Herbert Burgess was born in Manchester in 1883. After leaving school he worked in a blacksmiths. According to one account, this work helped to build up his "broad shoulders and athletic frame".
Burgess played local football for Gorton St. Francis, Openshaw United, Edge Lane and Moss Side. Despite playing at a trial game at the Manchester City Hyde Road ground, Burgess eventually signed for Glossop in April 1900. At this time Glossop was in the Second Division in the Football League.
He was a great success at his new club and on 29th February 1904 won his first international cap playing for England against Wales. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. Later that season he played in England's victories over Ireland (3-1) and Scotland (1-0).
In the 1903-04 season Manchester City finished in second place in the First Division. They also had a good FA Cup run defeating Sunderland (3-2), Arsenal (2-0), Middlesbrough (3-1) and Sheffield Wednesday (3-0). Manchester City played Bolton Wanderers in the final at Crystal Palace. The only goal of the game was scored by Billy Meredith.
The Football Association was amazed by Manchester City's rapid improvement and that summer they decided to carry out an investigation into the way the club was being run. However, the officials only discovered some minor irregularities and no case was brought against the club.
The following season Manchester City again challenged for the championship. City needed to beat Aston Villa on the final day of the season. Sandy Turnbull gave Alec Leake, the Villa captain, a torrid time during the game. Leake threw some mud at him and he responded with a two-fingered gesture. Leake then punched Turnbull. According to some journalists, at the end of the game, Turnbull was dragged into the Villa dressing-room and beaten-up. Villa won the game 3-1 and Manchester City finished third, two points behind Newcastle United.
After the game Alec Leake claimed that Billy Meredith had offered him £10 to throw the game. Meredith was found guilty of this offence by the Football Association and was fined and suspended from playing football for a year. Manchester City refused to provide financial help for Meredith and so he decided to go public about what really was going on at the club: "What was the secret of the success of the Manchester City team? In my opinion, the fact that the club put aside the rule that no player should receive more than four pounds a week... The team delivered the goods, the club paid for the goods delivered and both sides were satisfied."
The Football Association was now forced to carry out another investigation into the financial activities of Manchester City. They discovered that City had been making additional payments to all their players. Tom Maley was suspended from football for life. Seventeen players were fined and suspended until January 1907. This included Herbert Burgess.
Manchester City was also forced to sell their players and at an auction at the Queen's Hotel in Manchester. The Manchester United manager, Ernest Mangnall signed Billy Meredith for only £500. Mangnal also purchased three other talented members of the City side, Herbert Burgess, Sandy Turnbull and Jimmy Bannister.
These new players did not make their debuts until the 1st January 1907. Manchester United beat Aston Villa 1-0. The only goal of the game was scored by Sandy Turnbull from a Billy Meredith cross. United only lost four games during the remainder of the season and climbed to an eighth-place finish.
Manchester United started off the 1907-08 season with three straight wins. They were then beaten 2-1 by Middlesbrough. However, this was followed by another ten wins and United quickly built up a good advantage over the rest of the First Division. Although Liverpool beat them 7-4 on 25th March, 1908, Manchester United went on to win the title by nine points. Top scorers were Sandy Turnbull (25), George Wall (19), Jimmy Turnbull (10) and Billy Meredith (10).
Ernest Mangnall had created an impressive team that was solid in defence and exciting in attack. The former Southampton player, Harry Moger, was a reliable goalkeeper who played in 38 league games that season. Dick Holden (26) or George Stacey (18) competed for the right-back position whereas Herbert Burgess (27) was the left-back. It has been argued that the half-back line of Dick Duckworth (35), Charlie Roberts (32) and Alec Bell (35) was the heart-beat of the side. Billy Meredith (37) and George Wall (36) were probably the best wingers playing in the Football League at the time and provided plenty of service for the inside trio of Sandy Turnbull (30), Jimmy Turnbull (26) and Jimmy Bannister (36). The championship winning team included four players purchased from Manchester City at an auction at the Queen's Hotel in October 1906.
In April 1907 Thomas Blackstock collapsed after heading a ball during a reserve game against St. Helens. 25 year old Blackstock died soon afterwards. An inquest into his death returned a verdict of "Natural Causes". Several players at the club were angry about the way Blackstock's family was treated after his death. Herbert Burgess, Billy Meredith, Charlie Roberts, Charlie Sagar and Sandy Turnbull, decided to form a new Players' Union. The first meeting was held on 2nd December, 1907, at the Imperial Hotel, Manchester and the Association Football Players Union (AFPU) was established.
The following season Manchester United enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup. They beat Brighton & Hove Albion (1-0), Everton (1-0), Blackburn Rovers (6-1), Burnley (3-2) and Newcastle United (1-0) to reach the final. Newcastle, who went onto win the league that season, was obviously disappointed by being prevented from winning the double. However, the whole of the Newcastle team waited for 15 minutes in torrential rain aboard an open coach so they could applaud their conquerors after the game.
Jimmy Turnbull (5), Harold Halse (4) and Sandy Turnbull (3) got the goals during the successful cup run that got them to the final at Crystal Palace against Bristol City. As both clubs usually wore red, Bristol played in blue whereas Manchester United played in white shirts with a deep red "V". The game was disappointing and Sandy Turnbull scored the only goal in the 22nd minute.
In 1910 Burgess badly injured his knee that forced his retirement from the game. He had played 52 league and cup games for the club.
Burgess took over a public house in Manchester but gave it up to become a football coach in Hungary. He also held similar posts in Spain, Italy, Austria, Denmark and Sweden. He returned to England in 1932 where he coached local sides.
Herbert Burgess died in Manchester in July 1954.