by Chris Ledger

The 26th January 2000 may be an insignificant date for most football fans but, for Sheffield Wednesday supporters, it represents an important and sad day. This is because, on that day, Wednesday legend David Hirst retired from football after suffering from numerous injury and fitness problems whilst at Hillsborough and Southampton. The underrated Hirst was a natural finisher and, although he never became a household name, we loved ‘Hirsty’.

Hirst was not your ordinary striker; he was a special striker, as he could do everything with a football that was imaginable. Not only could Hirst head the ball, but volleys and flick-ons were also comfortably achieved and his goals varied from short-range efforts to long-range screamers.

And if that was not enough, Hirst could also score with his right foot – despite having the sweetest left foot in the world. He managed to combine his many strengths – which included his strong positional awareness, his lightning pace, his resilient strength and his eye for goal – to score 106 goals in 294 appearances for the South Yorkshire outfit.

What made Hirst so special was that, whilst most strikers based their play around one or two main strengths, the Cudworth-born striker was blessed with versatility. He was a complete striker and could use his unbeatable power in front of goal to provide dozens of memorable moments that will last an age.

These included his 61st minute equaliser in the 1993 FA Cup Final, his 114 miles-per-hour volley at Highbury in September 1996 (which, until recently, was the fastest shot in the history of the Premier League) and his four goals in the 5-1 demolition of Hull City during the 1990-1991 season.

However, Hirst’s career-defining moment was against Manchester United in March 1987. It was a match that was destined to be an unimaginative and defensive 0-0 draw, until Siggi Jonsson headed the ball into Hirst’s path in the 93rd minute.

Hirst managed to find the space that was required and managed control the ball perfectly with a magnificent first touch. He then produced something truly remarkable by striking a thunderbolt into the back of the net to give the Owls a last-gasp 1-0 victory in front of their elated fans at S6.

This is what made Hirst such a delight to watch, as he had the ability to turn a dull match into a very special one within seconds. He a bit of magic about him and lots of spontaneity; in short, he had a natural footballing mind.

What endeared the former England striker to the Wednesday faithful the most, though, was his commitment and dedication whilst wearing the blue-and-white stripes. Hirst was not always a first-team regular after his £200,000 move to Hillsborough from Barnsley in 1986, and it was only when Ron Atkinson was appointed as manager when Hirst really started to shine, but he was always passionate, energetic and exciting.

He also played with his heart on his sleeve, as if giving 100% on the pitch was not enough for him – he was completely devoted to the club. He even managed to score and keep a clean sheet in the same match, (a 2-0 victory over Manchester City in January 1990) after he replaced an injured Kevin Pressman in goal!

It still remains a tremendous shame that Hirst suffered from so many injuries during the 1990’s, as, because of this, he never reached his full potential. There is now doubt that, if he stayed fit, he would have been one of the greatest British strikers of our generation.

After all, Sir Bobby Robson famously said that, “It’s not a question of who will replace Lineker, but who will partner David Hirst” and, at one point, this looked inevitable. Even Sir Alex Ferguson was tapping up Hirst long before he became interested in Alan Shearer. However, despite scoring against New Zealand, he never prospered at international level and was only capped three times by England.

Even if David Hirst never quite captured the imagination of the British public, he captured my imagination and everyone else’s in the blue-and-white half of Sheffield.

He still remains the one player that I reserve a special place in my heart for, and even his less spectacular moments were outstanding. For that, and that alone, he’s my favourite player of all time and always will be. God bless David Eric Hirst.

Read more from Chris on his blog, Obscure Music and Football, and follow him on Twitter @obscurefootball.