Lincoln City slipped from being a solid Second Division club to having to apply for re-election to the Football League in just 2 years. That set the tone for the whole decade, and three more re-election bids were to follow. A succession of brave managers tried valiantly to reverse the club's fortunes against a backdrop of falling gates and growing financial desperation, but it was mainly gloom and despair. The occasional cup run injected some excitement into the lives of the City faithful and undoubtedly staved off complete financial collapse; without those big nights against Sunderland, Newcastle and Derby, it is entirely possible the club would have disappeared in 1968. Anything sound familiar?
Fast forward to February 27th 1971. A 2-1 home defeat to promotion-chasing Bournemouth had left City just a point above the re-election zone; the prospect of a fifth application for re-election in nine seasons led the directors to act: manager Bert Loxley was relieved of his duties and chairman Heneage Dove contacted League of Ireland striker David Herd. They had tried to get Herd in the 1970 close season when he was released by Stoke, but he had decided to prolong his playing days in Ireland. However, things had not gone well and this time the 36 year old accepted the post.
So, who was City's new manager? In short, he was a huge name in football. He had made history in April 1951 when he made his Football League debut in the same Stockport County team as his father Alec, a former Manchester City legend. Herd had just turned 17 but he scored in a 2-0 win over Hartlepools. Unfortunately, 2 years of National Service intervened at that point and he was able to play only the occasional game. Having reappeared in the Stockport side at the start of 1954, the big clubs came to Edgeley Park in droves and it was Arsenal who paid £10,000 for him in August. It took a couple of seasons to win a regular place in the first team at Highbury, but there was no stopping him once he was there. Over a hundred goals in just five seasons persuaded Manchester United manager Matt Busby to pay a massive £37,000 for him in the close season of 1961.
Manchester United's achievements in the sixties are the stuff of legend, and Herd was an integral part of it. 145 goals in 265 appearances helped United to two League championships, an FA Cup and a European Cup. Strangely, he never added to the five Scotland caps he had won at Arsenal. How many players have scored over 100 goals for two major clubs? He is currently 15th in the all-time goalscorer list at Arsenal and 13th at United. He holds the distinction of having scored a hat-trick against three different goalkeepers, against Sunderland at Old Trafford on 26 November 1966. (By the way, who is the only other player known to have done that in a Football League match? Lincoln City's legendary Jock Dodds, against West Ham on 18 December 1948).
Having broken his leg in 1967, Herd was never the same again and spent the final two years of his career at Stoke before making those few appearances for Waterford. What his short experience in Ireland did give him was a knowledge of Irish footballers, of more later.
Unfortunately there was no immediate upturn in form over the last 15 games of the season. One bright spot of note was the debut of a certain John Ward in the away defeat at Workington. An exciting but ultimately futile 4-4 draw with Aldershot on 1 May, combined with Southend's unexpected 2-0 win at Northampton, meant that City had to make that 5th application for re-election in nine years. Fortunately City topped the poll with 47 votes, and Herd could start the job in earnest. In came right back Micky Bloor and midfielder John Worsdale from former club Stoke City; centre half David Kennedy and tiny striker David Walls arrived from Leeds United; and versatile midfielder Frankie McMahon followed Herd from Waterford.
City got off to a flier. A Phil Hubbard hat-trick sent Blackburn Rovers packing in the League Cup, a real statement of intent with a 4-1 win over higher division opposition. A 3-0 home win over Grimsby Town two weeks later watched by over 15,000 put City within 3 points of the top spot. Gates were the highest they had been since the Second Division days as City regularly turned on the style at Sincil Bank. A superb 4-1 win over leaders Brentford on 15 January moved City up to 6th place and sent them on an 11-match unbeaten run.
Whilst they scored bags of goals at home, a more defensive setup away from home paid dividends; although City seldom won, they were very hard to beat. As the season progressed, the directors gave Herd permission to add some key names to his squad: Tommy Spencer was signed from Workington to bolster the defence, while the prolific Dixie McNeil joined from Northampton for a whopping £9500 to replace Phil Hubbard, who had departed for Norwich City after scoring 18 goals in 24 games. And City fans got their first sight of one Terry Cooper, on loan from Notts County; he was to make his mark at City later on.
