It is almost 30 years since an 18-year-old by the name of David Hirst moved from Barnsley to Sheffield Wednesday.
By the time the striker left Hillsborough 11 years and 128 goals later, Hirst was synonymous with Wednesday despite being linked with a move away from the Owls on many occasions, with Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson an admirer.
There were also three England caps and one goal against New Zealand in a friendly in June 1991.
However, one theme running through Hirst’s football story is that of injury which interrupted the career of a forward who had pace, strength, intelligence and the fiercest of shots. Although predominantly left-footed he would also score with his right as well as his head. There were spectacular strikes and poacher’s goals as well as an unerring ability to lose his marker.
For years Owls and Blades fans debated the virtues of Hirst and Brian Deane but, had Wednesday’s audacious bid for the latter in 1993 succeeded, they would surely have been a fearsome front two.
David Eric Hirst was born in Cudworth, Barnsley, in December 1967.
While at school the youngster had a two-day trial with the Owls where he was asked his name after the first morning’s training to which the official replied: “We didn’t think you had turned up!”
His father, Eric, in turn told the young Hirst that if they didn’t know he was there he might as well go home.
There were England Youth caps for Hirst who signed for his hometown club in autumn 1985 and made 29 appearances, scoring nine goals to attract the attention of Wednesday who with Howard Wilkinson at the helm succeeded in enticing the teenager the few miles across South Yorkshire.
He made his debut against Charlton in August 1986 before making a grand entrance at Hillsborough when he came off the bench to score against Everton in front of more than 33,000.
Hirst was not a regular under Wilkinson and it was under the stewardship of successor Ron Atkinson that Hirst really blossomed with the manager installing him as first-choice striker.
He scored 16 times in the 1989-90 season although it was not enough to save the Owls from relegation with Luton surviving by virtue of a having a two-goal superior goal difference.
However, that was just a prelude to an unforgettable campaign for both player and club: Hirst scored 32 goals as the Owls made an immediate return to the top flight while also winning the League Cup by beating Manchester United.
Hirst was also capped at full level by England and scored his only international goal against New Zealand.
The only way was up for a buoyant Hirst and Wednesday who finished third behind Leeds and Manchester United with the Owls rejecting a £4million bid from Manchester United but in August 1992 the gods did not smile on the player.
Hirst was subject to a challenge by Arsenal’s Steve Bould which resulted in a broken ankle which in turn saw a slow decline in the player’s goalscoring prowess as injury repeatedly returned, an Achilles issue a persistent problem.
There was a goal at Bramall Lane in November 1992 when he played a one-two with Chris Waddle and fired an unstoppable left-footed shot into the corner followed by a somersault before he sat on the pitch in front of the jubilant away end.
Although Ferguson was still interested, Hirst’s injury problems were of concern. “Hirst’s got a lot of skill,’ the Scot said in a 1993 interview. “But (Alan) Shearer’s so strong. He just knocks people out of the way. And Hirst gets a lot of injuries.”
He was part of the Wednesday side that reached both the FA Cup and League Cup finals in 1993 and scored the equaliser in the first FA Cup game before Arsenal went on to win in a replay.
There was also the humdinger of a shot against the Gunners in April 1996, an effort from 14.8 yards which hit the bar at 114 mph.
However, Hirst’s Hillsborough time was winding down and in October 1997 he moved on to Southampton in a £2million transfer, only to score against the Owls a month later.
His career however was drawing to a close and after failing to start a game for 18 months, Hirst announced his retirement in January 2000.