Anybody that has met George Herd over the years will tell you what a gent he is, whilst anybody that saw him play will tell you how much stamina he had. These facts mean that not only did he had a long and fruitful career in football, but he has remained a popular character all these years later and on his 87th birthday Roker Report would like to pay tribute to this Scotland born Sunderland AFC favourite.
Brought in from Clyde, where he had won the Scottish Cup and earned senior international caps, Herd was Sunderland’s record signing when he arrived on Wearside in the early 1960s. With several other clubs said to be interested too, chairman Syd Collings travelled north of the boarder so that he could personally handle the deal and once a fee of £42,500 was agreed the inside forward was on his way.
Having scouted the player intensely, Herd’s new manager Alan Brown was delighted and five days after the transfer was completed he handed him a debut in the final game of 1960-61. Also making his bow in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool was the similarly named Keith Hird, but whilst the goalkeeper was making his one and only appearance for the Lads the big money new boy was destined to become a regular.
Although naturally blessed with skill and good footballing intelligence, Herd worked hard at his game and prided himself on having superb fitness levels. His markers struggled to keep pace and as Sunderland started pushing up the table over the course of the following two seasons he had a major influence on the attack, reaching double figures for goals in his first full campaign and scoring crucial goals in away wins at Grimsby Town and Swansea Town in 1963.
Those victories saw Sunderland go into their crunch match with Chelsea hopeful of going up only to suffer a damaging loss in what was their last fixture. A year on though they secured a first ever promotion and Herd was a key part of the success, netting against Charlton Athletic on the day it was confirmed and finishing third highest scorer in the side. He had created several more goals along the way too and he took to first division football with ease.
Four strikes in Wear Tyne derbies – all victories, further endeared Herd to the Roker faithful. The last of these was in a 2-0 home win in 1966 in which he collected possession on the halfway line before calmly travelling forward and smashing the ball in to open the scoring. He had already notched in the two previous derby successes, a late winner in 1963 from a fierce half volley and a nicely taken brace in 1962 showcasing his technical ability perfectly.
Just two days older than his teammate George Mulhall, the pair were both consistent and dependable characters and it spoke volumes that without their experience a youthful squad were relegated the season after they’d bowed out – fellow Scot Mulhall going to play in South Africa whilst Herd remained on the books for a period then stayed local when he moved to Hartlepool United. He had amassed well over 300 games for the Rokerites and in his latter appearances shown the versatility needed to fill in across several different positions.
After a season at Victoria Park Herd became a coach full time - he had already cut his teeth by running Sunderland’s youth team whilst still registered as a player and returned to provide several more years’ worth of sterling service either side of spells elsewhere both home and aboard. He worked with the first team under Ken Knighton, and by 1983 Alan Durban had him back overseeing the schoolboys and apprentices in the role of Youth Development Officer as a result of his “infectious enthusiasm”.
That passion was clear to anybody that witnessed Herd on the touchline at youth games during a 14 month period over 1993 and 1994, when he was working closely with good pal Jim Montgomery and helped bring through Martin Smith, Darren Holloway and David Preece amongst others – Preece of course later following in his footsteps and enjoying a productive coaching stint back at Sunderland.
Once back from time in Kuwait, Herd became a familiar face on the non-league scene, working with local Northern League clubs Seaham Red Star and Sunderland RCA well into the 2010s and showing as much zest as ever despite being in his 70s. Just as lively a character away from the pitch, he would apparently entertain colleagues on the road with various stunts and bets; interviewed in the club’s official 1964 promotion souvenir brochure he admitted that he didn’t enjoy long trips away from home then and struggled in a different bed so perhaps liked the distraction.
The piece also outlined how up to the age of 15, Herd had worked as a messenger boy to help bring money into the house and so had little youth experience of his own to speak of. Clearly not afraid of graft however, during his early days as an amateur he’d had a job on the railways and this attitude has obviously remained with him ever since. Everybody deserves the odd break though and hopefully he can enjoy his day, so all the best George!
Born: Glasgow, 06 May 1936
Sunderland 1 (Sharkey 32’)
Liverpool 1 (Hunt 59’)
Football League Division Two, Roker Park 29 April 1961
Final SAFC appearance:
Chelsea 5 (Birchenall 14’, Tambling 56’, 64’, 65’, 75’)
Sunderland 1 (Suggett 67’)
Football League Division One, Stamford Bridge 22 February 1969
Total appearances/goals for SAFC:
315 (+ 4 as sub)/55