A 1-0 win over then-leaders Scunthorpe United on 18 March watched by 16,498 put City into 2nd place just 2 points behind their neighbours. Brentford had slipped to 5th, 4 points behind City. Promotion from the Fourth Division after ten desperate seasons looked a definite possibility.
Unfortunately, things went wrong immediately. An unexpected 2-1 defeat at lowly Chester (does that sound familiar too?) set the Imps on a run of just 3 wins from the last 11 games. The last 4 home games were all against teams in the bottom 7, but a narrow 3-2 win over Barrow was followed by a dreadful 1-0 home defeat to Peter Graham and Darlington. That put City 5th, and they never recovered. Another terrible 0-0 draw with Crewe in the penultimate game on 26 April, combined with Scunthorpe's 1-1 draw with Southend, meant that the dream was over. Despite a consolation 4-0 win over Chester on the final day, City were condemned to the Fourth Division for another season.
Optimism for 1972-73 was higher than it had been for years. The narrow miss in April combined with some good summer business in the transfer market had given City fans the taste for success once more. Jimmy McGeough came in from Waterford, while striking options were strengthened by the signing from Finn Harps of a 21-year old by the name of Brendan Bradley. Colin Symm came from Sunderland whilst Terry Cooper joined permanently from Notts County. Reserve goalkeeper Eric Hulme from Nottingham Forest completed a very good looking squad.
Of course, City lost at home to Hartlepool on the opening day, and lost the next home game to Aldershot as well. Instead of taking their place in the top 4 as expected, City found themselves in the bottom 4. However, a Bradley-inspired 3-0 win at Workington kick-started the season and a ten match unbeaten run sent City 3rd in the table by the middle of October. Bradley, McNeil and Percy Freeman were scoring goals for fun, notching all of City's goals until George Peden's penalty against Newport on 16 December. In a fantastic run of exciting attacking football, Bradley, McNeil and Freeman scored a total of 29 goals in just 15 matches; things were set fair again.
Guess what happened next? Unfortunately things turned a bit sour from then on. Another defeat at Chester (2-1 again) burst the City bubble and sent them freefalling down the table. The 1-0 win at home to Gillingham was the only win in a dismal 9-match run. Bradley had suddenly stopped scoring; rumours abounded that he was homesick for Ireland and he was to score just one more goal for the club before returning to Finn Harps shortly afterwards. What a shame that was. Bradley went on to break almost every scoring record in Ireland over the next 15 years; had we kept him, who knows where he could have led us? In this sense, Herd was desperately unlucky: he had uncovered a real gem of a striker, only to lose him to circumstances that no one could have foreseen.
The end came for Herd after a 3-1 defeat at Bradford on 2 December 1972. That great early season form had meant that they were still 9th in the table, just 4 points behind the top four, but the trend seemed to be downwards and Herd left by mutual agreement a few days later. The history books show that Graham Taylor was appointed in his place and eventually steadied the ship, finishing that season in 10th place, just 8 points behind promotion. And we all know what happened a few seasons later.
The history books also show that David Herd not only quit Lincoln City, but football too. He never took another job in the game, and that was a great loss. He clearly knew how the game should be played and built an exciting team out of very little during that close season of 1971. Would he have pulled City round in 1973? We will never know, but one thing is for certain: David Herd was a superb appointment for Lincoln City at the time and I am glad we had him.
1951-1954: Stockport County - Apps: 15 Goals: 6
1954-1961: Arsenal - Apps: 180 Goals: 107
1961-1968: Manchester United - Apps: 265 Goals: 145
1968-1970: Stoke City - Apps: 48 Goals: 11
1970-1971: Waterford United - Apps: 3 Goals: 0
Scotland: Apps: 5 Goals: 3
Total: Apps: 516 Goals: 272
Managerial career: Lincoln City:
League: P: 82 W: 30 D: 30 L: 22 F: 130 A: 111
FA Cup: P: 3 W: 0 D: 1 L: 2 F: 4 A: 8
League Cup: P: 5 W: 2 D: 1 L: 2 F: 8 A: 8
Total: P: 90 W: 32 D: 32 L: 26 F: 142 A: 127
Win %: 36.60%