Bethesda, Gwynedd born inside forward Bobby Atherton began his football career with Dalry Primrose and joined Heart of Midothian in 1894-95, making his first team debut in a benefit match at Leith Athletic in May 1895. He played for Hearts in 6 friendlies and Edinburgh League matches but never in a Scottish League or Scottish Cup match, joining Edinburgh rivals Hibernian in the 1897 close season.
He made his Scottish League debut at St Bernard’s that September, becoming a first team regular from the following season. He won his first cap for Wales in a British Home Championship match against Ireland at Grosvenor Park, Belfast in March 1899, and he also played against England that year.
Atherton captained the Hibernian side that won the 1902 Scottish Cup Final, Hibs’ 1-0 win against Celtic in the Cup Final, played at Celtic Park, was thanks in part to Atherton deceiving the Celtic defence by shouting for them to “leave the ball” in a Glasgow accent. The Celtic defence duly complied, which allowed Andy McGeachen to score the only goal of the game. He then captained the Hibs side that won the 1903 Scottish League Championship, the first in the club’s history.
He also played in all of Wales’ matches in the 1903 British Home Championship, and scored twice for Wales in 9 caps through to April 1905, when he won his final cap, scoring in a 2-2 draw against Ireland at The Solitude, Belfast, the other goal came in a 1–1 draw with Scotland at Dens Park, Dundee in March 1904.
Atherton was transferred to First Division club Middlesbrough in September 1903 after 36 goals in 97 appearances for Hibs, and made his Football League debut at Sheffield Wednesday the same month. He became the first Middlesbrough player to win international honours. Atherton scored 14 goals in 66 appearances in all for Middlesbrough during his two seasons at Ayresome Park and became club captain before a transfer to Chelsea in the summer of 1905, however he didn’t make their first eleven. Atherton retired from playing football in 1906 and he subsequently moved back to Edinburgh, becoming a steward in the Merchant Navy. During the First World War Atherton was presumed dead after his ship, the SS Britannia, disappeared without trace in the North Sea, either due to a mine or enemy action in October 1917.