The record books show that Viv Anderson was the last big name player to be transferred from Arsenal to Manchester United in 1987 but two earlier signings proved to be just as significant. Few players have shown the knack of finding the net better than former great David Herd did in the sixties. During his seven years at Old Trafford, the Scotland born striker scored 145 times in 265 appearances. Then there was the Irish centre forward Frank Stapleton who had been rejected by United as a teenager. It was therefore ironic that Ron Atkinson had to pay the Gunners £900,000 for his signature in August 1981. Both Herd and Stapleton proved to be inspirational signings for which the Arsenal contribution has to be recognised.
David Herd – The son of former Manchester City player Alec Herd, David was snapped up by Arsenal as a 20 year old in 1954 but then spent seven years at Old Trafford following his move from the Gunners at the end of the 1960-61 season. He made his United debut at Upton Park against West Ham in August 1961 then picked up two Championship and an FA Cup winners medal. Although he missed the European Cup Final in 1968, Herd was awarded a medal for his part in United’s triumphant campaign. Not a bad haul for someone who won absolutely nothing during his years at Highbury.
Herd grew up locally in Moss Side and joined his father at Stockport County as an amateur in 1949. He turned professional two years later then moved to Arsenal in 1954 where he bagged an impressive 99 goals in 166 matches. In 1961 he finished second to Jimmy Greaves in the First Division scoring charts, attracting the attentions of Matt Busby who paid £40,000 for his services later that year.
The free scoring Scotsman found the net twice in the 3-1 FA Cup final victory over Leicester City in 1963 before helping United finish second in the league the following season when his partnership with Denis Law yielded 50 goals. United were crowned champions a year later and in the following season Herd found the net 32 times. More title glory followed in 1967 but success was tinged with sadness for Herd who suffered a broken leg in November 1966 shortly after scoring a hat trick against three different goalkeepers in a 5-0 win over Sunderland.
The injury would ultimately limit his first team chances resulting in his move to Stoke City. He later turned his hand to management and enjoyed spells with Waterford and Lincoln City. Herd then became a garage owner until his retirement
Frank Stapleton – The Irish international made his Manchester United debut in August 1981 in the old First Division against Coventry City. In his third match for United, Stapleton scored his first goal for the club against Ipswich Town. United finished third in the league and Stapleton ended up as the club’s top scorer with 13 goals in 44 appearances.
He repeated that feat in the following seasons, 1982-83 and 1983-84 scoring 19 goals in each season. A succession of fourth places eventually led to Ron Atkinson being replaced by Alex Ferguson. In the one season that Stapleton spent with United under Ferguson the Reds finished in eleventh place. The Irishman did however enjoy Cup success.
Stapleton first won an FA Cup winners medal in Arsenal’s 3-2 defeat of Manchester United in 1979 then again in 1983 when he scored United’s first goal against Brighton & Hove Albion. Stapleton’s goal gave him the unique distinction of having scored goals in the Cup final with two different teams. Stapleton and United repeated the feat in 1985 beating Everton 1-0.
Once Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford he was determined to put his own stamp on the club. Towards the end of the 1986-87 season more and more of Stapleton’s appearances were as a substitute. The writing was on the wall and in July 1987 he was transferred to Ajax in Holland.
The Manchester United list of great players is so long that it’s not difficult to overlook the likes of Herd and Stapleton but it would be a shame if they’re not remembered as significant contributors to the rich tapestry of the club’s history.
How does Herd and Stapleton compare to the stars at Old Trafford today?