I was denied entry to Manchester United—what I did next is my worst regret

Manchester Evening News reported that David Hirst entered the Premier League history books on September 16, 1996, although not in the way most players do. The former Sheffield Wednesday striker established the Premier League record for hardest shot in a 4-1 loss to Arsenal at Highbury. Hirst hit a shot against the crossbar at 114mph with a’sledgehammer of a left foot’, leaving Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman frozen to the spot.

If it had gone in instead of bouncing down and away to safety, it would have been remembered more vividly than a Wednesday decision. If Hirst had his way, he could have shot with his’sledgehammer of a left foot’ in Manchester United’s red instead of Wednesday’s blue and white stripes across the Pennines.

Hirst made such an impact at South Yorkshire that Sir Alex Ferguson, after being rejected by Alan Shearer in 1992, saw him as the perfect choice to reinforce United’s forward line. Hirst, who had scored 128 goals in 358 appearances for Wednesday, enjoyed scoring 20 goals in 37 games for the Owls in 1991/92, after their promotion from Division Two and League Cup final win against United.

Ferguson said he was ‘even keener’ on signing Hirst than Shearer. In November 1992, United signed Eric Cantona, ending their striker search… or so everyone believed. United continued to pursue Hirst and bid £4.5m.

Wednesday manager Trevor Francis refused United’s bids for his top player, who played 11 years at Hillsborough until joining Southampton in 1997. Hirst said his lone professional regret was a botched Old Trafford move, which angered him. “I’d been talking to Alex Ferguson for a couple of weeks and I was going to Man United,” Hirst told the Mail. “A fax came with a £4.5million offer, and I expected Trevor to say, ‘Man United, £4.5million, away you go.'” He responded, ‘I’m not selling you.’

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“I never knocked on the manager’s door because I wasn’t on the team or wanted more money. If the contract bothers you, don’t sign it.”Try your hardest on the training pitch if you’re not on the squad. Without playing, going on his door to say you’re good is pointless. That never bothered me.

Sitting here, I should’ve slammed the door. It’s planned, and if Man United wants you, your agent will get you there. Financially, it would have been similar. We didn’t earn £50,000 weekly. We were mostly in agreement. I played for Sheffield Wednesday, third in the league, in Europe, cup finals, big money, but Man United players have different labels. This is my only regret.”

Ferguson reportedly tried to recruit Hirst six times, such was his fascination with the striker, who would have become England’s frontman if not for his injury history. The former Owls star was quick, strong, air-dominant, and a terror for defenders. Wednesday supporters still revere him as their best goal-scorer.

Hirst may have been a United star if Francis had complied with Ferguson’s expectations, given Ferguson’s improvement in the 1990s. Their trophy cabinet was growing quickly, and Hirst’s predatory instincts in the 18-yard box could have helped them win more. Francis’ 2019 memoirs ‘One In A Million’ recounted Ferguson’s pursuit of Hirst.

He said: “Manchester United were following David for a while when Alex Ferguson was manager and I can still hear Alex now on my car phone totally exasperated with me because he had put in two offers which I had knocked back.”He offered £4million, and with board support, I informed him we would not work with David Hirst. Alex shouted into the phone in his Scottish accent, “Do you realise this is Manchester United Football Club and you are stopping a player from going to Man United?” I denied £4million.

“I informed him that Sheffield Wednesday were a huge club, but not as big as Man United, and that David Hirst was critical to my aspirations to progress. I persevered, but Alex Ferguson’s criticism will always haunt me!”He was unaware that Helen, Francis’ wife, was in the car listening to him on the loudspeaker when we were on the M1. If she were a referee, his foul language would have earned him a red card!”

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